Your daughter gets mad, so she slams the door and screams. Your son makes himself a snack and leaves the kitchen a disaster for someone else to clean up. You hear them say something rude to a waiter. You see them write something offensive on social media.
Before you get mad yourself, before you condemn, just take them aside. Ask them, kindly, openly, a question that the strongman Mark Bell says he always asks his teenage kids: “Hey, when have you seen me do that?”
This is a critical question for two reasons. One, it may well be that you have been inadvertently modeling behavior you find repugnant. As we’ve said before, a little fellow follows us, and the best way to teach is by example. We want to know if we’ve been tacitly condoning the wrong things to our kids. But second, one of the best and strongest ways to indict bad behavior is with a gentle correction, rather than with harsh words. Seneca would talk about how role models help make crooked straight. Being able to say to your kids, respectfully, I am older, richer and freer than you, and I would never accept that kind of behavior in myself, can ring louder than any punishment.
We are all walking this road of life together. All doing what we think is OK. Sometimes we don’t know. Sometimes we make the wrong assumptions. We need to be reminded what goodness looks like, what our responsibilities are. It doesn’t need to be done by force or by fiat.
Just a kind reminder of what the right path is will do.