While I try to leave my work at the office like most folks, I find myself at social functions engaging in conversations with people who have a curiosity about my profession, once it's unwittingly revealed.  By far and away, the most common topic of discussion and query centers around parenting and all of its related struggles.  Overall, I sense (and share) a theme of concern about the future of our youth. Every generation of involved parents, teachers, and other role models seems to experience this fear, and often compensates with overprotection. 

How can we have the most positive effect on the children we are chosen to influence? More than any other factor, the instilling of character molds kids into the permanent adult roles they will assume in society. Obviously, the sooner we start, the greater the impact. And just how can we do this in concrete terms that they can understand? Recently, I attended a lecture series entitled "Parenting", which was conducted by a local family physician. In his talks, he outlined a blueprint for raising children, built upon a foundation of character development that is rooted in both supernatural and cardinal virtues. I hope you find this abbreviated summary to be of some value, though it doesn't serve justice to his elegant presentations on the subject.

Supernatural Virtues:

  • Faith---in God Who gives life meaning and purpose in this world and beyond
  • Hope--that God will guide us through life's adversities
  • Love---greater for God than ourselves

Cardinal Virtues:

  • Prudence:  sound judgement ("Look before you leap!")
  • Justice:  personal responsibility and respect for the rights of others
  • Fortitude:  personal toughness ("Anything we survive makes us stronger.")
  • Temperance:  self-control

and in closing...We lead best by example.

More on character...

What are the opposites of the above virtues? 

  • Faith:  faithlessness (belief only in man and his laws, which change with the times)
  • Hope:  despair
  • Love:  egoism (There are many opposites to love, but this trait is specifically opposite to love for others.
  • Prudence:  immature judgement (easily influenced by our peers)
  • Justice:  irresponsibility
  • Fortitude:  softness
  • Temperance:  self-indulgence


You'll notice that all of the above vices, with the exception of despair, describe a typical 2 year old. So children aren't born perfect, contrary to popular myth; and therefore require continuous shaping of character during development in order to overcome their natural afflictions.


What are the impediments to building character today?


  • Children aren't needed anymore--In an agrarian society, kids learned these virtues early, because they were called upon at a young age to contribute to the family's survival. While most of us don't have "cows to milk" in our backyards, our children need to be given a broad range of responsibilities that exemplify the character we want them to develop.

  • Parents aren't available--Because of divorce, single parent or 2 working parent households, children are not exposed as much to their parents to learn from them. And what contact they have is typically of a leisurely nature; e.g. watching TV with mom or dad after work.

  • Entertainers have replaced heroes--Try a little experiment with your children, and ask them, "Who are your heroes?". You may be surprised, if not shocked, by some of their responses, which are largely influenced by the entertainment industry (rather than biographies of great people, available in every public library).

  • Television--Without my pontificating too much on its evils, we can all agree that at a very minimum, it replaces conversation, which is vital in developing healthy relationships with our children and learning about their lives apart from home...


The list goes on and on, and represents natural manifestations of society today. Therefore, we parents need to make conscious and planned efforts to engage ourselves and our children in other ways that are conducive to character development. For starters, remember the old-fashioned tradition of a family supper? In this era of fast-food restaurants and everyone living on different schedules, it's become practically obsolete, though sorely missed as an excellent opportunity to bring families together for ongoing bonding. Give it a try, and you'll probably agree that's it's the best daily hour that you can spend with your clan. 


Scott Zentner