The New York Times ran a very fine piece the other day about Raising a Moral Child. The scientifically researched upshot was anything but shocking: Children learn from example.
So, maybe, just maybe, someday, my kids will actually learn from watching me pick up after them all the time. That’s encouraging.
But I suppose I could try to yell at them less.
Oh, sure, I can rationalize my yelling: The message is urgent. It’s for their safety. No other mode of communication has proven effective. It is important for them to know that even parents can have strong emotions.
Still, I’ll try to yell less. (The NYT article is full of constructive ideas about what to yell while I’m weaning myself.)
I’m good at stopping at stop signs, though. And I think that’s an important example to set for children. “Stop,” after all, is one of the first words most kids can read, at least when it has a red octagon around it.
Stop signs are also the most obvious law-breaking opportunities for any of us. They may seem arbitrary and capricious, but whenever someone wants a stop sign at a corner, they always it’s “for the children.” Blow a stop sign, and you could kill a kid. That’s the message. And it’s true. Even children get it.
So I stop at every one. Even when there’s no one around and I am in a hurry, such as when I am running two minutes late for kindergarten pick-up. Which is roughly four out of five days a week.
I stop. For the children. Don’t you? Because if you won’t follow a simple little law about protecting the children in your neighborhood, just because you can get away with it 99.9% of the time, then what other laws or moral precepts would you break — or do you break — when no one is looking?
We have a stop sign almost right in front of our house. Maybe three cars out of ten perform what you could generously call a stop in front of it. I’ve contemplated painting a kid’s bike white and chaining it to the pole as a reminder of what could happen to any of the dozen children under ten who live within a couple hundred feet of that sign. But that would be a dishonest example to set for my kids. (Sigh.)
A lot of the cars who narrowly miss T-boning us backing out of our driveway have kids in them too. I can only imagine what those kids are going to grow up to be like. Probably like the person who rear-ended my neighbor Martha at that very stop sign.
When she got out to inspect the damage, the other driver immediately accused her of fault. “I didn’t expect you to stop!” he said.
To her credit, she didn’t yell.