In many value situations, the choice is not
clear-cut but is between more and less wrong, more and less good, more and less
acceptable, and so on. For example, your grade schooler stands at the screen
door on a rainy summer day watching the newspaper get wet and thinking he
should get it out of the rain. At the same time, he remembers you clearly told
him not to go outside in the rain today. What to do? If he does what is right
(stays in) he also does what is wrong (lets the paper get wet). Alternatively,
if he does what is right (gets the paper), he does what is wrong (goes
outside). Yes, he could tell you the paper is outside getting wet, thus letting
you deal with the problem. He is not yet at a point he can compute that option.
Anyway, you are not very happy with him today and you might just get more upset
with him if he bothers you. Your grade schooler is experiencing a value
conflict. In another situation, your grade schooler is peacefully watching TV.
You (Mother) call from the kitchen for your grade schooler to come help you.
Simultaneously, father calls for the child to come help him. She knows she
should respond to her parents and help when they ask her to do so. What to do?
She is confronted with two equally right alternatives.
Your children must learn to make judgments about
what kinds of things are more right than others, what kinds of things are more
unacceptable than others. your child watching the paper being rained on learns
to make the judgment your rule about not going out today had not taken into
consideration the particular situation. He learns the specific situation
involving the paper getting wet is probably an exception to your rule. your TV
watcher being summoned by both parents simultaneously has to make a judgment.
Perhaps she responds first to the parent closest to her by saying, “Dad
(or Mom) wants me to do something for him (or her). I will see what he (she)
wants and will be right back.”
Your adolescent planns to finish a science
project the same evening her history teacher unexpectedly assigns a special
project. What to do? Finish the science project on time or finish the history
project on time? Her solution to the dilemma shows ingenuity in dealing with
value conflict. She calls her history teacher and explains
the problem. Her history teacher gives her a one-day extension on the
assignment. Your adolescent has learned people occasionally change rules for
legitimate reasons. She probably learned this from presenting such problems to
you from time to time and finding you are usually willing to compromise a
little. Sure, the history teacher may refuse to budge. The science teacher
may also refuse to budge. If so, your adolescent has an even more challenging
How can you, as a parent, help your children
learn how to deal with value conflicts. You help in several ways. You encourage
your children to make choices and act on their evaluations. You do this knowing
they will sometimes be right and sometimes wrong, but knowing equally well your
children need the freedom to make wrong choices from time to time. Part of your
children’s learning to handle value conflicts is going through the sometimes
painful process of making a wrong choice and learning, through experience, the
choice was wrong. For example, your grade schooler and a friend, Cindy, are
playing in the front yard. Another child comes along and asks your grade
schooler to go for a bike ride. Your child and her friend start to get their
bikes. The other child tells your grade schooler, “I want you to go but I
do not want Cindy to go.” Your child really wants to go bike riding and
goes ahead. Later, she finds she has really hurt Cindy’s feelings and has
somewhat damaged her relationship with Cindy. Based on this incident, your
child learns a lot about values and friendships. Yes, your children do learn
quite a lot about values through making wrong choices.
Next, you help your children learn to deal with
value conflicts by helping them develop criteria for making choices. Generally,
teach it is sometimes better to choose in the interests of others than in terms
of your own self-interest.
Another principle for choosing in value conflict
situations is to prevent bad or undesirable things before doing good. For
example, your adolescent is a hospital volunteer and is scheduled to work this
evening. One of his friends calls on the telephone frantically asking for help,
telling your adolescent he has had a blowup with his parents and is going to
run away from home. Does your adolescent go to his friend or to the hospital?
Following the principle of preventing something bad in preference to doing
good, he goes to his friend and lets the people at the hospital know they have
to do without his services this evening. As with any rule, there are exceptions
though. Suppose instead of running away from home, his friend was having difficulty
with his homework and wanted your adolescent to help. Your adolescent then has
the choice of going to the hospital or helping to prevent his friend’s
receiving a bad grade. In that situation, going to the hospital may be the best
choice. He might offer to help later or suggest someone else his friend might
call for homework help.
You have thought at length about values and
helping your children develop values. You have also thought about the need for
your children to learn about value conflicts and computing appropriate behavior
consistent with their values. You understand even your most traditional values
(including moral values) have their limits and exceptions. Remembering this
complexity helps you be more patient with your children as they go through the
difficult process of learning to set priorities, make value choices, and