With everyone from politicians to rap stars to professional athletes posting their sometimes abrasive and mean-spirited thoughts online, it can be difficult to try and get kids to avoid doing the same thing.
But Rabbi Daniel Cohen, the father of six daughters and the author of “What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone?” provides some tips for parents struggling to find the right way to talk to their children about such issues and ensure their kids are not making mistakes that will come back to bite them later in life.
He says it begins with helping children understand the choices they make every day.
“I’m not referring to choices about the clothes you wear or the food you eat,” says Cohen who serves as the senior Rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Connecticut, the largest modern orthodox synagogue in New England. . “These choices do not represent the essence of who we are or want to be.”
Instead, Cohen says parents can lead by example when they show their children how they try to make meaningful choices every day, which “require reservoirs of strength, faith and clarity.”
Children – and adults – need to think about whether they want to be seen as a giver or a taker, he says.
“Do you want to be remembered for your honesty, authenticity and warmth? These are the moral choices confronting us every day whether in private or in public,” says Cohen, who also co-hosts with Reverend Greg Doll the nationally syndicated radio show “The Rabbi and the Reverend” Sunday mornings at 11 AM and evenings at 9 PM.
That may translate into things such as getting back to someone when we’ve promised them an answer; seizing the chance to help when asked; not posting ugly comments online or simply smiling more. Those are the things that best teach our children how to live a meaningful life, he says.
For parents looking for ways to help their children develop more positive mindsets and actions and avoid doing things that might hurt their reputations later in life, Cohen suggests:
- Developing the “good habit” muscle. Ask children about how they behave when no one is looking. Do they listen to their “inner voice” or do they ignore it and do something they’re not supposed to do, such as posting a snarky Facebook comment about someone else? Cohen says children need to be encouraged to listen to that inner voice, because that’s when courageous choices happen. If they don’t listen, then they “become inured to follow what feels good as opposed to what is good,” he says.
- Bolstering self-confidence. Talk with kids about the choices they’ve made in the past week that made them feel good inside. What helped them make those choices? Are there lessons to learn from those things to help them in the future? “When you’re confronted with a moment of indecision, with only a split second to decide whether to listen to your inner voice, you’ll follow what you’re conditioned to do. One good choice energizes another,” he says.
- Looking for motivators. Children often are bombarded today with the opinions and thoughts of celebrities and public figures who may or may not behave appropriately. Parents need to talk to their children about who they look up to and why. Who motivates them to be their best? Is it some music star or is it perhaps a grandparent or sibling? Do they keep this person in mind when they make their choices?
- Helping them to celebrate small victories. Parents can help their children understand that each new day provides a new opportunity. To be generous and not greedy. To be honest and not deceitful. To be selfless and not self-serving. “Each morning,” he says, “we’re blessed with an opportunity to choose life and get back on the road to success.”
Parents, Cohen says, can use these moments to also energize their own commitment to being better in both the big moments and the small ones.
“At every moment of our lives, whether young or old, we’re called up to be our very best. We’re charged with living life with passion and purpose. The world is watching,” Cohen says. “If we choose courageously and optimize our opportunities, we’ll know that we gave of our gifts and touched the world.”