A friend of mine who worked as an internal auditor for a large organisation was doing the annual audits when she discovered serious irregularities in several deals.
When she reported this to her boss, she was told to falsify the report so that the company could deal with the issue quietly. It sounded like a reasonable idea—giving the company an opportunity to fix things internally so that it would not get into trouble—but she knew that it was wrong.
Back in 2009, when Google initiated a study to identify skills or qualities that made a “great” manager, a key attribute that emerged was “mindset and values”. This was included in the company’s training programme for new managers, as Google recognised that its programme could not anticipate all possible situations. Ultimately, managers had to rely on their own value system to navigate difficult decisions and unexpected situations.
This is such a powerful and rich lesson, I believe, especially for us as parents. But how can we teach our children the right values? And how can we show them the values of having values?
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The Value of Having Values
When our children are young, much of what we teach them come in the form of rules. Eat your carrots; don’t eat your crayons. It’s okay to climb up the slide; it’s not okay to climb up the cupboard. Be polite to your teacher; don’t talk to strangers.
These rules tend to be situational-based, and we make more rules as our children encounter more situations as they grow up.
At some point, our children will encounter situations that we have not anticipated, or situations that may fall into a grey area.
At some point, however, they will encounter situations that we have not anticipated, or situations that may fall into a grey area. What should they do if they find ten dollars on the floor? What if it’s ten cents? What if they need to take a bus and they are short of exactly ten cents?
What kind of values will they need to guide them through such decisions?
Teaching the Right Values
When I read Google’s report, I thought to myself: “These conclusions are correct, but what about the specific values that the manager adopts?” Surely having the right values can make the difference between a successful company and one destroyed by scandals.
The ancient Israelites offer a great example. In the book of Judges, we see Israel’s descent from a great nation built on God’s laws into a nation where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6 NKJV).
They refused to follow God’s law, and abandoned the values that God had taught them concerning the sanctity of life, the sacredness of marriage, and the importance of holiness, kindness, and doing good. Instead, they replaced these with the values that endorsed power, wealth, wickedness, lying, and cheating.
Now, as Christian parents, we know that we have a mandate to teach biblical values to our children. As Deuteronomy 11:18–19 tells us: “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds . . . Teach them to your children.” Biblical values teach us to value life over clothes (Matthew 6:25), giving over receiving (Acts 20:35), and character over appearance (1 Samuel 16:7).
If we do not actively influence our children through our words and actions, we abandon them to the values that a materialistic world is only too happy to teach. And our children will make very different life decisions if their value systems teach them to pursue wealth instead of charity, to value appearance over character, and to believe in being better than others instead of helping others.
Here’s some lessons and practical advice I’ve learnt about how we can teach our children biblical values:
1. Read the label before you dispense the medicine
A few years ago, I facilitated a question-and-answer session for fathers and sons on the topic of sexual purity. The questions came fast and furious, and it was obvious that the fathers were very passionate about instilling the right values in their sons.
But then some of their comments started to show a personal bias towards certain areas. So I had to interrupt them with this comment: “Be careful of what values we are actually imparting: Are they God’s values, or whatever we think is right?”
In our passion to teach our children, we need to go back to the Word, to make sure we are not teaching man’s wisdom instead of God’s.
2. Give the right dosage
Our parenting style needs to evolve in line with our child’s development.
When our son was young, I tended to be more authoritarian in my instructions, and gave strict rules concerning what he could and could not do. As he grew up and entered his teenage years, my wife and I learnt to dispense rules with more reasoning.
We explained why he had to be back by a certain time, for example, and why we discouraged him from listening to certain music or watching certain movies. Our explanations offered him glimpses into the values behind our decisions and helped him to better accept the rules and to respond wisely to similar situations in future.
As our son grew older—he is now 22—our inputs to his life are almost exclusively in the form of reminders of the values he grew up with.
3. Remember that no medicine is enjoyable
Whether we are teaching a value system, worldview, or biblical principle, the fact is that our children will see them as rules that restrict them—and nobody likes rules!
Even adults break laws (when was the last time you exceeded the speed limit?). When rules are broken, however, punishment must follow. Once, we had to ground our son for a week for not being honest about something. It was unpleasant, but because it was done in love and explained clearly, he accepted it without complaint.
Rules may not be fun and punishments even less so, but if we want our children to take us seriously, we cannot spare them correction, for later on it will produce “a harvest of righteousness and peace” (Hebrews 12:11)
If my auditor friend had listened to her boss, they might have got away with the deception. But as her values were based on God-given principles, she knew that what her boss had suggested was wrong. In the end, she refused to falsify her audit findings, even though it did get her into trouble with her boss.
Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney, once said: “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
And that’s ultimately what we are trying to do—to give our children a firm foundation based on biblical values that will help them make wise, godly decisions, no matter what life throws at them in future.