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Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Dad's Point of View: Paving the Way

Where do our kids get their values? Are you comfortable with the values they learn in public school? How about on MTV, cable or other television? Are reality shows actually reality? Do you think modern music teaches them about love and romance? Maybe going to the movies is better and seeing Academy Award winning movies like “Slumdog Millionaire,” or “Departed” will teach them right from wrong? How about the Internet where they can see their friends post naked pictures of themselves or, if their parents haven’t been smart and restricted access, they can go to any porn site in the privacy of their own rooms. You get the point. The values out there are certainly questionable.

When I grew up, my parents had little concern about what I’d see on television, what I’d be taught in school when politics and values were little discussed, and they felt comfortable that they could inculcate me in their own values and religion. It’s a different world now.

I attended a recent lecture by Dr. Bruce Powell, who is the Head of School at the New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, California and the father of three daughters and one son. The talk was about the challenges of raising teenagers. The room was full with parents looking for answers and struggling with the present day challenges we face raising our teens.

Dr. Powell offered a simple formula that could offer excellent guidance for parents. He gave it the acronym of P.A.V.E., which stands for Parental Actions, Values, and Expectations. While he didn’t address anything mentioned earlier in this column, about the differences our kids face from media and society today vs. previous times, I felt his idea was terrific. It seemed simple, yet it forced each of us if we were willing, to take a look at ourselves and the model we show our children, as well as how and what they learn from us.

Let’s start with Actions. Dr. Powell’s assertion is that our kids don’t miss anything. Our actions do indeed speak louder than our words. If dad comes home everyday after a difficult day at work, pours himself a drink or two, and plops down in front of the television, they notice. If mom is talking on the cell-phone while driving, and buys every designer handbag she can get her hands on, they notice. The language we speak, they hear. The things we eat, they observe, etc. etc. So, when Dr. Powell observed his oldest daughter, now a mom herself, driving somewhat fast and above the speed limit, and he asked her to slow down, he had to face her response “Dad, I’m just driving the way you always did.” So, our actions speak loudly to our kids, period, no excuse.

What Values are we teaching them? Do we teach them at all? Again, they observe how we treat the waiter or waitress, if we cheat on our taxes, try to take advantage of a salesperson, go to church or synagogue, or just drive them to religious school on Sundays while we go to brunch? Do we discuss our values; do we live them? Again, do we want present day primary school, with all its political correctness, to give them their values? On the likelihood that it may be too controversial, I won’t even go to what values our kids are taught and exposed to at most so-called elite universities and colleges. It’s abundantly clear that if they haven’t been solidly taught the values we, as parents, want them to learn, they will get thoroughly brainwashed at many such institutions.

And, finally, there’s Expectations. Do your kids know what you expect from them? Is it enough to expect good grades? Do they think we care more about their grades or how good a person they are? Expectations have become sort of taboo nowadays, in the same way that shame is a word that doesn’t seem to be touched on much anymore, yet both can and do have importance in shaping how we behave. Our kids need to know our expectations. They should be more affected by disappointing us than by losing a privilege and/or getting punished.

Dr. Powell said, in their family, the shame of disappointing their parents was far greater than any other punishment they might have devised and, in fact, there were no punishments other than their parent’s disapproval in their household. How many of us dole out punishment vs. teaching our kids our values and holding them to a standard of expectations and actions?

I like what he said. I’m going to work at really thinking about what comes out of my mouth in front of my kids. When my wife and I are stressed with one another, we’re going to strive to keep any bickering behind our closed bedroom door. The only thing I want my kids to see from us is a loving husband and wife. And, finally, I guess I’ll have to throw away the bong pipe, once and for all (okay, just joking on that one).

Please visit www.brucesallan.com to contact Bruce and to enjoy the various features his new Web site offers, including a unique Ask Bruce For Advice section, an archive of his columns, contact info, links to his published work, photo galleries, and reader comments, plus much more. Bruce Sallan was an award-winning television executive and producer for 25 years. Google him if you really want to know more (e.g. his credits). When his boys were quite young, Bruce left show biz to become a full-time Dad. Shortly thereafter his marriage ended and his wife abandoned their children, leaving the State. Bruce found himself a full-time single Dad, in his late forties, as well as a returning single man to the changed world of cyber-dating. It became a classic “sandwich” situation when he also began to care for his ailing parents. He began writing various blogs on the dating sites he used as well as articles for local publications. The goal of his column, A Dad’s Point-of-View, is to primarily focus on parenting and occasionally other issues from the male perspective. Presently, his column is available in over 50 newspapers and Web sites in the U.S. and internationally. Bruce lives in Agoura, California with his second (and last) wife and two boys, who are 15 and 12.

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