Danger Signs: Families Headed for Trouble from James Stenson

Many parents these days feel beleaguered. Their children are being pulled in different directions. For the working parent, it’s hard enough balancing the tasks of earning a living and raising a Godly family. Because of the large amounts of time parents spend at work, it’s easy for them to fall into the trap of allowing their children to do and have and be whatever they want to do and have and be, just to keep peace in the home. Happiness then becomes an illusion because it is largely based on a constant satiating of demands, with nary a thought as to how these demands affect family dynamics and children’s characters in the long run.

Here are a few excerpts from James Stenson’s Compass: A Handbook on Parent Leadership. While the book was written primarily with the American family in mind, the principles therein are very much applicable to the Filipino family and how we live our lives today.

In the self-absorbed family, parents do not set out, on purpose, to form character in their children. They treat family life like a picnic, a passive pleasure-centered experience, and their kids often meet with later trouble.

Consumerist parents are self-absorbed and unconcerned with growth in character strengths (i.e., virtues), whether for themselves or their children. So they make family life mostly a steady series of pleasant diversions. Life for parents and kids centers around leisurely enjoyment, fun-filled entertainment–a seamless array of sports, abundant food and drink, t.v. shows, computer games, movies, music, parties, shopping.

Consumerist parents live divided lives. They live as producers at work but consumers at home. In fact, to their children they seem to work only in order to consume. Their home, far removed as it is from the real-life world of responsible adult achievement and ethical interpersonal dealings, is a place arrayed with entertainment gadgets, a site devoted to comfort, relaxation, and amusement. But this universe of comfortable delight is all that their children see–and for children, “seeing is believing.” This cocoon of pleasant escapism wholly envelopes children and shapes their sole experience with life. It becomes the ambiance within which they fashion their deepest attitudes and habits, indeed their whole outlook on life: “Life is all about pleasure.”

Both parents give in readily to children’s wishes and “feelings,” even when they judge that this might be a mistake. Very often in family life they permit what they disapprove of. That is, they let children’s pleas and whining override their parental misgivings. The parents are moved by their children’s smiles, not their welfare, and so they will give in on many issues to avoid a confrontational “scene.” Unwittingly, through their example of giving in, these parents teach their children to let strong desires, or even whims, routinely override judgments of conscience. So the children fail to distinguish between wants and needs; to the children, wants are needs. As a result, “feelings,” not conscience, become a guide for action. (So, what happens later when the kids are tempted by the powerfully pleasurable sensations of drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex? What is there to hold them back?)

It is important for parents to evaluate and re-evaluate their parenting methods and styles, to make sure that what they are doing matches their vision for their family. The RH bill is something that we ought to look at with an eye to long-term effects. Will we be promoting a lifestyle of decadence by passing this bill? What values do we hold dear, and are we going to lose them in the process? Where do we see our children 5, 10, 15 years from now? Will they be people who have mastered themselves? Or will they have been conquered by the media? Will they rule their passions, or be ruled by them? Will they see life as one party after another? These are questions parents need to ask themselves now.


James Stenson is an educator, speaker and writer on family concerns. You’ll find more at his website, ParentLeadership.com.

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Posted in Sex Education, The Catholic Perspective, The Moral Argument, Youth

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