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Australian expert offers wise advice for parents

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Australian parenting expert Andrew Mullins, author of Parenting for Character: Equipping your children for life, kicked off a cross-Canada speaking tour in Vancouver May 26.
Mullins tour included Victoria, Calgary, Toronto, London, Ottawa and Montreal organized by Family Development Canada president Gillian Roussy.

In an interview from Australia, Mullins stressed parents “need to manage the moral upbringing of their children” by ensuring they receive a consistent message from their parents, friends, media, relatives and peer groups.

When it comes to consistency in message, “parents are finding a lot of competition,” he said. “It’s difficult for parents to keep enough weight on their end of the seesaw.”

On the other end are values in the community, in the media, in the global youth culture that are not sympathetic to character building, he said. At issue is how parents “take the space to be the decisive moral exemplar in the lives of their children.”

“If in the end we find more joy in company of Homer Simpson and McDonald’s than in the company of our own parents, there is something wrong with that,” Mullins said.

Parents also need to invest in how children integrate their emotional lives with their moral convictions, he said. Parents model their emotional capacity by showing the child what gives them joy and happiness and what they should fear or avoid.

This is not a matter of communicating anxiety to make a child fearful or anxious, he said. Instead it is applying what Aristotle teaches about the good, the true and the beautiful, “raising children to have a love for the good,” he said. The joy parents find in friends, friendship, family, and ideals helps communicate that.

“Education is not simply about protecting children, but teaching them to think for themselves,” he said. “It’s important parents are close to their children, so parents can tell them what is going on in their own thoughts.”

If children are not open about “what is coming into their lives” and their own thoughts from their teacher and friends, it makes a parent’s task almost impossible.”

“It’s a huge task for parents to be close to their children,” he said. Parents earn the communication with their child in adolescence by the “effort and attention” they pay to child when he or she is small.

This is especially true for boys, who tend to be more concrete. “If you are not part of their life daily, you can become fairly remote to them,” he said. “It’s easy for parents to become remote in the lives of their children. That’s not right.”

Mullins said he is “very concerned about assumptions many educators have that somebody else than the parents have the right to be the decisive moral influence on the child.”

It’s not only the parents’ right, but their “solemn duty,” he said.

Training children to take joy in the right things, to have a “balanced emotional view of the world” is the “task of parents when children are very small,” he said. It must take place in addition to training and educating children to develop their minds.

Mullins bases his parenting advice on the four cardinal virtues: temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice. Temperance and fortitude involve training a child in where to seek pleasure and “how to overcome difficulties for a good reason.”

“It’s very important we seek to inculcate into young people the capacity to think to think for themselves and choose wisely,” he said. “Prudence is the capacity to understand what is right and wrong.”

Prudence also includes setting goals wisely, he said.

The fourth cardinal virtue, justice, “is the capacity to measure all of our actions against how they affect others,” he said. In this virtue, a child develops a sense of “kindness to all,” and learns to “pay attention to people.”

“Human beings are social,” he said. “We can’t find happiness apart from other people unless we contribute to their happiness in the process.”

“Parents do well to help children to set goals wisely, and to always take others into account when they set those goals,” he said.

Details on Mullins’ pan-Canadian tour can be found at

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