Ep 20: Building a Strong Family Culture

Ep 20: Building a Strong Family Culture

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Episode Summary

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.

Full Show Notes

There is no shortage of shady people trying to influence your teenager; marketers, friends, the media, random people on the internet. And today, no matter who these people are (and regardless of whether you approve or not), they can have your teenager’s full attention any time they want–thanks to the smartphone.

Parents have lost a lot of control over how, when, and with whom teens communicate…and it’s scary.

With teenagers open to so many conflicting messages from outside of the family, what hope can parents have to instill firm positive values?

This week’s guest, Thomas Lickona, is the past president of the Association for Moral Education and he speaks around the world on fostering moral values and character development in schools, families, and communities. He has written 9 books on moral development and character education, which have been translated into ten languages.

His new book, How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain, addresses the question of how to instill virtues in your kids.

In this episode, Thomas reveals that, yes, parents can combat the constant barrage of outside influence, but it isn’t easy. It requires creating a family culture so strong it overpowers the negative influence of teenagers’ friends and social media newsfeeds.

The 20-minute public version is free to listen to, and the 35-minute extended version, packed with extra goodies, is reserved for site members. Log in or sign up to access everything our site has to offer!

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of WHAT to say to your teen

1. Kickstart a deeper relationship with your teen by sending a letter apologizing for previous issues and expressing a desire to improve:


I love you very much. I’d lay down in the road for you–I would die for you. I love you that much. Sometimes I feel like that’s not coming across. We have a lot of arguments. You’re going through adolescence. There are many tough things you have to deal with that go way beyond the family. School. Peer groups. What you’re going to do with your future. I understand all those pressures–I went through them. But look, even during these hard times–maybe especially because of them–I’d like to get better at that. If you have children some day you’re going to feel that it’s probably the hardest job you’ve ever had. You don’t get an instruction manual, everybody has to figure it out, every child is different. And I think I made some mistakes. But anyway, I’d like going forward to have the best relationship we can have. And I’d like to start by listening to your thoughts and your feelings. How would you like to take a long walk this weekend and talk about it?



-Thomas Lickona

2.  Initiate a deep conversation about values to live by:

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3.  Help your teenager to develop a more positive life philosophy:

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4.  Use this conversation starter to get your teen to open up:

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5.  Use this conversation starter to get your teen to open up:

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6.  Use this conversation starter to get your teen to open up:

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7.  Use this conversation starter to get your teen to open up:

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8.  Use this conversation starter to get your teen to open up:

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9.  Affirm your teenager’s autonomy to experiment with their life philosophy:

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10.  Give your teen advice in a removed way by telling them about a lesson you learned:

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11.  How to start a weekly family meeting in a laid-back non-confrontational way:

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12.  When a teen speaks to you in a disrespect tone of voice:

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Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1.  Write a Family Mission Statement to Clarify Values:

Culture is one of the strongest known influences on teenage behavior. If you aren’t deliberate about creating a strong family culture then your teen will be swept along by the larger popular culture that their peers are all following. In our interview, Thom told me the best way to create a deliberate family culture is to draft a family mission statement. This is a simple document where you outline the core values your family stands for. To get your teen to buy into the mission statement, you’ll need to get their input while you are writing it. The best way to do this is during a family meeting. Get everyone together and write the mission statement together. Ask everyone to answer the question: “What do we most deeply believe?” Then type up the responses and post them on the refrigerator. To prepare for this session, spend a few minutes thinking about how you will answer when it is your turn. What do you most deeply believe? What values do you want your teen to internalize? When you write the actual mission statement, be sure to use the collective voice, “We commit to…”

2.  Have a Talk About the “Deep” Stuff:

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3.  Get Your Teen Thinking about Life’s Big Questions:

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About Thomas Lickona

A developmental psychologist and professor of education emeritus at the State University of New York at Cortland, Thomas Lickona is also the founding director of the Center for the Fourth and Fifth Rs (Respect and Responsibility).

A past president of the Association for Moral Education, he serves on the Board of Directors of the Character Education Partnership and speaks around the world to teachers, parents, religious educators, and other groups concerned about the character development of young people.

His publications include:

Raising Good Children: From Birth Through The Teenage Years (1983)

Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility (recipient of the 1992 Christopher Award for “affirming the highest values of the human spirit”)

Sex, Love and You: Making the Right Decision (1994) (a book for teens co-authored with his wife, Judith, and William Boudreau, M.D.)

Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues (2004)

Character Quotations (2004) (with Matthew Davidson)

Dr. Lickona has been a guest on numerous radio and TV talk shows, including “The Larry King Live Radio Show,” “Good Morning America,” and “Focus on the Family.” His work was the subject of a New York Times Magazine cover story, “Teaching Johnny to be Good.” In 2001, the Character Education Partnership presented him with the Sanford N. McDonnell Lifetime Achievement Award in Character Education.

He and his wife have two sons and fourteen grandchildren and live in Cortland, New York.

Find Thomas on Facebook and Twitter.