I’m writing this sitting on a plane returning from a visit with our son Keila during his Plebe (Freshmen) year at West Point. We experienced a packed couple of days learning all about our son’s journey at the United States Military Academy. Our visit was part of an annual event called Plebe Parent Weekend. Open since 1802 there have only been roughly 60,000 graduates of this historical institution.
One of the qualities setting West Point apart from most universities, in my humble opinion, is their commitment to training character. Watching and learning about their philosophy and methodology allowed me to walk away with three practical tips for parents to teach their children character.
In the book Revolutionary Parenting, George Barna does the research on what he called “Spiritual Champions” and what makes them tick. 100%… every single parent of a spiritual champion said the most important thing to teach as a parent was Godly character! We couldn’t agree more. Which of course begs the question – how do you teach character and specifically Godly character.
Obviously this is a bigger conversation than a single blog post. It begins with asking the question, “What are the Godly character qualities I most want to teach?” But we’d like to offer three practical tips for teaching our kids character that we picked up while visiting West Point.
1) Character is best taught through a chain of command. Plebe Parent Weekend is significant for these freshment because all of the upper classmen have left campus leaviing the Plebes in charge. But even for a weekend event of less than 48 hours, the academy created a command structure amongst the freshmen to operate for the weekend.
In culture today authority isn’t a popular concept. The truth however is God intended for us to live under authority. First and foremost we live under the authority of God. But He places people in our lives in a “command structure.” Our kids are to “obey your parents”, not because you can trust your parents to always do the right thing, but because you can trust the one who put your parents in that position of authority. Romans 13 reminds us all authority is instituted by God. So the first step in teaching our children character is to expect them to obey you, their parent.
2) We teach character by repetition. We were fortunate to arrive on campus Thursday which was a full day early. It allowed us to look around with fewer visitors on campus. It also gave us the opportunity to watch the rehearsal for the parade the cadets would perform for the parents on Saturday. New York had experienced a severe winter with multiple storms. Relatively speaking the weather we were experiencing was quite a bit milder. But to us, it was still bitterly cold.
We watched the cadets line up. Then to the steady beat of the drum we saw them march around the apron, the name given to the huge cement area directly in front of the barracks (what other colleges would call dorms). The upperclass leadership walked alongside plebes barking instructions. Honestly, it looked pretty good to us.
But not good enough for the Corps of Cadets. So after they finished they immediately lined up again and repeated the exact same drill. We couldn’t tell a whole lot of difference, it still looked pretty good. But not good enough. We watched them repeat the process one more time and I’m pretty sure I saw a little improvement. By this time we were freezing and even though the class of 2018 was lining up for a fourth time, we headed for warmer confines.
When Saturday arrived we stood in the cold and rain to watched the thousand plus cadets from the class of 2018 march by for real. No upperclassmen directing them. Just the freshmen parading by. Even to the untrained eye you couldn’t miss the incredible precision and unison in which they now marched. I know the goosebumps on my arms and the chills up my spine were evidence of what I was witnessing.
Here is a video of that final marching performance: PPW Marching
What had happened? How did this group of freshmen transform in such a short time? The answer of course is repetition. You can talk about discipline and poise. But to teach those character qualities it takes repetition. And so it is with many of the lessons we want to teach our kids about character. We must teach honesty, integrity, kindness, dependability, diligence, generosity, humility, loyalty, obedience, and all of the other biblical character qualities. And teaching them takes time and repetition. But like the class of 2018, the payoff for repetition is visible to everyone.
3) And finally teaching character often comes disguised as hard work. West Point prides itself on teaching character. A quick glance at the schedule and work load of a typical cadet and you would assume they took the most pride in over working and over extending these young men and women. The truth is these two concepts work hand in hand. Character, at least real and lasting character, is often best forged in the furnace of hard work. After all it’s easy to be kind when things are easy. It doesn’t take character to be loyal when life is cruising along. As character is taught its formation and testing happens with hard work.
This might not be a popular thing to say but in many ways we’ve gone soft on our kids. Helicopter parents hover over their kids to make sure they never fail or get hurt. Certainly there is a balance to be struck, but part of teaching our kids character is allowing them to work some of those things out for themselves; to allow the pressures of life to teach and to guide.
I’m not talking about the pressure to perform and grade out at Ivy League standards. I want my kids to enjoy being a kid. At the same time I know hard work and challenges are part of the process of developing character.
There is so much more to be said about teaching our kids character. But consider employing these three tips with your kids. Raise them with a working understanding of biblical authority, use repetition when teaching character lessons, and be willing to allow your kids to work hard in developing these all important qualities for life.
How do you feel like you’ve done teaching character to your kids? What has been the greatest challenge? Also if you haven’t yet check out our 60 second videos on family. You can access them here .