Q: I've heard you advocate for teaching moral values in our homes and to our children. Your view, however, seems archaic and misguided. People are "immoral" for only one reason: They're ignorant. Your approach seems not only ineffective, but a distraction from the greater need of formal education. Doesn't this reasoning make more sense?
Jim: Teddy Roosevelt is credited with saying, "A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad." His point? Education alone is inadequate to build character.
I've noticed a peculiar pattern in our culture. Whenever a new statistic is released that reveals some negative trend in society, it seems the call immediately goes out for more education. Whether it be the growing tide of drug abuse, teen pregnancy -- or any other social challenge -- conventional wisdom suggests these problems could be resolved if people simply knew better.
Now, let me be clear. I believe that education is critical and invaluable to any culture, and there is no questioning that ours is better for it. But as President Roosevelt so aptly explained, intelligence and morals are not the same thing. Intelligence deals with information; morals provide a foundation of wisdom for how that information ought to be used. A society needs both in order to be healthy.
Although some may be inclined to dismiss the importance of moral values, I'm firmly convinced that we would do well to heed the words of Dr. Wilbur Crafts, who observed, "It is not worthwhile to educate a man's wits unless you educate his conscience also."
Q: My toddler has been fondling his genitals a lot. I've caught him at it several times at home, and once it even happened in public. What should I do?
Danny Huerta, Executive Director, Parenting: Relax. You've no reason to be overly concerned. This behavior is a normal expression of early sexuality. If you respond calmly and in an age-appropriate way, the habit should pass as soon as maturity and social pressure begin to take effect.
Many parents are surprised to learn that genital fondling does not produce a sexual "charge" with small children. Instead, they do it because they find it self-soothing -- often as a way of dealing with boredom, anxiety or nervousness. If you want to curtail it, start by saying something like, "I've noticed you touching your penis (or vagina) a lot lately." Be frank and open and ask questions -- for example, "Why have you been doing this? Does it make you feel good?"
Determine the emotions that are driving the behavior and then redirect it by encouraging your child to focus on something else. Point out other ways he can soothe himself or feel more secure. Offer alternatives, like a teddy bear, a pillow or a special blanket.
Depending on your child's age, you can explain that there are some things we don't do in front of other people (it might be helpful to use the analogy of using the toilet). These things aren't bad, just private. If we do them in public, they can make others feel uncomfortable. Your purpose in speaking this way is simply to sensitize your child to the social implications of his behavior. Throughout this conversation, your tone should be firm and confident, not shocked or embarrassed.
In the final analysis, it's important to remember that children are not asexual. Your child's behavior is merely demonstrating that he's properly wired. So relax and give your child -- and yourself -- a break.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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