Lisa Bloom, popular television news anchor, writes: “A great warning for us adults to consider- what are we communicating when we first meet a little girl and we remark, You look adorable!” Lisa says, “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.” 
Lisa has hit on something important and I too have said things like this without even thinking about what I am communicating. But Lisa hasn’t gone far enough. Not only does our culture place too much emphasis on beauty and body imagine. It also values athletic accomplishments, musical hits, financial success, and… You can add to the list. Bottom line: success, accomplishment, and acceptance have become modern day idols.
A child placed in an advanced class, another who scores the most goals, one who gets the lead in the musical, another who gets into an Ivy League college or is chosen Homecoming Queen or writes an outstanding paper—surely these kids have the best parents. Surely they are set up for life.
It is not beauty, education, accomplishments, material possessions, health or significance that will ultimately matter. Each of these can disappear in a second. Our kids come into the world packaged uniquely. You may have one who earns a perfect score on her SATS but you may also have a child with disabilities whose accomplishments look quite different than “the norm.” Is one more valuable than another? Your child may be homely, shy, and a very average student. In the world’s eyes he may never be a success. But if nurtured properly he may develop a compassion for others that is life changing and life giving.
It is character that will sustain a child, an adult, a family -no matter what life throws at you. It is character that will last and it is character that every child needs to develop. Compassion, kindness, integrity, a teachable spirit, self discipline, a servant’s heart, courage, faith, joy- these are character traits that every child and every adult can develop. Our primary job as parents is to equip our children with character.
So when your child comes home from school and exclaims, “No one likes me,” take her aside and say, “I understand. I know how you feel. I have felt left out too. But who is someone in your class that you have noticed that might feel lonely or left out? How can you reach out to her?” (Sit with her at lunch, play with him at recess, etc.). You are nurturing kindness.
Perhaps your young child caused his soccer team to lose. He’s devastated and embarrassed. Encourage an older sibling to comfort him. That could be more meaningful than your kind words and it provides a ready opportunity for training in compassion.
In a carpool you overhear a child insulting another kid because he’s different or not cool, or… Stop and say, “You know what; every child comes into the world with special gifts and a special plan. What are some of the special things you have noticed about this kid? How can you encourage him?” You are nurturing the character trait of valuing all people.
Maybe your teenager’s friend’s Mom is writing his essay for him. And it will be better than your son’s. But that’s cheating. It’s supposed to be the student’s essay. Even if everyone else is doing it (and they aren’t) don’t do it. You are training your child in the value of integrity. A life of integrity is far more important than the best grades and getting into the “right school.” We must nurture integrity and be alert to the ways in which we ourselves are tempted to compromise.
We are all growing in character. We never get “there” ourselves. But one of the blessings of having children is that they provide a natural accountability for our own lives and they call us to a higher standard.
See also: Raising Kids with Values That Last by John and Susan Yates