We Can Teach Good Character

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), September 29, 2005 | Go to article overview
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We Can Teach Good Character


Byline: DEVELOPING YOUTH ASSETS By Stan Paine For The Register-Guard

What do we want for our children? What kind of people do we want them to be? Some would list such qualities as respect, responsibility and honesty as traits they want their children to reflect. Most would say that they want their children to become `good people." But what does this mean? And how do we, as family members, help young people become `good people'?

Some answers can be found in a concept called `developmental assets." Assets are positive qualities, strengths and characteristics that help define who people are, what they are like and how they conduct themselves in daily life. We instill assets through our interactions with young people - and in fact, these influences are themselves assets or strengths in young people's lives.

Forty developmental assets have been identified, and having them has been shown to help young people make healthy choices about such things as whether to smoke, drink, take drugs, drive dangerously, treat other people with disrespect, steal and engage in other harmful or anti-social behaviors. Those who have fewer assets tend to make poor choices and do things that carry greater risks.

Assets can be divided into two broad types - external and internal. External assets are strengths that are provided to young people by family members, educators and others. Internal assets are qualities and characteristics that young people develop within themselves.

Character traits are one type of internal assets. They help define, at our core, who we are and how we conduct ourselves. Yet they can be developed from the outside - from opportunities and lessons young people experience as they grow up. These formative influences are important to young people's success in life - and to the success and livability of the entire community.

What, then, can family members do to ensure that children develop the kind of character we want them to have - the qualities and strengths that will open doors for them, smooth their path, help them make positive choices and thereby enhance the quality of their lives? The good news is that adults can do many things to instill good character. At home, parents and other family members can instill the internal asset of good character in their children in these ways:

State expectations for children's behavior in clear, positive and empowering terms. (`I trust you to do your chores before you go out to play.')

Hold family meetings where you listen closely to what kids have to say, help them learn to solve problems in positive ways, praise them for their accomplishments and give them a meaningful role in family life.

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