Parenting : Right Values

Parenting : How to instill the right values?

My daughter's overindulgent, US-based grandparents bought her an apple green iPod for her birthday.

I spent the last weekend loading a few hundred songs on it for her.

It was a sheer joy pushing Prince's 1980s hit
Purple rain next to the timeless Don Mclean classic American pie. Then, without a break, you could move right into the opening bars of Carlos Santana's The facts of love.

In between, I cheated and I added a small snippet from J S Bach's
Brandeburg Concertos No 2 in F Minor and another superb little piece by Ravel called Bolero. iPods, I had decided, were a wonderful opportunity to introduce my pre-teen to a few classical pieces.

I now had on my hands a music mix hotter than Haldiram's
Chilli Chatak Lachha Chuda.

Now we, and she, could have great pieces of music one after another, non-stop. Imagine never ever having to wait through and bear six bad songs -- like George Michael's corny
Careless whisper or Kool and the Gang's syrupy Cherish or Frankie Goes to Hollywood's revolting Relax -- in a row on a CD or on the radio before a great number like Pink Floyd's uplifting Wish you were here came along. Now, courtesy the iPod, one could listen to great pieces one after the other without a break.

And then, a little devil started niggling in my head.

Wish you were here sound so, so, so much more beautiful after having had to patiently sit through the pain of hearing six other songs you didn't like? Weren't you taking value away from music by making the very best music so accessible? I mean, if you see Mona Lisa every day, what value will it have to you as a painting?

More importantly, I thought, what was I doing to my daughter? How would she understand the beauty of a particular wonderful song when all the songs she was listening to were wonderful? Was I teaching her the right values of things?

And that brings me back to a theme that constantly haunts me. It is a very familiar battle that I have mentally over my kids...

In this new era of easy loans and higher spending power, we are able to give so much to our kids. But are these magically enhanced powers of giving always the right values of things for them?

Our kids don't have to dream and save up for a player any more or yearn long and hard for a trip by airplane. They get everything on a platter.

They get candy every day, ice cream a couple of times a week, movies on demand and holidays at the snap of a finger. Some even get cell phones at age seven! I remember, as a kid growing up in the US, I was allotted 10 cents a week for candy. When we went to the grocery store on Fridays I hovered over the candy rack in deep indecision, wondering if it should be a packet of M & Ms or a roll of Lifesavers this week. What joy there was in savoring that treat!

For my kids, candy is routine stuff. They have way, way too much of it coming at them. Nothing to get excited about really. Everything is routine for them -- birthday parties, dinner at an expensive restaurant, the luxury of an air conditioner on a sweltering day. All ho hum, humdrum stuff.

So here's the big and very perplexing question about the right values of things:

How do you teach today's child the right values of things? By giving so much, are we spoiling them?

I do feel it is possible to continue to be a very giving parent without landing up having a passel of spoiled brats. If you constantly teach them the value of what they have, show them how to take care of it and make them realize that once the item is damaged, or not taken care of, it will not replaced, you are on the road to having unspoilt kids.

But that does not solve the issue of teaching them the real value of things... to treasure a strawberry ice cream or a holiday in Nainital the way you did.

Here are just a few things that I do to instill the right values.

i. You have to constantly, but creatively, highlight, without preaching, the situation of those who have less.

ii. Make sure they draw out the maximum value of what they have. If they are about to take a trip to the Maldives, they need to read up and understand where they are going. Let them learn to take very good care of their material possessions.

iii. You may not be strict with yourself or your kids on what you give them, but you need to be a strict parent on all other counts. A giving parent can still be a parent strong on discipline and on producing unspoilt kids.

iv. You need to make some trade-offs. I say no to television but I say yes to movies and let them buy -- without that much restraint -- a number of good films. I say no to all kinds of excess candy that arrives uninvited in party goodie bags and as gifts; I give it away to beggars and often make my kids give it away themselves. But I may say yes to some cookies that they plan to bake themselves. And so on.

v. I make them read. How is that connected, you may wonder? I don't know but I feel children who are into reading are generally more aware, kinder and less spoilt human beings. Knowledge teaches refinement. That's my thumb rule on How to instill the right values.

The author works for The Aravind Academy, a career guidance and people development company.

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