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Teachable Moments

Using Everyday Encounters with Media and Culture to Instill Conscience, Character, and Faith



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About The Book

Nationally syndicated columnist and media advisor on parenting, Marybeth Hicks outlines the overarching issues in using daily encounters with the current media-driven culture to impart the values and virtues of Christianity.

Never have Christian families been so challenged by the world around them to instill and instruct their children in the tenets of their faith. In today’s day and age, children and teens are surrounded on all sides by popular culture through incessant streams of social media on their cell phones, televisions, and computers. The constant presence of social media in your child’s daily life can influence and define their attitudes and behaviors. As parents and role models for the millennial generation, how do we overcome the moral relativism that saturates our culture to help our children put their faith into action and live out the values and virtues embodied in Jesus Christ? Marybeth Hicks shows Christian families how through “teachable moments.”

These teachable moments might be as simple as incorporating empathy and compassion in early friendships, or as complex as understanding the subtleties of our culture’s potentially destructive messages about human sexuality. They might present themselves in song lyrics, teacher’s comments, television shows, social media interactions, and current events. Teachable moments can emerge in parenting decisions, family relationships, school situations, and in opportunities for freedom and responsibility as our children engage with the world around them.

Through Teachable Moments Marybeth Hicks has created “a parent’s field guide to navigate a challenging culture” (Dr. Michele Borba). With entertaining and instructive questions and answers, this enriching handbook provides concrete examples of teachable moments that will ring true for you as you maximize opportunities to instill important life lessons into the everyday experiences of your children.


Teachable Moments CHAPTER ONE Parenting in the Moment
YOU ASK YOUR TEN-YEAR-OLD son to get the newspaper from the front porch. When he comes into the kitchen, he’s reading a front-page story about a politician whose claim to fame is his predilection for “sexting” with young women, none of whom is his wife.

On the way to school, you pass a billboard that says EXTREME METH MAKEOVER, featuring before-and-after photos of a methamphetamine addict. Your kids want to know if this is a new reality TV show.

While your older children are at school, you take your four-year-old daughter with you to the grocery store. At the check out, she points to a magazine picture of a scantily clad Miley Cyrus “twerking” on stage and asks, “What is Miley doing?”

After school, you’re the carpool driver. A fellow third grader tells your child all about last night’s episode of Glee, which focused on a gay high school romance. You try to change the subject, so the kids tell you about a boy in their class who is being bullied. They’re sure it’s because he is gay.

At dinner, your eight-year-old hums Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” while your twelve-year-old mentions that the soccer coach dropped an f-bomb while yelling directions at the team.

It’s just another day of parenthood in America, and another night in which you’ll pray that God will help you to build a hedge of protection around your children before the culture steals their hearts away for good.

There’s no way to avoid the intrusion of popular culture into our homes and families, but we don’t have to let these instances exploit and influence our children. Instead, we can use those unplanned opportunities to instill conscience, character, and faith into the hearts and minds of the children God has entrusted to our care.

Educators use the phrase “teachable moments” to describe unforeseen and unexpected opportunities to veer away from a lesson plan in order to capitalize on something that sparks students’ interest. Teachable moments sometimes arise from the day’s headlines or from something that happens in pop culture. They can suggest themselves from something exciting that happens to an individual student, or from an unpleasant incident on the playground. The lessons these moments present aren’t necessarily obvious, or even directly related to the incident itself. Essentially, teachable moments are springboards for learning—any kind of learning, about anything at all.
Intentional Parenting
Educators also use the term “intentional teacher.” According to researcher and author Dr. Ann Epstein, intentional teachers “act purposefully, with a goal in mind and a plan for accomplishing it. Intentional teaching is not an accident. When an unexpected situation arises, as it always does, intentional teachers recognize a teaching opportunity and are able to take advantage of it.”

Intentionality is crucial in parenting, too, especially if we hope to pass along the truth of the Gospel to our kids.

Years ago, my late mother-in-law, a lifelong educator, made an inadvertent comment that helped me to articulate the concept of intentionality. We were visiting her with our two eldest daughters, then four and two years old, and I disciplined them for some reason (who can remember why?). Grandma Nita came to the girls’ defense and said, “You don’t need to be so strict. Your girls are so good and so well-behaved!”

I smiled at her and said, “That’s not actually dumb luck, you know!”

Lots of folks think having “good kids” is just that—luck. But intentional parenting means thinking ahead about the character traits and moral development that you want for your children.

If, by definition, teachable moments are unplanned and unexpected, intentional parents must be vigilant and prepared to recognize them and use them for good. In that sense, any occurrence throughout a typical day could represent a teachable moment. Some come from the outside world, and some develop naturally in your family’s daily life.
External Moments
External moments are those presented by popular culture and current events. They come to us through the media.

American media—once a conduit to receive a limited menu of information and entertainment—is now a fixture in our daily lives, offering a diet of content that quickly overwhelms our limited capacity. Aside from causing nearly constant sensory overload, this ubiquitous media presence means that the people who control the messages that our children consume have pulled up a seat at the family table. Their ideas, opinions, worldviews, and values now are among those that shape and mold our children’s character and conscience.

But media dissemination is no longer a one-way street; it’s aninteractive component woven into the fabric of our existence. It has changed not only our vocabulary, turning random nouns into verbs (“Facebook me!” “Text me!” “DM me!”), but also the ways we relate to our children and the ways they relate to the world. So as we look for teachable moments, we must not only address media consumption but also discuss the use of technology.

It will help to have some perspective about our kids’ generation. Researchers sometimes refer to our children as “Generation M”—Generation Media. In its study about the media habits of children aged eight to eighteen, the Kaiser Family Foundation found in 2010 that young Americans spend an average of seven hours and thirty-eight minutes per day engaged with media. The study also calculated media multi-tasking (surfing the net while watching TV, for example), which increased the total average media time to ten hours and forty-five minutes per day. And this didn’t even include texting!

Parents should be concerned about the amount of time our children spend with media. Study after study proves that the content of our modern media is influencing and molding our children’s character and values. Behaviors related to sex, violence, substance use, consumerism, body image, and interpersonal relationships are modeled in the media with alarming impact. But just as importantly, our children’s attitudes and opinions are formed based on the manner in which important subjects are portrayed in popular culture, and these ideas often are contrary to the tenets of Christianity. Given the conflicting moral messages with which they are constantly confronted, it’s no wonder children and teens are confused or indifferent about how to live the Gospel values.

Still, it’s important to remember that technology itself is morally neutral. Just as it can be used to compromise or even corrupt their souls, it also can be a tool to teach and promote the lessons our children need to live moral and faithful lives. Media devices can isolate us from one another, but if we use them in a positive way, they can bring us together. The trick is to have mastery over our media consumption, and not let media have mastery over us.
Organic Moments
It’s not just the outside world as experienced through the media that offers teachable moments. Teachable moments also come simply from living our lives. Family relationships and friendships, sports and extracurricular activities, and episodes of growth and maturity create opportunities to teach valuable lessons. The American ethos itself has morphed in ways that require families to face delicate, difficult, and even dangerous realities. Venturing out into the community with our kids means confronting inadvertent exposure to behaviors and situations we’d rather they didn’t hear or see.


Waiting for a table at the chicken wing joint on a Sunday evening after church, trying to ignore a group of college guys comparing notes about the drunken debauchery they experienced the night before.

Or walking past the toy aisles at Walmart as a mom yells at her son, “Get the (bleep) over here!”

Or sitting with your son in the waiting room of an urgent care clinic and being forced to overhear a stranger describe her personal medical issues to her boyfriend over her cell phone.

Not that any of these things ever happened to my family!

Each of these scenarios is a teachable moment. Intentional parents can use everything—cultural intrusions, gritty or awkward encounters, and personal triumphs and hardships—to communicate about what’s important.

There’s another reason why teachable moments are so critical: not infusing our values and beliefs into those moments sends an equally powerful message that the values of the dominant popular culture are A-okay with you.

To be sure, many teachable moments will feel excruciating to you and your kids. It’s not always comfortable to address the incidents that come to our attention. But if we’re going to fulfill our obligations as parents, ignoring them isn’t an option. The alternative is a society where the moral void in the hearts of our children is filled with relativism, superficiality, and even wickedness. Here’s a tragic example of what I mean.
A Cautionary Tale: Absent a Compass
In September 2010, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, aged eighteen, took his own life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Tyler had discovered that his roommate, Dharun Ravi, had spied on him during a gay sexual encounter by using a webcam in their shared dorm room. Worse, Dharun had invited others to watch along with him.

Dharun, an immature and morally inept young adult, was sentenced to only thirty days in prison, followed by three years of probation, three thousand hours of community service, and training about the use of technology and “alternative lifestyles.” He could have gone to jail for ten years for creating the humiliation and emotional distress that appears to have been the reason for Tyler’s suicide, but the judge apparently determined that his motives weren’t evil, just infantile.

Dharun’s conviction for invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, and tampering with a witness and evidence in the aftermath of Tyler’s death revealed the complete bankruptcy of conscience with which he operated. (He attempted to delete certain texts and online communications in an apparent effort to mitigate his role in causing his roommate’s emotional state).

Punctuating the case, juror Lynn Audet said after the verdict, “Deletion is futile. Text messages, tweets, emails, iChats are never gone. Be careful. I’ve already told my kids, be careful. If you’re going to put something in writing, be able to back it up.”

Underscoring the superficial morality that guides our nation’s youngest generation, the best we can come up with seems to be: “Your love of technology may come back to bite you in the butt, so watch what you say in cyberspace.”

Not exactly the lesson I would be going for in such a teachable moment.

When the story of Tyler Clementi’s sad suicide made headlines, I discussed it with my then–middle school daughter. When I told her that one roommate had invaded another’s privacy in such a brash and callous way, her indignant response was, “Who DOES that?”

One answer says it was Dharun, the immature college boy. He wasn’t malicious, his defense attorney said, but rather he meant to “pwn” (a purposeful misspelling of the word “own”—to pwn someone is to more than just own them) his roommate with a thoughtless prank. A prank? Really?

The alternative explanation—the one that gained so much traction in the media after Tyler’s death—is that Dharun exemplified the intolerance of homosexuality that prompts the bullying now epidemic across our country. Not to sound cynical, but that was a convenient conclusion for the folks promoting the gay agenda, despite the fact that Dharun had plenty of gay friends to vouch for his open-mindedness.

This was my brash conclusion: Dharun wasn’t a homophobe or a prankster. He was a kid without a moral compass.

People with a well-developed conscience know that it is always wrong to invade the privacy of another person. Moreover, they are capable of holding whatever opinion they choose about another person without acting on that opinion, whether the issue is sexuality or race or obesity or intelligence or gender. You may dislike someone because that person looks at you funny or has an obnoxious laugh or is smarter than you. You just can’t torment him or her. That’s wrong. It’s always wrong, no matter why you do it.

Put another way, there are some things you just don’t do.

This is what’s known as a moral imperative. Unfortunately, Dharun’s moral compass—the thing that should have pointed him toward true north and a path of correct behavior—was as immature as his ultimate course of action.

This sort of senseless, heartless episode is what happens when human beings are not molded in conscience and character. Because, as my then-twelve-year-old succinctly put it, good people don’t do things like that.
The Character Crisis
We’re all about “crises” in our country. In the past several years, we’ve had a credit crisis, a housing crisis, and an employment crisis, and soon we’re expecting a student loan crisis. These social and political calamities always get their own logos and theme songs on the news. That’s how you know it’s a “crisis.”

Despite the seriousness of these social disasters, they don’t compare to the real catastrophe we face: the crisis of our children’s character, as evidenced by the behavior of Dharun Ravi in the death of Tyler Clementi. I picked their story because it is shocking and tragic, and it ought to be inconceivable. But I could have used the story of the thirteen- and fourteen-year-old boys in East Harlem who tossed a shopping cart off a four-story walkway—for fun—hitting an innocent wife and mother walking below, who happened to be buying Halloween candy for underprivileged children. She was in a medically induced coma for a while and permanently lost her vision in one eye, but in court the boys said they were sorry, so there’s that.

Or I could have used the humiliating incident of the physically mature eleven-year-old Pennsylvania girl caught “sexting” topless photos of herself to her classmates. The parent of one of the recipients of her nude photos alerted authorities, who contacted the girl’s parents, who of course had no clue their not-even-teenage-daughter was doing such a thing.

Or I could have told the heart-wrenching tale of the Connecticut Boy Scout who committed suicide on the first day of school after years of bullying by his classmates. A friend described the boy as quirky and odd. He was from Poland and had only lived in the US for a few brutal and humiliating years, so maybe the kids at school were still trying to get to know him.

These stories and others like them make me ask myself: Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

To be sure, some studies, such as those conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, claim that today’s young adults are not morally insufficient, but in fact share the moral and religious opinions of their elders. Statistics such as “76 percent of eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds believe there are absolute standards of right and wrong” prompted at least one snarky editorial to note that those who are worried about moral decay in our country are just overreacting. And we’re not hip, either.

Unfortunately, opinion research doesn’t jibe with studies about the behavior and habits of young people. To put it bluntly, a large swath of America’s young people wouldn’t know right or wrong if it took a bite out of their corndog. Teens and young adults are so ingrained in the mind-set of relativism that they mostly believe the notions of right and wrong, and even the concept of “truth,” are “personal,” as in, you have “your truth” and I have “my truth.”

Dr. Christian Smith, professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, conducted studies that show that many young people lack even a vocabulary for morality. Instead of framing their actions and beliefs in the context of “right” and “wrong,” they couch their morality in emotion and relativism. If something feels bad, then it’s probably wrong. If it feels good, it’s right. Something can feel bad to you and be wrong for you, but if it feels good to someone else, it’s right for that person. And evaluating behavior choices means assessing an action on the basis of how it might make someone else feel, not whether the behavior is innately right or wrong.

The problem with using feelings as the arbiter for assessing moral behavior is that not everyone feels the same way. Emotions make for a moving target; they change from person to person, and even from day to day. Empathy, or even a consistent application of the Golden Rule, can guide our actions, but it doesn’t define morality. For example, we don’t avoid lying because being deceived might hurt someone’s feelings; we avoid it because lying is simply wrong, whether or not it hurts another person.

Longitudinal studies by the Josephson Institute of Ethics prove that a crisis in moral development exists among teens. In its biennial study of twenty-three thousand high school students, the organization has found that unethical behavior on the part of young people is “entrenched.” Among other findings, in 2012 the Josephson Institute found:

• While 86 percent of boys and 95 percent of girls believe that being a good person is more important than being rich, 23 percent of boys and 17 percent of girls admitted stealing from a store within the past year. Moreover, nearly half of boys—45 percent—agreed with the statement “A person has to lie and cheat at least occasionally in order to succeed.” Twenty-eight percent of girls also held this cynical belief.

• Nearly 20 percent of boys disagreed with the statement “It’s not worth it to cheat because it hurts your character.” But 20 percent of boys agreed with the statement “It’s not cheating if everyone is doing it.” Ten percent of girls shared those opinions.

• Rampant cheating in school continues. A majority of students (51 percent) admitted cheating on a test during the last year. One in three admitted they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

Alarmingly, despite evidence that cheating, lying, and stealing are common behaviors, fully 93 percent of students surveyed said they were satisfied with their ethics and character, and 99 percent said having good character is very important. Eighty-one percent believe that when it comes to doing what is right, they are better than most people they know—proving that while some American kids may not have a moral compass, they do have excellent self-esteem!

How did we get to a point where our children seem to make no connection between their behavior and the character it reflects? If this doesn’t define a crisis in character, what would?

For years, I’ve argued that this “disconnect” stems from the parenting trend to reinforce self-esteem at all costs, irrespective of how a kid behaves, rather than connect self-esteem to goodness. Kids should feel good about themselves when they are good, when they do the right things and make moral choices.

But parents are warned to correct their children’s behavior, not their children, on the grounds that their kids might feel bad about themselves. Isn’t that exactly what a conscience is meant to do—make us feel badly when we do the wrong thing? That’s the purpose of guilt and shame, two old-fashioned and denigrated emotions that must make a comeback if we’re going to rescue our children’s generation.

All kids make mistakes and do dumb, hurtful things. The current parenting style in our nation is to respond like this: “Charlie, I know you didn’t mean to steal your brother’s Halloween candy, tear up his homework, and put his iPod in the dishwasher. Those were just poor choices that made your brother sad. Tomorrow, you can have a fresh start and make better choices that don’t hurt his feelings. But you’re still a great person and nothing you ever do will change that.” Such parenting is evidence of the truism, “Even a felon is loved by his mother.”

To connect our children’s behavior to their character is to give meaning to their choices beyond just the unpleasant outcome of hurting someone else’s feelings (which may or may not bother a child!). A more useful response for moral education is: “Wow, Charlie, I don’t know if you intended to hurt your brother’s feelings and destroy his property, or if you were just acting impulsively. Either way, your behavior tells me that your character needs work. People who deliberately hurt others are known as insensitive and cruel, or at the very least, rude. And people who deliberately ruin the property of others are known as selfish, thoughtless, or even destructive. People will decide if you’re a good boy or a bad boy by the way you behave. If you’re a good boy, your behavior will show everyone what kind of character you have.”

Should you call Charlie a bad boy? Of course not! But you should certainly make sure he understands that his actions speak for his character. If that sounds like he’s a bad boy . . . well . . . that’s for Charlie’s budding conscience to decide.

Many bright minds are writing about the genesis of this moral void in America’s youth. Radio host and author Dennis Prager blames the decline in religious belief for waning moral intelligence in our culture generally, and certainly in our young people. The Pew Research study, despite its rosy picture of generational morality, quantifies the waning religiosity of young Americans.

Why is this important to note? Because without a religious foundation, our young people’s morality is essentially a personal behavior code.

Where this all started is anybody’s guess. It could be rooted in the materialistic, spoiled parenting experienced by Baby Boomers at the hands of their well-meaning but newly affluent moms and dads, or it might be linked to the sexual and cultural upheaval of the sixties and seventies. Perhaps it was caused by feminism and the resultant change in the roles of parents in the daily lives of their children, or it might be the upshot of aggressive sociopolitical progressivism that has marginalized religion in the public square.

Don’t know . . . can’t say. No matter the cause, our kids’ generation suffers for want of a guiding moral compass.

It’s not the statistics that ought to convince us, though, or even the troubling stories that dominate the media. What ought to persuade us that there is a disturbing moral vacuum are the examples we find in our daily experience.

Think I’m exaggerating? Read your child’s Twitter feed. I read my daughter’s and discovered that a popular boy in our community was promoting the moral corruption of hundreds of teens, making it look cool and fun to live a totally amoral life.

This is the environment in which we are called to instill Gospel values into the hearts and minds of our children. No wonder we’re struggling!
Carpe Articulum! (Seize the Moment!)
What next? How can you put into practice the idea of “teachable moments” to assure you’re doing enough to build your child’s moral intelligence? A few concrete strategies will help you become accustomed to incorporating lessons about conscience, character, and faith into your daily interactions with your children:

Be intentional and look for teachable moments. Acting intentionally and staying alert for teachable moments gives us the opportunity to weave lessons about character, virtue, faith, and values into our everyday conversations with our kids.

For instance, when I was talking with my daughter, Amy, about the students at Rutgers University, it prompted an interesting and insightful conversation with her. When Amy asked indignantly “Who DOES that?” about Dharun Ravi’s despicable “prank,” I replied, “Why do you say that?” She then explained to me—in middle school terms—the moral imperatives about respecting others’ privacy (even if you don’t approve of what they’re doing), protecting the feelings of others, avoiding behavior that you know is harmful to others, and accepting responsibility for your actions.

Rather than simply comment on how sad the story was, I used it to encourage my daughter to think about the missing elements of morality that allowed the tragedy to happen in the first place. Mind you, this conversation took place on the ten-minute drive from our house to school. This demonstrates how moral lessons ought to be taught to children—in the moment. The goal isn’t to sit down for a formal presentation about moral behavior or belabor the point, but to routinely incorporate such discussions into your conversation.

Now think back to that typical parenting day at the beginning of this chapter—the one that starts with the news story about a “sexting” scandal and ends with a soccer coach using vulgarity at practice. How might you take those moments and turn them into something useful and good for your children? What can you do to capitalize on those instances when it seems your children’s innocence is being hijacked and their character influenced by the wrong things?

When your son hands you the paper and you read the headline about a public scandal, frame the story in moral terms. “It’s so disappointing to see public figures acting without integrity,” you might say. “Politicians lose their moral leadership by behaving this way. And ‘sexting’ always exploits someone, which makes it a truly hurtful act.” Moral lesson accomplished. Pour the coffee.

Learning that a coach used vulgarity when speaking to the soccer team might generate a similar discussion: “Coaches and teachers have a responsibility to model respectful behavior for their players and students. Do you think your coach’s language set a good example? Was it respectful to the team? What impression does he leave with you when he uses words like that?” In instances like this, you can demonstrate how others judge someone’s character based on their actions.

Define what’s right and what’s wrong. First things first. Teaching morality to our children begins with the simple truth that God created the universe and everything in it; that every person is created in the image and likeness of God, possessing dignity and worth; and that God loves everything he creates. For Christians, this is the basis for a moral code that has been revealed to us directly, through biblical instruction, as well as personally, by understanding the character of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

To summarize: to be a moral person is to be Christlike. Which also explains why it’s so darn hard.

Our Christian moral code tells us what is right and wrong in the context of our faith, which we know to be based on truth. Jesus gave us an excellent reminder of just what our foundation must be. Everyone assumes it’s the “Golden Rule” —“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—but the foundation for our moral lives is Jesus’s Great Commandment:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

(Matthew 22:37–40)

Morality, then, is a system of behavior that reflects our love of God and demonstrates that love in the Christlike treatment of others.

Very young children need concrete terms in order to categorize their actions. Parents often tell children a behavior is “inappropriate,” but don’t grasp what this means. It implies knowledge of a community standard about appropriateness, which even many adults don’t have. When teaching little ones about moral behavior, it’s best to use the simple words “right,” “wrong,” “good,” and “bad.”

Kids also respond well when we use direct language to describe specific immoral behaviors. If someone cheats on a test at school, that person is a “cheater.” Someone who lies is a “liar.” Someone who steals is a “thief.” Children can understand that certain bad actions identify your character in unflattering—but accurate—ways.

Older children and teens need a more precise vocabulary to help them assess the behavior they observe as well as the actions they contemplate for themselves.

When philosophers want to talk about something that’s wrong, they use the word “impermissible,” meaning the behavior is something that isn’t allowed; you aren’t supposed to do it. When they want to talk about something that’s right, they might use the word “permissible,” which means it is allowed and you may do it. But they also might use the word “obligatory,” which describes something you really ought to do (or perhaps it is something you ought never to do). Developing a conscience revolves around understanding the “oughtness” of things—knowing what things we must do, and what we mustn’t.

Define good character. We also need to teach words that describe the character traits we hope to cultivate in our children. Parents of wee ones tend to speak in terms of being “good” or being “nice,” but these words are nebulous. There are better, more specific terms, like being “obedient”—doing what you’re told—and being “kind”—acting thoughtfully and considerately toward others. These precise words can easily be taught to toddlers and preschoolers.

The older they get, the more specifically children need to know the traits that will mark them as persons of good character. This may sound simplistic, but we can’t assume that children know what constitutes virtue. In fact, in our culture, “good” and “nice” are about as far as we go in describing a person’s positive traits.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but the words below precisely define the character we want to instill in our children and the traits we want them to exhibit in their attitudes, intentions, and actions:







































































Make these words part of your vocabulary when you are talking with older children about their own or others’ attitudes and actions.

Focus on the future. The work of parenting is to mold our children’s character for adulthood, not simply to manage their experiences for success or happiness in the present day. It’s tempting to try to fix things for our kids to make life easier for them, but often the best thing we can do is allow our children to experience the adversity brought on by their actions or the actions of others. There’s an adage that reminds us of where our focus should be. My sister-in-law, Catherine, gave me a lovely tile with these words on it that I kept in my kitchen until my busy son, Jimmy, accidentally broke it: “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.” Whenever it’s tempting to smooth things over, help your child avoid the natural consequences of his actions, or “level the playing field” in ways that require your adult intervention, consider what’s really best for your child—your quick fix, or the capacity to handle whatever comes his or her way in life? When you keep the focus on the future, you’ll more readily know how to respond in any given situation.

Teach by example. We parents also face moral choices each and every day, and we teach best when we demonstrate moral behavior by example. Any time our circumstances allow us to share our decision-making process with our kids, we can make a profound impact on them by showing them what it looks like when adults behave morally. It’s one thing to tell your children to be scrupulously honest. It’s another to take them with you back to the store to pay for something you inadvertently left on the lower rack of your shopping cart and didn’t scan. Our actions speak volumes about our own moral fiber and convey to our children that virtue is a lifelong pursuit.
Every Family Is Different—Except When We’re Alike
Families are unique, dynamic, and organic groups handpicked by God to join members together in a life-giving and eternal relationship. Other than that, we’re pretty much all the same. We struggle with the same typical behaviors; we share the same doubts and make the same basic discoveries as we journey through the ages and stages of family life. These days, we’re also faced with the same questions and concerns about a culture that is making it more difficult to parent our children according to our core beliefs.

Situations that arise from family life, friendships, media use, school, sports, and “real world” experiences all offer opportunities to impart your parental wisdom, teach your values, instill your faith, and mold your children’s character and conscience. In the pages that follow, you’ll find common questions that moms and dads confront in their everyday encounters with the culture, along with my reflections and suggestions about how you might respond. There aren’t any right answers—this isn’t a “how to” book with specific directions; rather, it’s a guide to help you think more strategically about ways to achieve your important parenting objectives.

Parenting books resonate with moms and dads precisely because our experiences are so universal. The goal of this book is offer the benefit of my years in the parenting trenches, as well as the insights I’ve gleaned as a culture commentator. To be clear, I’m not a parenting “expert” by training or degree, but I’m the indisputable authority on the four incredible people the good Lord put in my maternal care, and they have presented me with more teachable moments than I can ever recollect. If the thoughts and ideas that follow are helpful to you, I think we all know who gets the credit.

About The Author

Andrew Jenkins

Marybeth Hicks is a columnist and speaker and the author of three previous books on parenting and culture. Founder and editor of the blog,, she also writes a monthly family column for Catholic Digest magazine and is a regular contributor to EWTN radio. Formerly a columnist for The Washington Times, Marybeth is a frequent guest on national television and radio outlets to comment on issues that impact families and communities. She and her husband, Jim, are the parents of four children and make their home in Michigan.

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Raves and Reviews

“Marybeth Hicks understands that the character of our children ultimately will define the character of our society. We must focus on raising kids who are ethical, empathetic, and virtuous—children whose behavior reflects their excellent character. Teachable Moments encourages parents to use everyday experiences to reinforce the lessons they are teaching about the values and virtues that they want their children to exhibit. It’s a parent's field guide to navigate a challenging culture.” —Dr. Michele Borba

– Dr. Michele Borba

Yes! Another spectacular, must-have book on parenting from my friend Marybeth Hicks, who reminds us that the role of parents is one ordained by God to instill in our children the virtues and values and faith that will lead them to heaven. A seasoned mom of four young adults, Marybeth brings to bear her years in the parenting trenches but also a keen understanding of the cultural influences that challenge today's Christian parents. This is more than a book of parenting advice and suggestions; it's an encouragement to those of us who are committed to fulfilling our vocations as mothers and fathers. Get this book and start looking for teachable moments with your kids every day!

– Eric Metaxas, New York Times Bestselling author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Seven Men: And the Secret of their Greatness

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