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Headmaster as Leader

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This handbook is a set of ideas and convictions about how to exercise leadership of a boys’ secondary school, notes drawn from my 25 years’ experience as a teacher and school administrator. I have put it together to help headmasters, and especially those about to take up the job, to do what all professionals need to do from time to time—namely, reflect more deeply about their professional responsibilities and learn from the experience of others.

This set of notes does not pretend to be exhaustive or definitive. It is mostly my personal opinion, and it explores what I think are the most important dimensions of school leadership: forming and explaining the school’s mission; handling significant questions and problems; using one’s leadership to serve Board members, parents, teachers, students, and the community at large. Each of the topics, as well as others left undiscussed, could have been expanded considerably. Instead of delving into detailed explanations, I’ve chosen instead to highlight what’s most important and essential to the headmaster’s job of service to the school.

And what is the essence of a headmaster’s service? I think it is to give ongoing encouragement. Napoleon Bonaparte once said, quite rightly, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” A headmaster serves his people by forming within himself a clear, hopeful and compelling mission to his life’s work, a heartfelt dedication to the welfare of his people, and then he gets everyone to join him in that collective adventure. In the notes that follow, I hope you will better appreciate how this dynamic works—and why serving as headmaster is such a great life’s work.

James B. Stenson

Advantages of a Large Family

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When parents open their hearts to welcome the children God wishes to send them, they are often rewarded with many children. God lovingly answers their generous faith by entrusting new souls to their care, new lives to nurture and lead back to him.

God smiles on open-hearted, adventurous parents and showers them with his never-failing help. He uses their busy, happy family life to strengthen each child in faith and virtue. Through the parents’ sacrifices, he makes of each family a cadre of valiant, strong, self-confident men and women who will carry the Faith forward in history and influence those around them whose lives will intertwine with their own.

If you have been blessed with many children, you should thank God for this great honor and be confident of his never-failing help.

For your own peace of mind, too, you should pause now and then to think how your family life–frantic and challenging as it often is–works to strengthen the character and faith of your children, and thereby the Church of the next generation. A large family is inherently formative; it’s an ongoing apprenticeship in right living and leadership. It works to turn out young people who surpass their contemporaries, succeed in life, and emerge as leaders.

So then, consider how your family life benefits each your children. How are your children strengthened to be better men and women through the give-and-take of growing up with several brothers and sisters?

  • Unlike most children today, they are genuinely needed at home. Through their chores and their handling of responsibilities around the house, they contribute to the family’s welfare. That is, every day they practice putting their powers up against problems for the service of others. Consequently they grow in self-knowledge (their strengths and limitations) and realistic self-confidence. They grow to be more mature more quickly.
  • Related to this, they understand the real meaning of responsibility, that is, if we don’t do our duty, someone else will suffer. So their moral development–moving from “self” to “others”–takes root more deeply. They grow to be givers, not takers.
  • Surrounded by siblings’ conversation and playful interaction, they enjoy constant intellectual stimulation. This strengthens and sharpens their judgment.
  • They’re surrounded by laughter. By and large, even with its ups and downs, the home of a large family is a happy place, a place of healthy fun. Good cheer, it seems, is livelier, more heartfelt, when shared with a crowd. All their lives, children from a large family remember the fun they had together, the sheer delight of being alive surrounded by love.
  • Even their normal squabbles and spats, when refereed by parents, teach them lessons of fairness, sharing, splitting differences, letting others off the hook, forgiving and forgetting. This fortifies their moral standards, their lifelong conscience. (Friction, though irksome and tedious at times, has its uses; it rounds off rough edges, forms a smooth, resilient surface.)
  • Since their parents take care of their needs but cannot satisfy their whims (through lack of money and time), children learn the difference between wants and needs. They learn to wait for what they want, or to work and earn it themselves. Thus they are spared the corruptive influence of instant gratification. They internalize the virtues of patience and honorable ambition. They grow to become self-reliant self-starters.
  • Through interactions with their siblings, children more deeply understand gender differences. From their sisters, boys understand and appreciate femininity; from their brothers, girls understand and appreciate what’s common among males. All the children are thus better prepared for marriage.
  • One of the mysteries of a large family is the startling differences siblings display in temperaments and talents and interests. By dealing with these differences among their siblings, children learn to get along with anyone. Having to share a bedroom and bathroom and space at the table prepares the children superbly for marriage and for life.
  • Older children play with the youngest ones, and thus form a bond of affection with them. Younger children receive love and learning from several older people, not just their parents. So older children are pulled out of their egos, and younger ones are surrounded by love.
  • Each child journeys through life enjoying the support of his grown-up brothers and sisters. No matter what befalls them in life, your children will never be alone. Indeed, the finest gift parents can give their children, the gift lasting a lifetime, is their brothers and sisters.

Professionalism & Workplace Savvy

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Note: The items below are the sort of idealistic and practical work-related lessons that effective parents teach their adolescent children to prepare them for entering the world of work.

Professionalism

(1) Professionalism isn’t just a set of appearances — neatness, good grooming, “shop talk” and the like. Nor is it just technical skill; many technically skilled people are not really professional. Professionalism is, rather, a set of internalized character strengths and values directed toward high quality service to others through one’s work. In their daily work, whatever it may be, real professionals show these inner strengths and attitudes — sound judgment, know-how, business savvy, mature responsibility, problem-solving perseverance and ingenuity, along with what people call “class.” This is as true for hair-dressers, carpenters, machinists, police officers, and barbers as it is for lawyers, physicians, and engineers. Any honest work can be done professionally.

(2) Professionals show self-respect in their work. They’re conscious that their work reflects their inner character. Their work is, among other things, a statement of their personal commitment to excellence of performance. They don’t see work as just a job to be done or merely a source of “spending money.”

(3) They see work as service to others. They labor toward the betterment of other people, directly or indirectly: clients, customers, employers, colleagues. Thus they’re both task-oriented and people-oriented.

(4) Professionals have respect for experience. They have an ongoing need to learn and improve, to master traditional approaches and then try to improve on them. Among professionals there’s a teaching tradition; people teach and learn by word and example. Professionals also respect the experience of others; they have high regard for professionalism in other lines of work. Moreover, they know how to use the powers of other professionals (lawyers, accountants, consultants) to strengthen their own performance. They seek out sound advice and generally follow it.

(5) They tend to see problems as challenges and opportunities, not burdensome “hassles” to be avoided. They have a long-term habit of approaching problems confidently and optimistically. They don’t let indecision or fear of failure lead to paralysis. They do the best they can with what they have.

(6) They have a high level of personal responsibility and respect for others’ rights. They have a clear sense of the limits to their authority and rights of operation. They don’t meddle in others’ affairs or criticize in areas where they have neither rights nor expertise. So, professionals are unafraid to say, “That’s none of my business” or “I don’t know anything about that….” They tend to have an intense dislike for gossip or otherwise uninformed criticism.

(7) They make efficient use of resources, especially time. They know how to concentrate mind and will on the tasks before them. They work quickly but not hurriedly. They’re careful but not slow.

(8) They compartmentalize work responsibilities from leisure and personal interests. Work hours are devoted exclusively to job performance; leisure and personal affairs wait until the job is done. Responsibilities to clients and employers come ahead of self-interested concerns and pleasures. They know that leisure is most enjoyable when it’s been earned through hard work. They can do their best work no matter how poorly they feel at the moment.

(9) Even off the job, professionals demonstrate admirable character: good judgment, good taste, good manners, a respect for quality in general. Their personality shows tasteful self-restraint combined with concern for others and love of life — in a word, “class.”

(10) The character and values of professionalism are built up first in childhood and then strengthened in adulthood through study, training, and work experience. This means that young people, even teenagers, can mark themselves as professionals — earn the respect of all who work with them — during the first few weeks of their first job.

Workplace Savvy

(1) There’s such a thing as a professional vocation. It’s some passionate love that directs your powers to the welfare of others and earns you a living. While growing up, you should search long and wide to find some line of work that appeals to your heart — some labor that gives you the joy you knew in childhood, when work and play were one. Few pleasures in life are more delightful than a job we really enjoy.

(2) One word of caution, though. You may love music or drama or sports so much that you think of these fields as potential careers. Fine, but anchor yourself in reality. The worlds of entertainment and sports bring delight to millions, so a few hundred-thousand youngsters aspire to work in them — and everyone in this vast throng is competing against you. To succeed, you need to be exceptionally talented, extremely hard-working, single-mindedly ambitious, well connected with influential people, and (to be frank about it) very, very lucky. No matter how you look at it, the odds are hugely against you. Remember, no matter what you later do for a living, you can always enjoy these pursuits as recreational pastimes.

(3) When leaning toward a career, ask yourself: “What can I be an expert in?” Then work to become that expert.

(4) Rely on family and friends to tell you what you’re really good at. When we’re good at something, we’re usually among the last to know it. Others notice our talent before we do, because to us the gift seems natural, easy, almost effortless. So pay attention when people close to you all say the same thing: You have some talent that you should develop.

(5) Success in one’s career doesn’t necessarily mean great fame and big money. Real success in work and life means several things:

— being able to support yourself and your family comfortably
— waking up in the morning and looking forward to the day’s work
— earning the respect of everyone who knows you: family, friends, bosses, subordinates, clients, customers, neighbors
— seeing your powers and skills work toward the betterment of others
— enjoying leisure pursuits thoroughly because you’ve earned them.

(6) Throughout human history, finding a good job has always been a matter of whom you know. Credentials, experience, cold calls, mass mailings of résumés — none of these things beats connections through friends. Your friends won’t have a job for you, but their friends might. In other words, we get a job most quickly and effectively through the friends of our friends. For this reason alone, it pays to have many friends and acquaintances. (Related piece of advice: Maintain contact with your closest friends from high school and college. Work at making them friends for life.)

(7) In your first couple of jobs, try to work for a good boss, someone who’ll challenge your powers, correct you, and help you learn from your mistakes. A good boss will teach you more in one year than you’ll learn in four years of college.

(8) Notice that successful bosses have effective communication skills: they’re attentive listeners and clear explainers. They learn from people, including their employees. They lead their people to understand what’s important.

(9) Arrogant, tyrannical egomaniacs sometimes make it to the top of a business, largely because of their pyrotechnic energy — but eventually they get into trouble. Often big trouble. They blunder because of egocentric misjudgments; they cut corners with the law; they drive away good employees; their arrogance affronts clients, customers, or — finally and fatally — Board directors. Their spectacular sacking makes headlines. Moral: In the long run, it pays to be a considerate, responsible team leader. An effective boss removes obstacles from people’s performance; he doesn’t create them.

(10) Work in such a way that you make your boss look good.

(11) Generally speaking, when a company is downsizing, the first people to go are the ones who made few friends in the organization. But those people with a lot of friends tend to remain. All other things being equal, bosses prefer to retain competent people whom they also like and respect.

(12) Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Let your dress and grooming reflect your self-respect and professionalism. Pay special attention to your shoes and shirts. Your bosses will notice.

(13) Get in good physical shape and work to stay that way. Generally speaking, conspicuously overweight people suffer a competitive disadvantage in the workplace. Unless they’re exceptionally skilled in some technical area, they get passed over in favor of healthier looking competitors, especially if their jobs involve personal contact with the public. This is, of course, often unfair — but much of life is unfair, and we have to come to terms with reality.

(14) Personal integrity is crucially important in business. Tell nothing but the truth and always keep your word. Bosses and clients can forgive isolated, well intentioned mistakes and even blunders — but if you lie, you’re through.

(15) Mind your own business. The top of someone’s desk isn’t a bulletin board, so don’t read what’s on other people’s desks or computer monitors. If bosses or co-workers find you snooping, they won’t trust you.

(16) Similarly, don’t make critical comments about matters that lie outside your areas of responsibility. Stick to your own business. Don’t get a reputation as a busybody. Every responsible professional knows that loose-talking meddlers are also either slackers or control freaks. In either case, nobody trusts them.

(17) Don’t talk negatively about people behind their backs. If you gossip, people won’t confide in you. Besides, office gossip has a way, mysteriously, of making its way to the gossipee. Here, as in so many other areas, keep your mouth shut and you’ll stay out of trouble.

(18) If there’s a lot of badmouth gossip in your office, especially about management, then start looking for another job. Poor morale nearly always arises from crummy management, and a company rife with gossip is on the verge of business collapse.

(19) Don’t whisper with people in hallways or other public places. This look sneaky and conspiratorial. Step into a room or out of people’s earshot and then talk in a normal voice.

(20) Before you use anyone’s name for a reference, be sure to get that person’s permission. Since good professionals always check references, your failure to secure prior permission makes your reference worse than useless. Remember, all bosses detest unpleasant surprises.

(21) No matter what it takes, be on time for all business appointments. If possible, arrive a few minutes early. No matter how late you work, get to your job on time.

(22) Strive your best to keep a deadline, especially one you’ve promised. If you clearly cannot meet it, then apologize and ask for an extension. (People won’t remember that work was a little late, but they’ll remember if it was crummy.) Once you’ve gotten an extension, then that’s it. Do whatever is necessary — stay up late, call in outside help — to turn in good work on time.

(23) If someone does a special favor for you (for example, gives time for a job interview), send a personal thank-you note within two days. Keep a supply of good-quality thank-you notecards or “monarch” stationery for this purpose.

(24) When you deal with professional people socially (especially physicians, accountants, and attorneys), don’t ask for professional advice or otherwise talk shop.

(25) When you attend social occasions, always carry a couple of your business cards. But don’t offer one to someone until the very end of a conversation, when you’re parting, and only if it’s clear that the new acquaintance might like to meet with you again sometime. Passing out cards gratuitously looks pushy and amateurish.

(26) If you’re having a business lunch, don’t start talking business until everyone has ordered food and drink. Make small talk until orders are taken.

(27) Generally speaking, it’s better to avoid alcohol with lunch. A glass of wine is OK with the meal, but stay away from pre-lunch cocktails, especially strong ones. Have a tomato juice or similar concoction instead. Even moderate alcohol consumption, like excessive eating can take the edge off work performance in the afternoon. Things get blurry, and people notice.

(28) Don’t use foul language in the workplace. If you do, people lose respect for you.

(29) Consciously or otherwise, people associate habitual foul-mouthed speech with childish self-centeredness or fundamental lack of self-control. Gratuitous vulgarity, moreover, often signals that someone is burdened with an addictive personality. That is, if you searched more closely, you’d find some other areas of life barely under control, or altogether out of control.

(30) Sexual harassment is a very real and serious problem in the workplace. Women professionals deeply resent it and rightly fight against it. Current measures to eradicate it in business organizations, including legal proceedings, are deadly serious and long overdue. Always treat women co-workers with respect and professional courtesy.

(31) Follow rules for telephone etiquette:
— Speak with a normal, pleasant, courteous voice, especially when answering.
— When calling someone you don’t know, identify yourself.
— Always ask if this is a good time to talk.
— If you foresee that you’ll have to leave a message on voice mail, have a brief,
clear message rehearsed, one that doesn’t sound nervously improvised.
— Return all phone calls promptly.
— Limit personal calls to important matters only, and be brief.

(32) Don’t take things personally. If some people are ill-tempered or rub you the wrong way, that’s their problem, usually something in their private lives off the job. Don’t let their problem become yours. Just shrug it off and stick to your job.

(33) Related to this, if you must correct someone, don’t get personal about it. Correct the fault, not the person. Make the correction privately, never in front of others.

(34) Give praise only when it’s deserved, and make it sincere. In some ways, insincere praise is worse than none at all.

(35) Take care of the company’s resources — money, cars, office supplies, travel accommodations, computers — as if they were your own. That is, don’t abuse them and don’t pilfer anything.

(36) Don’t take problems to your boss unless you also propose some considered solutions. Bosses don’t need additional problems; they have enough as it is. What they need and want are solutions.

(37) Unless you’re the boss, it’s not your job to change company policies. If you find policies or ongoing practices very hard to live with, don’t complain. Just look for another job and try to leave on good terms. When you get another job, don’t badmouth your previous company or its management. Remember, bosses tend to sympathize with each other as a class. Your (perceived) disloyalty to former employers would leave a bad taste and arouse mistrust.

(38) Sometimes people will pester you with complaints and perceived problems, and it’s clear they just want to talk and talk. You can cut this annoyance short by asking, repeatedly if necessary, “So, how can I help you?”

(39) A business meeting should optimally have a clear, purposeful agenda that everyone understands beforehand. Stick to the point; a meeting should improve people’s performance, not get in its way. At the end of a meeting, everyone should clearly understand what needs to be done next, and by whom.

(40) Every few months, take a couple of hours to think deeply about your career and your future. How are things going? Where am I headed? What opportunities might I be overlooking? Where do I want to be five years down the road? — Have a file where you keep notes on accomplishments to update your résumé, and do this at least twice a year.
An updated résumé is like a first-aid kit: if you need it at all, you usually need it in a hurry.

(41) As you move along Plan A of your career, maintain a Plan B as well — an alternative career course to rely on if you suddenly must. If someone loses a job, he or she quickly needs to undertake thinking, planning, networking, and action. Maintaining a Plan B means doing your thinking, planning, and networking ahead of time, long before the emergency, so you can move swiftly into action. Be prepared for anything.

(42) Conduct yourself all your life with the standards of right and wrong that your mother and father taught you since childhood. Don’t do anything that would betray your parents’ principles or bring them shame.

(43) Always remember that the secret of success is passion. So think big. We tend to become what we think about. If you have high ambitions of service to people, starting with your family, you’ll be honored as an outstanding man and a great professional.

Discipline: What Works and Why

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Here are some basic ideas about the parents’ role of moral leadership in the family, often referred to as “discipline.”–

1) Let’s start with an absolutely basic principle: your rights of authority in the family

Effective parent leaders understand that parenthood is not an elective office; you do not have to curry favor with your children. Your rights as a parent come with the job, with your responsibility.

In the home as in business, authority and responsibility–rights and duties–must go hand in hand; you cannot have one without the other. The two have to be proportional, of equal heft. If you were handed a tough assignment at work but were denied the power and resources to carry it out, you’d be stymied with the burden of your duties, and you’d seethe with resentment at this injustice. Nobody–in any human situation–can bear responsibility without the power to carry it out.

As a parent, you take on enormous responsibility. You are responsible for your children’s welfare, and for this you answer to the law, to society, to your conscience, to your Creator. In fact–and this is something parents seldom think about–you will even answer later to your grown children; someday they will look back and judge you, up or down, for the way you dealt with them in childhood.

So when a man and woman become parents, they take on rights as well. They confidently claim the authority–the power to choose and decide–that they must possess to lead their children responsibly, to keep them from harm.

Authority means, among other things, the right to be obeyed. Smart parents may harbor quiet doubts about many things in family life, but they never doubt their right to their children’s obedience. They assert this right, as they assert all their other rights, in a clear, no-nonsense way. But they do this with understanding and affection: they’re “affectionately assertive,” and this is the essence of parental leadership.

2.)        The word “discipline” has had a bad press. It’s widely misunderstood to mean punishment. But it does not mean punishment. Nor does it mean control for its own sake. And it does not mean enforcing rules just for the sake of minimizing hassles at home, a kind of “damage control.”

Discipline certainly involves occasional punishment and some control as well as clear guidelines for behavior. But its real meaning is far deeper and more important. Discipline really means confident, effective leadership.

Look at it this way. The word “discipline” is related to the word “disciple,” and it springs from the Latin word meaning “to learn.” Discipline is what happens when some leader teaches and his “disciples” learn. Broadly speaking, discipline means teaching and learning, leading and joining.

To repeat the key idea here, discipline in family life means teaching the children to acquire–by personal example, directed practice, and verbal explanation (in that order)– the great virtues of sound judgment, a sense of responsibility, personal courage, self-control, and magnanimity. These take root in the give and take of family life and then flower to healthy maturity through the steady nourishment of confident, unified parental leadership. All this takes years.

So, discipline (teaching) requires planning and patience as much as occasional swift corrective action. It calls for example-giving as much as rules, and encouragement and praise as much as loving denial and just punishment.

It means living in the family such that children are made to do what is right–as the parents see this–and shun what is wrong, and to explain the differences so compellingly that the children will remember the lessons all their lives and then pass them on to their children. That’s the long and the short of it.

3.)        All the effective parents I’ve known practice what might be called affectionate assertiveness. That is, they assert correct conduct and attitudes by their example, action, and words. At the same time they’re unfailingly affectionate with their children. They correct their children because they love them, want to protect them, and care above all else for their future welfare and happiness.

They set out to correct the fault, not the person. They “hate the sin, love the sinner.” They’re willing, on occasion, to risk being temporarily “unpopular” with a wayward son or daughter–knowing that their future happiness is at stake and that their children will someday thank the and revere them as great parents.

How do you show affection to your children?

You physically touch them. You welcome them on your knee and embrace them. You take their hand while walking together. You playfully squeeze them on the shoulder or arm. When walking by them as they’re sitting someplace, you pat them on the head or ruffle their hair a bit. You invite them to sit next to you and pat them when they sit down. You give them a wink and a smile. You tell corny jokes and laugh at theirs. You tell funny stories and find other ways to share a good laugh, but without offending anyone. You whisper things in their ears. (Sometimes, when you feel like shouting something at your small children, have them sit on your lap instead and whisper it into their ear; this never fails to get their attention. And your correction comes across affectionately, as it should.)

You show happiness and pride in their accomplishments. You make praise every bit as specific as blame. (Parents tend to make blame specific but to put praise in vague generalities: “You’ve been a good girl this morning….”) Praise them for a job well done, even when they’ve done it as punishment: “You did a great job making your bed this morning…. Your room is spic and span, just the way it should be…. Your homework looks neat and professional, and I’m proud of you….” Children need sincere praise from time to time. In fact, we all do. One of people’s greatest needs, at any age, is sincere appreciation.

When you tuck them into bed, you linger a bit, just a couple of minutes to make small talk. Bedtime is a great occasion to talk things over with children, and listen to them. All their lives, they will fondly remember their bedtime chats with Mom and Dad.

Most of all, with both sons and daughters, you show affection with your eyes.
You should listen to your children with your eyes. When you deliberately make eye-contact with them, especially when they’re speaking to you, you show how much you care for them. In your eyes they can read your soul–your love for them, your pride in them, your hopes for their future.

Somehow, mysteriously, normal children sense when their parents correct them out of love. Great parents correct because they love. Even though kids dislike the correction itself, deep down they grasp the love behind their parents’ direction. Sooner or later as they grow up, they understand that their parents’ occasional wrath is aimed at their faults, not them personally.

Since you, as a parent, show plenty of affection in normal, non-confrontational situations in family life (which is most of the time), and because you always show willingness to forgive once apologies are made and punishment completed, your children sense the truth–that your whole life, including episodes of corrective punishment, devotes itself to their happiness. Later, as young adults, and even before they’re out of their teens, they will fully understand why your love moved you to act as you did, and they will thank you.

4)        So, these things being said, what can you do to punish misbehavior in fairly serious matters? Here is a list drawn from parents’ experience:

  • Physically, but painlessly, restrain the children. Take them by the hand or arm and remove them to someplace private. Take both hands or wrists in yours, hold the children still, and look them in the eye. Say what you have to say in a low but “I-mean-business” way and keep at it until they’ve understood and said they are sorry.
  • Remove them physically and make them spend what some parents call “time out”–a few minutes of isolation away from the family, even in a closed room. Don’t let them return until they’ve said they’re sorry. (For very young children, you may have to supervise their time in a corner or some other “punishment spot.”)
  • For older children, remove privileges. This means no games or television or use of the telephone. For teens it might mean no phone calls or going out with friends or use of the car. (Teens who display thoughtless attitudes and uncontrolled impulsiveness are a menace on the road and shouldn’t drive anyway. You can make this clear to them: only responsible, mature adults may drive the family car.)
  • Put them to work. Have a so-called “job jar” at home. This is a receptacle containing slips of paper describing jobs to be done around the house. Let the malefactor pick out three slips and then choose one, which must then be done to your satisfaction. Also, if kids complain they’re “bored” around the house, direct them to the job jar. Parents who do this hardly ever hear complaints from their kids about boredom. The word “boring” disappears from the family vocabulary.
  • If two siblings are quarreling and won’t stop after one warning, put both of them to work on the same project: cleaning dishes, raking leaves, gardening, washing the car, whatever. This treatment usually brings about a reconciliation. Misery likes company.

I have to insert a parenthesis here: For many kids in consumerist families, being banished to the bedroom is scarcely a punishment at all. Typically, kids’ rooms bulge with stereos, radio, television, and electronic games galore, and the kids live like pashas. Their rooms are essentially entertainment centers surrounding a bed.

From what I can see, many healthy families hold firmly to this policy: each child’s bedroom is a place for study, reading, and sleep–period. Entertainment gadgets are only for common areas of the house, where people can enjoy them together. This policy has the happy side effect of eliminating distractions from homework. It works. And the kids learn a truth about life: When we try to work and play at the same time, we wind up doing neither–leisure is really enjoyable only when we’ve earned it.

In any event, whatever method of correction you use with your small children, see it as an investment that will later yield high return. Once you’ve established your authority in their youngest years, then you’ve won most of the battle. When they’re older, just a businesslike warning or flashing-eyed glare from you, or even your expression of “disappointment,” usually works to restore cooperation. By that time, the kids know you mean business. In child rearing as in law (and especially with the IRS), there are few things as effective as a sincere threat.

5)        Smart parents–those who live this affectionate assertiveness–work with each other to plan out different lessons of responsibility (that is, punishments) in response to their children’s varying types of misbehavior. This is important. The more carefully these responses are thought out beforehand, and thus made routine in family life, the calmer and more consistent both parents can be in handling their kids’ provocations.

This rational structure avoids, or at least minimizes, the problem in many ineffective families, especially when dealing with teen-agers–impromptu punishments imposed in anger, often harsh and overreactive, and resented as unfair.

Remember, you can be tough with normal children and quite effective with them if, and only if, they perceive that you’re trying to be fair.

Here is a rational structure for imposing memorable correction on the kids for their wayward ways. It’s based on a sound principle from military history: Those generals who chose their battlegrounds ahead of time usually managed to win–Hannibal at Cannae, Wellington at Waterloo, Lee at Fredericksburg, Eisenhower at Normandy.

Choose your battleground. Don’t scatter your resources trying to correct the kids every single time they do wrong. If you tried this, you’d soon need to be fitted for a straitjacket.
Instead, establish three levels of misbehavior, each calling for proportionately heavy response. In rising order of seriousness, these are…

First, misdemeanors. These are minor infractions, just kiddish misdeeds arising from childish inexperience, thoughtlessness, reckless impulsiveness–such as tracking mud in the house, noisy rough-housing, throwing missiles indoors, forgetting (that is, honestly forgetting) to do chores, failing to put things away. A lot of these habits the kids will outgrow anyway. These misdeeds call for quick but low-level response, or sometimes just letting the matter go. It’s like the quality control system in a factory: try to catch a sample every few times. You don’t need to correct minor goofs every single time, and you might go crazy if you tried.

Secondly, serious infractions. These are acts where children infringe on the rights of others, especially siblings–causing offense by name-calling, taking property without permission, physical aggression, refusing to give or accept apology, using profanity, and similar deeds of barbaric injustice. Though you can occasionally overlook the misdemeanors mentioned above, you must correct these serious lapses of justice and charity practically every single time.

Never forget, every time you correct your children’s injustices, their infringements on the rights of others, you are forming their lifelong conscience and ethics. You are preparing them for the way they will later treat their spouses, children, and professional colleagues. So there is a lot at stake here. Don’t let up and don’t give up.

Third, felony infractions. These are serious matters that endanger your children’s welfare, either now or later in life, and they call for the severest punishment every single time, whatever this might be. The kids should have the roof fall in on them.

For the youngest children this category obviously includes whatever physically endangers them now: playing with fire, wandering into the street, poking metal objects into electrical outlets, and the like. Punishment should be swift and memorable. It seems that nearly all parents, even the most pacifist, react this way instinctively.

But equally important are those wrongdoings that threaten children’s welfare later on as adults–those acts that imperil their basic concepts of respect for rightful authority and the importance of personal integrity. You must impose swift, serious punishment every time your children do the following:

  • Show disrespect for you personally–call you names, try to strike you, raise their voice in anger at you, say that they “hate” you.
  • Attempt to defy your authority–say “no” or otherwise refuse to comply with your direction, or deliberately “forget” to do so. This pertains even in relatively minor matters, especially after you’ve given warning. If you direct your child to clean up a mess of his and he refuses or just walks away, then the issue becomes one of authority, not just clean-up. You must not permit him to get away with this defiance.
  • Deliberately lie to you, especially after being put on their honor to tell the truth.

These three areas are vitally important for your children’s welfare. Everything you have to teach your kids depends on their respect for you and for your authority and for their own word of honor. If you lose this, you lose them.

6.)  Effective parents combine rightful authority with respect for their children’s rights.
Children do have rights, of course. Not because they’re children, but because they are people; and all people, even young ones, have certain basic rights. Here are the rights that great parents keep in mind as they exercise moral leadership in the family:

Right to privacy (up to a point)

Children need a certain security of privacy. For instance, they should have a place of their own to keep personal effects away from prying by other family members. And their normal, above-board dealings with friends should be respected as “personal,” essentially no one’s business but theirs.

Naturally, these privacy rights are not absolute, just as they’re not absolute in adult society either. Sometimes privacy rights must give way before higher necessity; for instance, the law can force testimony under oath about some personal affairs, and it makes allowances for “reasonable search” in criminal investigations.

So, too, in your family. Your children’s privacy rights give way to your parental rights wherever some serious danger suggests itself–for instance, in possible involvement with drugs, or what you perceive as excessive intimacy with the opposite sex. But in normal circumstances, parents who respect their children’s privacy generally find that their children grow to be open and sincere with them. If you respect their rights, they will respect your judgment, and then come to you with the truth. It is control-oriented, excessively prying parents who find their children close-mouthed, secretive, and sneaky.

  • Right to presumption of innocence. Don’t rush to judgment. Listen to your children’s side of things, especially in dealing with your older children, and most especially when you did not personally witness the alleged misdeed. But by the same token, never undercut your spouse if it was he or she who witnessed things. If you think your spouse is mistaken or overreactive, then discuss the matter privately.
  • Right not to be publicly embarrassed. Whenever you can, make corrections personally and privately, as you would in business. If you chew out your child in front of siblings or friends, the lesson is probably lost. Your child’s resentment at public humiliation acts like static to cancel out your message. Corrections made privately–eyeball to eyeball–go straight to the point.
  • Right to just punishment. An angry, overreactive punishment easily skyrockets way out of proportion to the original provocation. To be effective and long-lasting–to get the lesson across for life–punishment has to be fair. It will be fair if it’s rational, and it’s rational if thought out carefully beforehand, as mentioned above. Sometimes, in fact, you can even ask your son or daughter to propose a suggestion of their own for reasonable punishment: “What do you think is fair? Make me an offer.” More often than not, surprisingly, their proposals turn out to be reasonable, and sometimes even more severe than what you had in mind.
  • Right to a second chance. This means that, once apologies and restitution are forthcoming, the kids start with a clean slate. Children, like all the rest of us, resent grudge-bearing and long memories for past misdeeds that were supposedly forgiven and over with. We do not really forgive unless we also forget. When you truly forgive and forget, you show the kids that you disapprove of their faults, not them personally. Forgiveness like this is crucial, absolutely indispensable for family solidarity. The family is one place in the world where we can always count on a fresh start.

From time to time, through rage or oversight, you may blunder in doing justice to your children. Nobody’s perfect. Whenever this happens, follow up with an apology.

If you imposed an excessive punishment, then retract it and scale back to whatever seems reasonable. Don’t ever be afraid to say “I’m sorry” to your children, and to explain why. Never fear that you’ll seem inconsistent in their eyes. You really are being consistent in what matters most–your heartfelt determination to treat them fairly. When you apologize, you teach them a valuable lesson: you put justice ahead of your ego.

What are we talking about here? In all of this we’re really talking about the way responsible grown-ups try to treat each other. You, like anyone else, would expect other adults to respect your rights to privacy, presumption of innocence, personal dignity, just punishment, and so on. You’d expect this treatment from your spouse , your employers, the law. So, what you’re really teaching your children is ethical conduct among responsible adults. You are treating your children as adults-in-the-making, and you begin by respecting them as people.

7.)            Sometimes negative guidelines are at least as helpful as positive ones, often much more so. It’s sometimes useful for a parent to know what not to do–that is, what to avoid–in a complicated situation.

I used to ask veteran parents (people whose children had grown and gone) what warnings or other “negative know-how” they’d pass on to younger parents . In paraphrase, here are some bits of hard-earned wisdom they shared with me….

  • To husbands: Don’t neglect your wife. She needs what we all need: understanding, affection, gratitude, support, and appreciation. For sure, she doesn’t get these from the kids when they’re small. So if she doesn’t get them from her husband either, then she doesn’t get them at all. You can tell you’re neglecting her if she starts complaining about small things around the house, one after another, circling around and around the central problem: your apparent unconcern for her. Wake up. Pay attention. Listen to her opinion, help her out, tell her she’s great, hug and kiss her from time to time–all this goes a long way. Every time you kiss your wife in front of the children, you are, in effect, kissing each of them in turn.
  • To wives: Don’t undercut your husband. Do all you can to lead your children to respect their father and his authority. He simply cannot lead as a father without his children’s abiding respect. Your children’s growth in character, their lifelong happiness, can rise or fall on how deeply they respect their Dad. So lead them, by your example and your praise for him, to view their father as you do: a great man, a model of masculine strength and accomplishment, a self-sacrificing hero worthy of the whole family’s gratitude and honor. Your children’s respect for their Dad grow directly from your own esteem for him, and this is crucially important to his influence on their lives.
    Listen to this story from a man in the Midwest: “I was the youngest of five children in a single-parent home. My Dad died when I was an infant, so I never knew him. My mother raised us as a widow, and she was a great woman. Every now and then, when I was getting out of hand as a boy, and even as a teenager, my Mom would take me aside and say, ‘Jimmy, your father would never approve of what you’re doing right now! He would be very upset. So stop it…’ This never failed to touch me, not once. It always brought me to my senses and made me straighten out.”
    Do you see? The father of this home continued to influence his children for good, even after his death, because of his great wife’s love and honor for him. Because he was still alive in her heart, he was still the father of this family.
  • Don’t underestimate your children. Have high ambitions for their swift, step-by-step growth into maturity. We all tend to become what we think about, and kids tend to become what their parents expect of them. Even when they sometimes let you down and you have to correct them, make them understand that you see this as just a blip along the way. You have no doubt, none whatever, that they’ll someday grow into excellent men and women. You’re proud of them, confident in them. Always will be.
  • Don’t treat teenagers like large children. Think of them, and treat them, as near-adults. Pull them up, fine-tune their consciences, welcome them to adult reality. Show them how to balance a checkbook, pursue a job, work professionally, please their bosses, deal respectfully with the opposite sex. Show them how to buy good clothes, take care of their wardrobe, and dress well. When they complain, “Why don’t you trust me?” teach them that you distinguish between integrity and judgment. You trust their integrity and sense of family honor, their honesty and good intentions–always have, always will. What you must mistrust for now, in good conscience, is their inexperienced judgment; that is, you cannot and will not let them hurt themselves through their naïve blunders. When they start thinking like responsible adults, then you’ll trust them right across the board–in judgment as well as integrity.
  • Don’t ever tell your teens that the high-school years are the best part of their lives. This isn’t true. Adolescence, in fact, is one of life’s toughest times: coping with blunders and glandular upheavals, surfing up and down learning curves. Tell your kids, and above all show them, that every stage of life is interesting, challenging, enjoyable for anyone with a sporting, adventurous spirit. Teens who’ve been well brought up have a great life ahead of them, like the life they see in you. (Think about it: How many older teens and young adults are tempted to commit suicide because they believe what they’ve been told: the best part of life is behind them?)
  • Don’t let your kids weasel out of commitments. Don’t let them take back their word on a whim. Before they make promises or otherwise commit themselves to a course of action, press them to think consequences through and understand their terms, because you will hold them to their word. If they want to buy a pet, make them first commit themselves to feeding and caring for it–then hold them to that. If they accept an invitation to a party (after first checking with you), they’re obligated to attend even if something more alluring turns up. If they want to take guitar lessons, make them promise to persevere, no matter what, for two or more years.
  • Don’t ask children if they’d “like” to do something that you expect them to do anyway. Simply tell them firmly and positively of the plan. And similarly, don’t ask “OK?” at the end of a directive request–“It’s your turn to put the dishes away, OK?” What you mean by this term is “Do you understand?” But they may take it to mean “Do you approve? Is this all right with you?” This misunderstanding can lead to problems.
  • When you’re correcting your kids and they ask “Why?”–don’t argue with them. If they’re looking for an explanation, give it once only. If they persist with “Why?” then they’re looking for an argument, not an explanation. Close off the matter. In other words, they must take your “no” as an answer, but you don’t take theirs. You can dialogue with your kids about many issues, but there’s no “dialogue” about your rights as a parent.
  • Don’t let your kids dress in such a way as to bring shame to the family. Nobody has a right to do this.
  • Don’t miss small opportunities to talk with your kids. Listen politely and respectfully. You can talk with them while driving, doing dishes and other chores together, walking and biking, working on hobbies you share, tucking them into bed. If you cut down on tube-watching, you’ll find slivers and chunks of time here and there. Make the time, and never forget you haven’t much of it left–your kids will grow up with incredible swiftness.
  • Don’t shout at your kids all the time. It’s a waste of breath. If one of your kids needs a talking to, take him or her out for a walk or a soda–and say what you have to say in a calm, serious way. Don’t forget to listen, either–for your kids’ view of things, though wrong, may still have a point. A couple of heart-to-heart talks are better than a dozen explosions.
  • Don’t get trapped into blazing arguments, especially with your teens, and most especially if you have a temper. Words can wound and take a long time to heal. If tempers are flaring, put off the discussion till later–that evening or the next day–when you’ve both cooled down. If you go too far, be the first to apologize.
  • Don’t forget to praise your children, and be specific about it. Kids need a pat on the back from time to time. We all do. Give praise for effort, not just success. Teach the kids this adult-life lesson: because success depends on effort, then effort is more important than success. You always appreciate when your children try.
  • Come down to your children’s level, but don’t stay there. Kids are kids, and you have to come down to their level to take them by the hand. But your long-term goal is to bring them up to your own level–to lead them, patiently over time, to think and act like mature grown-ups. So live like a grown-up. Enjoy being an adult on top of life, and let them see what this means. If they see you enjoy living as a confident, productive adult, they’ll have a life to look forward to.

The Vision of Parent Leaders

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Any time people engage in an important, responsible undertaking for others’ welfare–whether a business, a job, government affairs, or a family–there’s a need for clear, competent leadership. The more serious the challenge, the greater the need for someone to direct everyone’s efforts in an inspiring, encouraging way toward the ultimate goal.

The real mission for parents is to raise their children toward responsible adulthood. All the dynamics of family life lead to this: what kind of men and women the children will grow to be. No challenge is more important than this, and so great parents emerge in family life as real leaders.

How do they do this? How do fathers and mothers lead their children effectively? To form a picture of parental leadership, let’s look at the characteristics of leaders and see how parents fit the profile of leadership in family life.

Leaders are moved by a distant vision, and they thus win people’s respect.

Here’s a broad statement that you’ll probably agree with: In business and professional life and in affairs of state, our most respected leaders are those who look farthest toward the future and foresee oncoming perils and opportunities. Respected leadership and strategic foresight go hand in hand. The farther and clearer the vision, the greater the respect.

It seems that this dynamic works in successful families, too. Parents–all kinds of men and women with different temperaments–succeed in family life through their confident leadership. Successful parents base their confidence in knowing they have this sacred mission to carry out with their children. They see themselves raising adults, not children. They have been called by God to carry out a job, and that holy task is this: to lead their children–with daily sacrificial effort–to grow into confident, responsible, considerate, generous men and women who are committed to live by Christian principles all their lives, no matter what the cost.

Being conscious of this mysterious and sacred mission, holding it always before their eyes, is what turns these parents into great men and women themselves, real heroes to their children, and makes their family life together a great, rollicking, beautiful adventure.

Effective parent leaders look at their children and picture them 20 years from now, as grown men and women with job and family responsibilities of their own. They seem to understand a truth of life: Children will tend to grow up to our expectations or down to them. So, these parent leaders set high ideals for their children’s later lives. They think of their children’s future along these lines–

  • The children will have excellent judgment, especially in the choice of a spouse and the upbringing of their own children.
  • They will center their lives in a stable, permanent, happy marriage–raising a great family like the one they grew up in.
  • They will succeed in their careers, whatever these may be–doing work they enjoy, putting their powers up against problems for the welfare of others.
  • They’ll be able to support their families comfortably but not luxuriously, for a life of excess, they know, may destroy their children (the parents’ grandchildren).
  • They will be generous to friends and those in need.
  • They will never live as quitters, slackers, whiners, or cowards–nor will they let their own children live this way.
  • They will be nobody’s fool or pushover. They will not be swayed by charlatans. They will know malarkey when they see it.
  • When they’ve done wrong, they’ll face the truth and apologize. They will not let their pride stand in the way of truth and justice, especially in family life.
  • They will be esteemed by all who know them for their honesty, integrity, hard work, generosity, religious commitment, and good humor.
  • They will remain close to their brothers and sisters for life, giving and receiving encouragement and support.
  • They will live by their parents’ principles. They’ll have a conscience for life–the voice of their parents’ lessons of right and wrong–and they’ll pass these lessons on to their own children.
  • Their whole lives will be moved by love–the willingness to endure and overcome anything for the welfare and happiness of others, starting with their family.

All leaders understand, and shun, the lamentable consequences of neglect

Consider this: Public monuments are never set up to honor someone who intended to do something.

Leaders act. Though they spend time in study and planning, they mostly act. For leaders, study and planning are a ramp-up for action, not a substitute for it.

Moreover, real leaders never let indecision lead to inaction. When confronted with several tough choices of action, they do not shrink back. They brace themselves, choose what they judge as the best way forward, and then set to work as best they can.

Sometimes great leadership means just this: doing the best you can with what you have. If you’re climbing a mountain, you sometimes have to backtrack or surmount obstacles or thrash your way through tangled shortcuts–but as long as you keep moving upward, you’ll reach the summit. The one thing you don’t do is quit. Neglect–to do nothing–is the worst mistake of all.

Parent leaders, too, understand the consequences of neglect. They know they have a job to do–a change to effect–in the minds and hearts of their growing children. And they draw courage to act from foreseeing what awful things could happen to their kids if that job remains undone, if their children retain the flaws and selfishness of childhood into adult life. For instance….

  • If our children remain self-centered–“Me first!”–they will neglect or mistreat others, and their marriages and careers will fly apart. If their marriages break up, we would lose our grandchildren, or our grandchildren would grow up in a fatherless home.
  • If they have no conscience, they will have no inner force to resist temptation. They could cave in to peer-pressures and meet with disasters: drugs, alcohol abuse, recreational sex, trouble with the law.
  • If they never learn to say “please” and “thank you” on their own, without prompting, they will remain as self-centered ingrates. They will neglect or mistreat their spouses and think the world owes them a living.
  • If they do not respect their parents’ authority, they will have trouble with all other rightful authority: teachers, employers, the law, God Himself.
  • If they receive no life-directing guidance from their parents in childhood, they may desperately need guidance later from parent-substitutes: marriage counselors, physicians, mental-health professionals, even cult gurus.
  • If they see life as mostly play, they will treat the automobile as a toy. If they cannot control their tempers, they will fly headlong into “road rage” and treat the car as a weapon. Either way, they could kill or cripple themselves and others.
  • If they form no principled framework for assessing people’s character, they may marry jerks.
  • If they cannot manage their own affairs, they cannot take care of others.
  • If they do not keep their promises, they cannot keep commitments–not to spouse, nor children, nor employers.
  • If they never learn to set and meet goals, they cannot set and meet ideals.
  • If they form a habit of lying, they will someday get fired.
  • If they never learn to balance healthy work and play, their lives could shuttle between drudgery and debauchery. If they never learn to be confident producers, they will live as lifelong adolescent consumers.
  • If they remain lazy and sloppy in work, they’ll get shoved aside by their competition.
  • If they see work as “hassle” to be shunned, they will have wobbly, precarious careers–or will see work as adolescents see it: just a source of “spending money.”
  • If they always expect to have their way, their adult lives will be ravaged by rage and frustration–and their marriages will implode.
  • If they sulk and bear grudges, they will muddle through life as smoldering, self-pitying “victims”–and never amount to anything.
  • If they remain as egocentric children, they may shun having children of their own.
  • If they do not stand for something, they will fall for anything.

How Parents Deal Effectively with their Adolescent Children

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Here are some key ideas to keep in mind–all based on other parents’ experience–in leading your adolescent children toward responsible adulthood.

  • Remind yourself of your real job as a parent: to raise adults, not children. Your job is not to keep your children busy and amused, nor just to keep them out of trouble and make them behave, nor to exercise a kind of “damage control” at home. The real job of parenthood is to lead children–by example, directed practice, and explanation–so that they grow up to be competent, responsible, considerate men and women who are committed to live by Christian principles all their lives. They should live this way before they’re out of their teens. Your responsibility, in other words, is your children’s earthly and eternal happiness–to save their souls from the “second death” and lead them to the 100-fold in this life that Christ has promised to those who love Him.
  • Your overall goal should be to finish the job begun in their childhood: to form the virtues (character-strengths) in them–faith, hope, charity, judgment and conscience, a sense of responsibility, courageous perseverance, self-control. See materialism as your family’s enemy: the belief that man is just a beast, seeing life end with death, living as though pleasure and power were the purposes of life, treating other human beings as objects.
  • Try to treat your adolescents as what they really are: young adults with everything but experience–which you must now exert yourself to provide. Consider adolescence as the final stage of apprenticeship in growing up, the first stage of real adulthood. Do not treat them as large children. Remember that young people tend to come up to our expectations or down to them.
  • Bear this in mind: When children deeply respect their parents (by witnessing them live virtuous lives), they remain relatively immune from peer pressures and the rock/drugs/sex culture. If teens do not see their parents as strong, confident leaders, then they pattern their lives after peers and “celebrities” of the entertainment industry.
  • Never forget, the whole of moral development is to move from self to others. Your children will not grow up when they can take care of themselves, but rather when they can take care of others–and want to. The life-outlook of small children is “Me first!” and the teen years are the time to leave this attitude behind. If teens retain this self-centered outlook into adulthood, they are headed for disasters later in their marriages and careers–and even possible tragedies with drugs, alcohol, and automobile accidents. (Teens who see life as nothing but irresponsible play will tend to treat the automobile as a toy. If they retain an aggressive “me-first” attitude, they can succumb to road rage and treat the car as a weapon.)
  • Be aware that the present-day materialistic “teen culture” is bogus and unrealistic–an historically recent movement that turns adolescents into an artificial leisure class, similar in lifestyle to that of previous ages’ corrupt aristocrats: abundant leisure time, irresponsible avoidance of work, hedonistic abuse of food and alcohol, unlimited access to drugs and recreational sex, life centered around play, flight from boredom, fear only for sexually transmitted disease. The “teen culture” is itself countercultural. Real life–which is what you’re trying to teach–consists of loving sacrifice, responsible commitments, productive and service-oriented work, affectionate relationships with family and friends, enjoyment of food and drink and leisure pursuits in healthy moderation, being loved and respected by all who know us.
  • Distinguish between trusting their integrity and trusting their judgment. When they ask why you don’t trust them, make this clear to them: We implicitly trust your integrity–always have and always will. Unless we have rock-solid evidence otherwise, we trust your honesty and good intentions. What we must sometimes mistrust is your judgment. It’s your inexperienced judgment that can make trouble for you and others; when teens get into trouble, the fault is nearly always bad judgment. Be patient. As you gain experience–directly through living, and indirectly through our experienced advice–you will have much stronger judgment, and then we can trust you entirely, right across the board.
  • Remember that “no” is also a loving word. There’s such a thing as loving denial. If young people do not experience their parents’ loving denial, then they cannot form the strength of self-denial–and this could lead to tragedy. So, permit nothing in your children’s lives that you morally disapprove of. Keep the electronic media under your discerning control. Allow nothing in your home that offends God, undermines your lessons of right and wrong, and treats other people as mere objects. This means no pornography, no gratuitous violence, no glamorous portrayals of sin and disrespect for others. Teach discernment in use of the media: to accept what is good, reject what is wrong, and know the difference.
  • Bear in mind the powerful influence of body chemistry on their emotions and judgment. They are often uncertain, impulsive, overly sensitive, especially at ages 13, 15, and 17. In many ways, the mood swings of adolescence are like those that children display at ages two to five, and are largely caused by the same growth spurts and hormonal currents within them. So they need the same things they needed from you in their earliest years. They need you to be certain, confidently directive, patient, affectionate, understanding, and fair. They also need nutritious food and plenty of sleep.
  • Make clear that you want and expect personal best effort, not just results: that they try their best in studies and try to comply with reasonable house rules. Make the rules in your house start with the word “We….”– Not, “You must be in by 11:30,” but rather, “We all get in at a decent hour.” Not, “You must clean up your room,” but rather, “We all pitch in to make this house clean and pleasant.” Not, “You must apologize,” but rather, “We all apologize when we’ve offended anyone.” Give them credit for trying. Be patient.
  • When you must correct your teens, try to adhere to the same standards you live by when dealing with other adults:
    –No public rebukes; whenever possible, correct privately.
    –No snap judgments: listen to their side of things. Respect their right to presumption of innocence.
    –Don’t rub it in. Never say, “I told you so,” or “If only you’d listened to me….”
    –If emotions are getting out of control, put off discussion till later: “Let’s talk about this tomorrow night.” (Waiting is itself a sort of punishment.)
    –If you’ve overreacted, go back and apologize. They will respect your desire to be fair: you try to put justice and truth ahead of your pride.
  • In worst-case scenarios, you may rely on restrictions on use of the telephone, restrictions on driver’s license and use of car, and summer school.
  • Do not underestimate how much you have learned–how much experience and wisdom you can teach them. Start with these questions: What do I know now that I did not know at age 16, and wish I did? Based on my own experience (successes and mistakes) and what I’ve seen in others’ lives, what can I teach my teens about responsible adult life–making the most of school, finding what you’re good at and planning a career, finding or changing a job, dating and courtship, being a loving and supportive husband and wife, social graces, dealing with friends, sizing up people, staying in shape, overcoming worries, turning out excellent work, professionalism and professional etiquette, setting priorities and managing time, planning and meeting goals, managing finances, shopping intelligently, knowing malarkey when you see it, staying informed about public affairs, living as a responsible and engaged citizen.
  • How can you tell that you are making progress with your children, that they are really growing up, especially in their early teens? In several ways….
    — They are aware of the rights and feelings of others, and act this way.
    — They have a habit of work, putting their powers up against problems. In family life, they are conscious of being needed. That is, they know the meaning of responsibility: if we don’t do our duty, someone else will suffer.
    –They live like producers, not consumers.
    — They can take care of others, and want to.
    — Most of the time, in a host of situations, they do the right thing without being told.
    — When they’ve done wrong, they know it, and they apologize. They readily accept the apologies of others, and they forget as well as forgive.
    — They say, and mean, please and thank you and I’m sorry.
    — They keep their promises. They will endure hardship rather than break their word.
    — Most of their blunders come not from ill will or selfishness, but rather from lack of experience. By and large, they try to do the right thing.
    — Deep down, they know their parents’ corrections come from love: they sense that their parents correct them because they love them.
    — They refrain from whatever would disgrace their family.
    — They choose friends of upright character.
    — Their prayers are addressed to God as a person. So they see sin as a rupture of their personal friendship with God, an offense calling for apology and amendment. They see the Church as an extension of their family–worthy of their love and loyalty, no matter what.
    — People outside the family–friends and neighbors–compliment the parents for their children’s character.
  • Remember that your children may forget most of the details of what you teach them, but they will remember what was important to you. For most of us, the lifelong voice of conscience is the voice of our parents–God speaking to us through the memory of what our parents lovingly taught us.
  • When your children leave home for college, tell them: Do not forget that God is watching over you with love, as He has since your childhood. Do not offend Him, and do nothing that would betray what you learned in our family. We will pray for you every day. Remember that God commands all of us, “Honor your father and mother.” And the way we honor our parents is this: we adopt their values as our own, live by them all our lives, and then pass them on to our own children whole and intact.

Born to Serve, Not to Shop

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Effective Parenting in a Nutshell

The real evil of materialism is not the pursuit of things. It is, rather, seeing and treating other people as things–and therefore putting things ahead of people. Youngsters with a habit of thinking and acting this way are headed toward trouble later in life: substance abuse, professional problems, marital break-up, a life dominated by impulse and unrestrained egoism. So what can parents do with their young children now to build strong character and lead children away from materialism?

  1. Be confident of your rightful authority as a parent and insist that your children respect it. Your responsibility as a parent is enormous, and you must exercise a self-confident loving authority to carry it out. Your children’s confidence in your leadership will derive from your own self-confident sense of mission.
  2. Remember that you’re raising adults, not children. When you think of your children’s future, picture character as well as career. Your job is not to keep children amused and busy. It is, rather, to lead your children to become competent, responsible, considerate, and generous men and women who are committed to live by principles of integrity. Think of what your children will be, not just what they will do.
  3. Teach the great character strengths (virtues): prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, and charity. In today’s terms, these are called sound judgment and conscience, a sense of responsibility, courageous perseverance, self-mastery, and respect for the rights and sensibilities of others. You teach these strengths in three ways: by your personal example, your direction of your children’s behavior, and your verbal explanations of right and wrong. But you teach mostly by example. Remember that conscience is the memory of our parents’ voices, their loving lessons of right and wrong taught to us in our youth.
  4. Teach your children the four great pillars of civilized dealings with others: “please,” “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I give my word.” Using these habitually in speech is a basis for respecting the rights of others.
  5. Teach your children the meaning of the word “integrity.” Integrity means unity of intention, word, and action–that is, we mean what we say, we say what we mean, and we keep our word. We always tell the truth and we keep our promises.
  6. Realize that “no” is also a loving word, and your children must hear it from time to time in order to acquire self-control. Children who never experience loving parental denial cannot form the concept of self-denial–and this can later lead to disaster.
  7. Make your children wait for something they want, and if possible make them earn it. Waiting and earning are part of responsible adult life, which is what you are after. Let the children learn the difference between wants and needs. Let them see that “everybody else has one” and “everybody else is doing it” are, at best, lame reasons for any course of action. Sound judgment and conscience are guides for life, and these should never give way to thoughtless conformity.
  8. Raise your children to be producers, not consumers. Let them put their powers up against problems to solve them, and thus grow into healthy self-confidence. Lead them to take schoolwork and home chores seriously so they will learn the meaning of responsible service. We humans are born to serve, not to shop. Children do not grow up when they can take care of themselves; they really grow up when they can take care of others–and want to.
  9. Practice “affectionate assertiveness” in disciplining your children. Correct the fault, not the person; hate the sin, love the sinner. Show your children you love them too much to let them grow up with their faults uncorrected.
  10. Keep the electronic media under your discerning control. Permit nothing in your home that undermines your lessons of right and wrong and treats other people as mere things. This means no pornography, no gratuitous violence, no glamorous portrayals of insolence and disrespect for others. Teach discernment in use of the media: to accept what is good, reject what is wrong, and know the difference.
  11. Listen to your children. That’s listen, not obey. When you keep the media under your control, you will have much more time to dialogue with your children. Learn what is going on in their developing minds and guide them with your responsible judgment. Live as a responsible adult who’s on top of life, and let them learn what this means.
  12. Never forget: You have one chance–and only one–to raise your children right. Forming your children’s character and conscience is your #1 priority. If you make a sacrificial effort now, while your children are still young, you can later enjoy the honor they bring you as confident, responsible, considerate men and women–who strive to pass on your values to their own children.

A Father’s Unity of Life

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Let’s start off with a crucially important concept: unity of life. You are one person, not two. You are the same man, both on the job with your colleagues and at home with your family and friends. You cannot live two lives; you must be the same person in both spheres of responsible operation.

Men who are weak and ineffective fathers tend to split their lives between work and family. That is, they live as producers at work but consumers at home.

On the job they dedicate their powers to serious, responsible activity; but at home they rest passively in pleasurable recreation. In the workplace, their character strengths operate at all-out exertion — everyone sees and respects their sound judgment, sense of responsibility, tough-minded perseverance, and self-control. But at home, their inner strengths rest on idle, set aside (so to speak) for the day, and thereby hidden from their children’s eyes.

Successful fathers do not live like this. They are smart, effective leaders at home as well as on the job. Their strengths of character impress their children as much as their colleagues at work. Their devotion to their family, in fact, gives meaning and purpose to their strenuous life of professional work. The main purpose of their work is the welfare of their family, and their children know this.

In short, a successful father exercises leadership at home as much as on the job — and in roughly the same ways.
What does this mean? Let’s first look at how a man typically exercises effective leadership in the workplace, and then let’s turn to see how the same attitudes and behaviors apply to leadership at home.

Leadership on the job

What are the traits found most commonly among successful business and professional leaders? I ask you here to think about the best bosses you’ve ever worked with or met in your line of business, whatever it may be. What attitudes and actions characterize an outstanding leader, maybe the sort of leader you aspire to become?
Here are some traits that I think you’ll recognize….

  • An outstanding professional leader has a clear long-term vision about the company’s future success, and he communicates this goal, at least occasionally, to everyone who works with him. He thinks 5 to 20 years ahead, and this goal-setting drives him and his team forward — for he knows that people’s efforts are only effective when they’re focused on some future achievement.
  • He maintains a strong sense of teamwork. He looks mostly for strengths in people and sees his job as coordinating those strengths toward the team’s collective endeavors. He helps his colleagues, especially subordinates, develop their strengths and skills as they carry out clear-cut responsibilities.
  • He is service-oriented. He knows that professional success means constant delivery of high-quality service. A business works best when it’s dedicated to effecting change for the better in the lives of clients or customers, and his job is make this happen effectively and consistently.
  • Though he thinks of the future, he pays attention to present detail, the nitty-gritty lying before him. His eye for detail derives, in fact, from his long-term vision and commitment to service.
  • He constantly sets priorities, and sticks to them. When faced with a problem, he asks, “How important will this be a year from now, five years from now, or later?” Within this framework, he shrugs off or ignores unimportant snarls and minor setbacks.

    He knows how to concentrate, to focus entirely on what’s before him. He works to eliminate unnecessary distractions.

  • He tends to see problems as challenges, not just hassles. He has a kind of sporting spirit about his work, and he knows that any sport involves occasional bruises, mistakes, and disappointments. He learns from mistakes, his own and others’, and helps his subordinates do the same.
  • If resources are scarce, including time, he works smart. He makes the most of what he has available, including slivers of time here and there. He doesn’t procrastinate; papers don’t just sit cluttered on his desk. He thinks before he acts, then acts intelligently and decisively.
  • He takes personal responsibility — no excuses, no alibis, no whining, no “victim complex,” no shifting of blame. He accepts the consequences of his free decisions and actions, including mistakes.
  • When he’s unsure what to do, he secures the best advice he can and weighs it seriously. Then he acts. In any event, he never lets indecision lead to inaction. His job is to act — that’s what he’s paid for.
  • He’s conscious of his authority, and comfortable with it. He has rights because he has duties. His knows his rights come with the job.
  • He has self-respect and self-confidence, and these traits inspire respect and confidence from others.
  • He rewards good effort, making praise as specific as blame — and just as sincere. He affirms and encourages his people, pressing them to put out their very best regardless of shortcomings. He sees part of his job as keeping obstacles out of his people’s way, eliminating whatever holds them back from their best performance.
  • When he must correct others, he corrects the fault, not the person. He comes down on the foul-up, not the one who did it. He corrects people privately, never in public. If he goes too far, he apologizes. He puts fairness ahead of his ego.
  • He’s a good listener. When people come to him with problems, he gives them his undivided attention. While listening, he tries to understand them: their motives, their experience (or lack thereof), their needs and uncertainties. He reflects: “Is there a bigger problem underlying this little problem? What is it? How can I help?”
  • When he thinks about his people’s professional development, his frame of reference (consciously or intuitively) comprises the virtues: sound judgment, responsibility, perseverance, self-discipline. He wants and expects his people’s effort to grow in these areas. His company depends on it. He knows his business is only as strong as the people who work for it.
  • He’s a professional. That is, he sets high standards for his own performance and does his best work whether he feels like it or not. In a sense, he’s strong enough to ignore fatigue, anxiety, or temptations to slack off. He enjoys his top performance; his delight in life comes as much from his work as from his leisured recreation.
  • Consciously or otherwise, he knows that no ideal becomes reality without sacrificial effort. His high personal and professional ideals, in fact, transform his hard work into a sporting adventure.
  • If you’ve been lucky enough to work with a boss like this, you know how enjoyable the experience can be. Bosses of this caliber teach their people an enormous amount, and very often win their warm devotion.
    Many workers, in fact, come to see such a boss as a type of father figure. The man’s combination of vision and practicality, firmness and understanding, self-esteem and spirit of service, competence and desire to keep learning, seriousness of purpose and lightness of touch — all equally characterize a great, dedicated father.
    Here’s the point: If you are now this kind of professional man (no matter what kind of work you do), or if you aspire to this ideal for your future leadership at your job, you can be a great father. The attitudes, values, and behaviors described above — effective leadership on the job — apply as well to life in the family. A great father is a great man, a man of integrity, and such men do not live divided lives.

Leadership at home

Having looked at leadership on the job, let’s turn to see how these same traits apply to a man’s role of leadership at home with his family. Here’s what we see….

  • He puts his wife first. In his priorities, her happiness and welfare are uppermost in importance, and his children know this. They know it because he leads them by his own example to love, honor, and obey their mother. If they ever fail to do this, they answer to him for it. (This is more than half the “secret” to effective fatherhood: striving to live as a devoted, supportive husband.)
  • He has a constant spirit of team collaboration with his wife. She is his partner in a collective team enterprise. Together they endeavor as much as possible to present a united front to the children. They check with each other about decisions, large and small, that affect the children’s welfare. They draw on each other’s strengths and, in different but complementary ways, they support each other.
  • He works with his wife to set and maintain a long-term vision (20 years ahead) about the children’s growth in character, no matter what they later do for a living. Both spouses think of their children as grown-up men and women, adults with virtue: conscience, competence, responsibility, self-mastery. This distant but clear ideal forms the basis for teaching, practice, and correction now.
  • He corrects his children’s faults, not them personally. He “hates the sin, loves the sinner.” He combines correction and punishment with affectionate forgiveness, understanding, and encouragement. He is neither weak nor harsh but rather affectionately assertive. He loves his children too much to let them grow up with their faults uncorrected.
  • When he must correct anyone in the family, he does this personally and privately whenever possible. He does not chew people out in public.
  • He’s not afraid of being temporarily “unpopular” with his children. Their long-term happiness is more important to him than their present bruised feelings from correction. He’s confident that their present resentment will soon pass, and that someday they will understand and thank him for his principled corrective efforts.
  • He encourages his children, showing and explaining how to do things right, and how to do the right thing. He directs rather than manages, and makes praise as specific as blame.
  • He’s conscious of his authority, which is as weighty as his responsibility. He does not permit electronic entertainment to undermine that authority or undo his lessons of right and wrong. He keeps the media under discriminating control, allowing only what serves to bring the family together.
  • He goes out of his way to listen to his children, and he pays close attention to their growth in character. He monitors and guides their performance in sports, chores, homework, good manners, and relations with siblings and friends. He knows what goes on in his home and inside the growing minds of his children.
  • He respects his children’s freedom and rights. He teaches them how to use their freedoms responsibly, and he exercises only as much control as they need. He sets limits to his children’s behavior, draws lines between right and wrong. Within those limits, the children may do what they think best; beyond the lines, they begin to infringe on the rights of others — and this he will not permit.
  • He wants his children to be active, and he knows that all active people make mistakes. He leads his children to learn from their blunders. He teaches them that life involves intelligent risk-taking, including the risk of error, and that there’s nothing wrong with mistakes if we learn from them.
  • He sets aside his fatigue, anxiety, and temptations to slack off — putting his fatherly duties ahead of self-interested pursuits. He sets aside the newspaper to help with homework. He goes without t.v. to set a good example. He lets his kids work with him around the house even when they mostly get in the way. Like a good boss, he’s always available to help and advise; consequently, his children sense he would drop anything if they really need him. He’s willing to put off a life of leisure until his children have grown and gone; now, while they’re still at home, their needs come first.
  • He shares conversation with his children until he and they know each other inside out.
  • Without being a bore about it, he uses certain terms from time to time in family life: integrity, personal honor, honesty, personal best effort, family honor.
  • He gives his children a sense of family history and continuity. He tells stories about grandparents and forebears — people of quiet courage and heroism.
  • He lets the children know his opinions and convictions about current events and their likely future drift, the future world his children will live in. He explains, as best he can, the past causes and future implications of present-day affairs.
  • He is open to his children’s suggestions, their “input” about family decisions. When matters are unimportant, he accedes to their preferences. But larger, more important matters are decided by the parents. He’ll let his children decide what dessert to have or what game to play, but he and his wife will decide which school the children attend and what t.v. programming is allowed in the house.
  • He takes his wife’s judgment seriously, especially in matters pertaining to the children. He sets aside his ego and acknowledges an evident fact of life — most of the time, she’s right. At the very least, she’s probably on to something. This includes his performance as a father. He does not let pride blind him to truth.
  • When he has caused offense, he apologizes. He puts justice ahead of his ego.
  • Habitually he punctuates his speech, especially toward his wife, with please, thank you, and excuse me.
  • He draws strength from his religious faith and love for his family.
  • He knows that time passes quickly and he hasn’t much of it. So he makes smart use of scant resources. He makes the time, even small slivers of it here and there, to live with his children.
  • His life as husband and father is, to him, one of noble, self-sacrificing adventure. As long as his children are in his care, he will not quit or slacken in his efforts to form their character. He will protect and provide for his family no matter what the cost, for they are the meaning of his life, the object of his manly powers, the center of his heart.

Children with a father like this, wholly supported by a great wife, have a fighting chance of becoming great men and women. They grow to honor Dad and Mom, live by lessons learned since childhood, and pass these on to their own children whole and intact.

Have confidence. Other normal men have become fathers like this, and so can you.

Table Manners for the Home

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Background Considerations

Parents should make a conscientious and sustained effort to teach their children good table manners. If children are led to practice etiquette at home–by the parents’ example and their own repeated practice–they will internalize these details of civilized behavior to form lifelong virtuous habit. Good table manners, like other forms of etiquette, lead the children to exercise personal restraint (the virtue of temperance) and respect for the sensibilities of those around them. Moreover, living good manners at home underscores that family meals are a special, even sacred time together–where we call down God’s blessings on the family and treat each other with cordial respect.

Parents should realize, too, that later in life their children’s habitual good manners will bring honor to the family and enhance their children’s social and professional lives. Thus parents’ sustained effort to impart good table manners is really an important investment.

Details of Good Table Manners

  • Place your napkin on your lap. Don’t put it anywhere else, especially tucked into your shirt collar like a baby’s bib. Similarly, if you’re wearing a tie, don’t tuck it inside your shirt to “protect” it from possible spills. Doing these things is immature and oafishly ill-mannered; it implies that you’re aware you slobber food as you eat but you want to keep damage to a minimum.
  • If you have to leave the table during the meal, be sure to say, “Excuse me, please.” Then pick up the napkin from your lap and place it to the left of your plate. (If the table is crowded and your napkin might get in your neighbor’s way, you may put it on your chair instead.) At the end of the meal, the napkin goes unfolded to the left of your plate. If you’re a guest in someone’s house or at a restaurant, don’t put your napkin on the table until your host does.
  • Don’t put your elbows on the table. Resting your forearms on the table is OK, but not the elbows.
  • If the table is crowded, know which food belongs to your place-setting: your salad and bread are on your left, your drink on your right.
  • Know how to use your silverware. In a fairly formal, full-course meal, the outside utensils (salad fork and soup spoon) are used first, the inner utensils for the main course and then the innermost for dessert and coffee. Try not to make unnecessary noise when using silverware; put knives and forks down gently.
  • Don’t add salt or pepper to food before you’ve tasted it.
  • If someone asks you to pass the salt, pass both the salt and pepper.
  • If something you need is out of easy reach, just politely ask someone to pass it to you. Say “please” and “thank you.”
  • If several people are conversing at the table and you must ask someone to pass you something, say the person’s name first in order to get his attention before you specify your request: “Frank, would you please pass the bread?” Then, of course, say, “Thank you.”
  • Bring food to your mouth, not vice versa.
  • If there’s food in your mouth, swallow it before taking a drink. That is, you shouldn’t put drink into your mouth while there’s still food in it.
  • Before taking a drink of water, first clean your lips by gently dabbing your napkin on them. This is to avoid leaving an unsightly smear of grease or food particles on the rim of your glass after you’ve drunk from it. Don’t wipe the napkin across your mouth; just dab a couple of times.
  • When taking up soup in your soupspoon, you should move the spoon away from you in the bowl, not toward you. This may seem awkward but it’s good manners and there’s a sensible reason for it. If you pull the spoonful of soup toward you, you might spill or drip some drops on the table or onto your lap. This is less likely to happen if you move the spoon away from you before taking it to your mouth. Also note: If crackers are served, don’t put them in the soup; eat them separately between sips of the soup. (Exception: Small crackers can be put in clam chowder.)
  • Hold your knife and fork properly when cutting meat. That is, hold the fork in your left hand with the tines pressing on the meat, then cut with the first couple of inches of your knife held in your right hand. (If you’re left-handed, reverse the hands holding knife and fork.) Don’t cut more than one piece of meat at a time. After you cut, place your knife sideways on the outer rim of your plate with the blade facing toward you; no part of the knife should touch your table. Also, never wave silverware when talking; that is, don’t use silverware to point or gesture.
  • Compliment the food briefly and sincerely, but don’t make conversation about it. To talk too much about food is bad manners.
  • Chew with your mouth closed, and don’t talk while food is in your mouth (extremely bad manners). Swallow first, then talk. For this reason, you should try to eat small to moderate mouthfuls of food at a time. If you are asked a question while you have too much food in your mouth, you may have to keep people waiting for a reply until you finish chewing and swallowing. This is awkward for everyone. (By the same token, try not to ask a question of someone when he has just put food in his mouth.)
  • Except when you’re buttering toast, you should not butter a whole piece of bread all at once. Instead, break off one piece of bread at a time and then put butter on that piece. If there’s only one butterknife for the table, use it only to put a small amount of butter on your plate, then return it and switch to your own knife to butter your bread. In other words, don’t use the table’s butterknife, which other diners will also use, to butter your bread. And above all, don’t use your own knife–which has crumbs or grease on it–to cut a piece of butter. The principle is this: The slab of butter is for everyone to use, and so you shouldn’t smear it with crumbs or grease which other people then have to ingest. Keep the butter slab clean and keep your crumbs to yourself.
  • When you’ve finished with the main entree, place your knife and fork together in the center of the plate. This signals to your host or whoever is waiting on you (if anyone) that you’ve finished the course and are ready to have the plate removed. Don’t leave the knife on the plate’s edge, where it might fall off (to everyone’s chagrin) when you or the server removes your plate from the table.
  • If you’re served dessert in a bowl placed on top of a dessert plate, as with pudding or ice cream, don’t leave your spoon sticking up from the bowl, especially when you’ve finished the dessert. Instead, place the spoon on your dessert plate.
  • If you’re imbibing your drink through a straw, try to leave a little liquid at the bottom so you don’t make a slurping sound. If you do inadvertently make a slurping sound (and this can easily happen), stop right away. To keep making slurping sounds, straining to drain the glass to the very last drop, is annoying to people and implies that you’re a glutton.

Successful Fathers

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James B. Stenson spoke at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA on Saturday, February 2, 2008.

Successful Fathers – morning session Part 1 of 2
James B. Stenson offers his experience and advice to fathers.
(1 hour, 13 minutes) (66.8MB)

Successful Fathers – morning session Part 2 of 2
James B. Stenson offers his experience and advice to fathers.
(1 hour, 10 minutes) (61.52MB)

Successful Fathers – afternoon session
James B. Stenson offers his experience and advice to high school men.
(55 minutes) (48.26MB)