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Many values hold the weight of morality. You teach your children to refrain from a lot of things because they are morally wrong: stealing, rape and murder, serious neglect and abuse of children, blatant dishonesty, and a few other things most everyone agrees are morally wrong.

There is also a completely separate group of values having nothing to do with morality. For example, you may value orderliness over disorderliness. There is probably nothing morally wrong with disorderliness. You also tend to value having money more highly than not having money although there is nothing morally bad about not having money or morally better about having money. Valuing of money is, thus, merely a matter of custom, convenience, and tradition.

Most attention with your children in the area of values is in relation to customary or traditional values. Only a small portion of your effort relates to moral values. For example, your infant comes into a world where emphasis is placed on cleanliness. Most parents keep their infant cleaner than is necessary for health. There is no reason to change your infant’s gown each time she gets a little spill on it. Why do most parents do it, then? Because anything less than completely clean is, to some extent, undesirable. You encourage your children to comb their hair to keep it well-groomed. Higher value is placed on combed hair than uncombed. Your child says, “Why do I have to comb my hair?” This is a very good question. Your child has to comb her hair because custom and tradition dictate it. Your grade schooler or adolescent asks, “Why do we have to eat our dinner at the table instead of in front of the TV?” Another good question. Custom says so. Why don’t boys at my school wear dresses? Why is it better to put clothes on hangers than to toss them on the floor? What is wrong with wearing sloppy clothes to church? As you see, many of the values you want your children to accept are unrelated to morality but are merely custom or tradition.

Your children likely raise questions with most all values you introduce. They want to know why. They want to know by what authority. They want to know of what benefit the value is for them.

Let’s focus on the authority question. With moral issues, your appeal is to God, to social good, or to universal truth – to a power beyond you. It is equally legitimate to appeal to custom or tradition. An adolescent says “Do I have to get dressed up to go to the wedding just because everyone else does?” “Yes, you have to get dressed up just because everyone else is going to do so.” Insisting children conform to custom and tradition is a necessary parental function. The appropriate socialization of children needs to be assured.

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