Ep 20: Building a Strong Family Culture

Thomas Lickona, author of How to Raise Kind Kids, reveals how parents can combat the constant barrage of influence on teenagers from peers, media, and the internet. His philosophy for this requires creating a family culture so strong it overpowers the negative influences.

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Full show notes

When kids become teenagers, they start thinking about life’s “big” questions. What is meaningful? How can I be a good person? Who am I, really?

These might all sound like philosophical questions, because they are! Teenagers are essentially novice philosophers. They want to think about these big questions and get some semblance of answers.

If teens aren’t able to safely process these questions at home, then teens can find a lot of suggested answers to these questions elsewhere. And you might not like some of the answers teens find.

You probably know how to raise good kids, but there is no shortage of shady people trying to influence your teenager. Marketing campaigns, social media trends, and random people in online communities can have your teenager’s full attention anytime they want, thanks to technology. It’s important to pay attention to these shady voices, and the peer pressure that follows, so you can lessen the influence negative values will have on your teen.

But, Peer Influence Doesn’t Have to be Negative!

With intentional conversations, you can design a strong family culture at home that taps into the power of positive peer influence!

To learn more about how to raise good kids with a strategic family culture, I spoke with Thomas Lickona. He is president emeritus of the Association for Moral Education, and has spoken to parents around the world about fostering moral values and virtues in kids. Thomas has been researching developmental psychology for over 50 years, so he knows a thing or two about how to raise good kids! His new book, How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain, helps parents understand how to build a strong family culture with good virtues.

Defining a Family Mission Statement

Thomas says that intentionality is crucial for figuring out how to raise good kids and build a healthy family culture in a tech-dominated society. This is because technology allows teens to experience external sources of social influence 24/7. Parents can feel largely outmatched by the endless barrage of peer pressure.

Thomas wants to assure parents it’s possible to know how to raise good kids even when the influence of social media dominates our teens’ worlds. It’s not easy though. He believes it requires a positive family culture that is strong enough to overpower the influence of what they see online. So how does a parent go about intentionally creating a strong family culture?

A “family mission statement” is one intentional family ritual that creates a positive family culture.

A family mission statement is a motto or phrase that the whole family agrees on and recites frequently. It should capture the values of the family, and be at the heart of your family’s identity. Thomas wants this to be your guiding compass for understanding how to raise good kids. Reciting it should be your family’s most common ritual.

Rituals are important to building a family culture. By doing the same thing as a family, you can build your kid’s sense of connection and pride to the family identity. This connection and pride is important because it’s this bond that will combat the powers of external peer pressure. A family mission statement might sound foreign and weird to a lot of parents, but Thomas insists that it’s a pivotal part of discovering how to raise good kids.

Thomas insists that one reason parents don’t know how to raise good kids might be due to a lack of intention around shaping family culture. Making a family mission statement means sitting down with your kids and having open conversations about what kind of family you want to be. Thomas is certain, this simple meeting can leave a massive impact.

Hear Your Children’s Voices

As a parent, you can take the lead when it comes to formulating your family mission statement. But when learning how to raise good kids, you need to make sure your kids have a voice in determining this mission statement. Research on moral empowerment shows that it’s important to give kids a greater sense of responsibility as early as possible. Basically, kids need to know their voices matter and that they are responsible for what they say.

In understanding how to raise good kids, parents need to teach their kids to speak up for what they believe. If you can empower your kids to have a say in something as central as the family mission statement, you can teach them how to balance their desire for autonomy with their desire for belonging. You can teach them that their opinions can still hold merit and value, even if they differ from the group’s. This of course doesn’t mean they get to have the final say in the family mission statement, though!

Your family may run into several disagreements over what should be included in the family mission statement. You, as the parent, always have the final say, though. Thomas offers some strategies for talking with teens who might be stubborn and less cooperative with the family mission statement. This requires more patience, but teens should ultimately be encouraged to contribute their voices to important conversations.

The goal is to ultimately give everyone in your family a chance to learn how to raise good kids and answer the question, “What do we as a family want to believe?”

Using the Family Mission Statement

Thomas provides some examples of good family mission statements, which families wrote together and recited frequently. One family hung their family mission statement in the kitchen, and recited it at the start of every week. This family also referred to it when they ran into conflict and needed to ask, “Which of our values are we forgetting?”

The family mission statement is an excellent tool for learning how to raise good kids. When your child messes up, the family mission statement is there to ensure you’re not starting with a blank slate. This can give your kid a sense of security when receiving parental guidance and discipline.

For example, if your child is skipping classes at school to hang out with friends, your family mission statement can be a guiding compass for a hard conversation. You can use it to show your child which family value he or she is missing out on. This should eliminate a sense of surprise when you discipline your child. And of course, this is just one practical use and benefit of the family mission statement.

Lots to Look Forward to

Having a family mission statement as a foundation for your family identity has a seemingly endless list of practical uses and benefits. For starters, it can unify families, guide teens in maturity, and help parents and teens wrestle with life’s biggest questions.

You don’t want to miss Thomas discuss how to raise good kids along with other hot topics, such as:
  • Sports coaches and “team culture”
  • Having philosophical conversations with teenagers
  • What does “kindness” look like?
  • The “100 Goals” Assignment
  • Balancing individual values with family values
  • Improving our “Virtues Vocabulary”
There were so many amazing gold nuggets of wisdom I got from Thomas in this episode. He wants parents to feel comfortable having big, philosophical conversations with their teens, and feel sure that they know how to raise good kids. I really hope you get a chance to listen to this episode. I think you’ll really appreciate it.

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Dr. Thomas Lickona
Dr. Thomas Lickona
HOW TO RAISE KIND KIDS out now from Penguin Books. Psychologist, author, speaker. "The father of modern character education" - Moral Education: A Handbook.
Ep 20: Building a Strong Family Culture
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