A relative of mine, who has young children, asked me recently to give her a list of “attributes and talents” that her offspring should possess before they reach the age of eighteen. Here are my suggestions:
1. They should understand why they should respect their parents who spend much time nurturing, teaching and loving them. Kneejerk nastiness or rebellion against parents is a great drain on a child’s development. Such behavior also does not bring out the best from parents.
2. They should learn to abhor procrastination — one of the more corrosive personality traits that no one escapes from completely but should try to avoid at all times.
3. They should have self-confidence without which fulfillment of their possibilities will be seriously undermined from within. Not too much self-confidence because an overdose produces smugness and lower receptivity to learning from others.
4. A trained desire for self-renewal, including self-education, long after they finish their formal education. Ruts and routines do not make for a contributory, creative human being.
5. A sense of history in its fullest dimension — the development of the full experience of humankind for good and bad. What to learn and not learn from history takes in the humanities, social studies and sciences within an empirical context that tests reality.
6. A high sense of their own civic self-significance for advancing the common good. A sense of social justice and injustice will give them a broader framework for understanding both themselves and the world around them. They’ll focus on their personal self, without much prompting, but they need their parents help in developing a civic self through civic discussions and experiences.
7. An ability to decline the pressures of their peer groups -in effect, to turn their back on the pack. A slavish conformity to their group of friends can be bad for their health, their safety and their uniqueness. This is especially the case in coming years as the commercial exploitation of youngsters toward sex, violence and addiction by corporate hucksters reaches new penetrations of the family space and discipline.
8. Talents with the arts and crafts, with athletics and with the rhetorical arts (reading, writing and speaking) need a concentration of effort. But not to an extreme whereby other traits and talents and skills are crowded out. Extremes may produce a few chess, piano or tennis champions but at a cost to many more youngsters who neglected the rest of themselves.
9. They should not develop too large a gap between their imagination and their intellect. Otherwise they will become dreamers and not doers. Dreamers who do and doers who dream are a better combination.
10. They should be able to enjoy themselves at higher-grade levels of mind and body — protecting and improving both in mutual respect. Taking care of themselves, valuing their friends, relatives and co-workers, and participating in a civic life as a public citizen intent on perfecting the processes and fruits of democracy. These attributes need and generate both intellect, emotion and compassion.
My relative and her spouse are active in the children’s spiritual development. Perhaps these more secular characteristics will provide some useful parental guideposts.