Parents Who Want Good Kids Must Set Example

Feb. 28, 2005

A Feature
By Vicki Brown*

One reason 16-year-old Aaron Holland volunteers at Canyon Lake United Methodist Church’s child care center is to set a good example for his younger brother—the kind of example his own parents set for them both.

The teen from Rapid City, S.D., says his dad is honest to a fault, and Aaron chuckles over his mom’s story of the fast-food restaurant worker giving Jim Holland too much change at the drive-in window one day. His dad returned the extra money.

"He’s just a great example of what to do," he says. "If you know something is wrong, then you should just do what’s right and fix the problems."

Setting an example is crucial for parents who want to raise good, moral children of character in a society that often sends mixed messages about success, cheating and honesty, says Michele Borba, author of Building Moral Intelligence and Parents Do Make a Difference.

“Be very clear what you stand for. Don’t be wishy-washy,” Borba says.

If parents say they value honesty but then go to the movies and get a 12-year-old in for the child’s price, they are modeling a different behavior, she says.

“The best way to teach character and solid moral growth is not by talking it, but by walking it,” she says. She urges parents to ask themselves: “If my child had only my behavior to learn from today, what did they learn?”

Borba believes that as a society, Americans are putting youth under too much pressure to succeed at school, on tests, in college, while losing sight of the importance of caring, kindness, empathy and other virtues.

“I do not see bumper stickers that say, ‘Proud Parent of Decent Kids,’” she says.

Aaron’s mom, Deb Holland, agrees. Holland, who grew up in a family of nine, recalls that her mother was always the first person at the door with a casserole when someone in the community was sick or died.

She’s trying to set a similar example for Aaron and his younger brother, 14-year-old Matthew.

“I can’t always give at the top, but if the church needs someone to help with crafts or bake a cake, I can do that,” says Holland, a member of Canyon Lake.

Holland and Borba agree that church, especially youth activities, can be crucial to building character.

“We have really made it a priority that our kids participate in both church and youth groups,” Holland says.

Marcey Balcomb, a lay youth leader at Common Cup Ministries, works with youth from five United Methodist churches in Portland, Ore.—Laurelwood, Lincoln Street, Sunnyside-Centenary, Tabor Heights and Trinity.

“Kids really long for meaning in their lives. Once they find things that make it meaningful, those are the choices they make,” Balcomb says. Volunteer and mission work mean a great deal to youth, she says. She adds that she spends a lot of time at youth group meetings on how to make good choices.

Borba cautions parents that even if their message is clear about character issues, they need to understand that children and teens get hit with mixed messages from society. For instance, the government’s “No Child Left Behind” effort is emphasizing test scores but not character, she says.

She urges parents not to go it alone.

“Get a support group—your friends, your church, any group of parents willing to stand for what is right,” she says.

Parents who are overwhelmed with the pressure for their kids to get top grades and achievement test scores might be surprised to learn that colleges are looking for students of a different stripe.

“They are looking for kids who have a passion for life, for a child who had a real strong interest and passion,” Borba says. Colleges are looking not for a teen who has gone from one volunteer effort to another to build a resume, but for someone who has stuck with something he or she loves, something that can make a difference.

Deb Holland urges parents to start early. When her children were small, she took them to a local mission at Christmas to give away their outgrown snowsuits. “I wanted them to know that Christmas was not all about big packages,” she says.

She and her boys also run the duck pond game at the annual church Halloween carnival, and they helped with a church fund raiser for the Heifer Project. She jokes that she “guilts” her boys into doing good.

Her son thinks it’s working.

“Every once in a while, they try to pull the guilt card on me,” he says with a laugh. “Otherwise, they set a great example in being honest and doing the right thing.”

*Brown is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Matt Carlisle, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5153 or

This feature was developed by, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.

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