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Dr. Erika's Weekly Educational Column

Dear Dr. Erika: Recently I read an article written by Dr. Laura Schlessinger about how kids ought to be raised. Since I'm the mother of a 10-year-old daughter Lainie, I was especially interested. In her article Dr. Laura said we're emphasizing the wrong things these days and posed the question: What do we really want? Smart children--or good children? -- Wondering Mom

What Do We Want? Smart Children-or Good Children?

Both. Yes, we have to raise our kids to be good AND smart. How could we have produced the only leading nation in the whole world if we had stressed only one good quality in our young? I mean, have we ever really wondered whether to give our kids something to eat OR something to drink at dinner time? Of course not. We've always realized that they need both good food and drink to grow up well.

The same is true in rearing children. If we think in an either/or mentality and concentrate only on rearing good children OR smart children, we're under-rearing them. We can all do more than one thing and be more than one thing. Surely we can embody several characteristics at once. After all, we never question that our kids should be both healthy and nice, right? Right. We want our children to eat their veggies, brush their teeth and say, "Please" and "Thank you" when it's appropriate. So why the either/or question? We simply aren't that limited. Modern humankind has just about finished two whole millennia during which it has developed by leaps and bounds. So we know we're capable of so much now. Most of us are only under-motivated, not under-able. It isn't that we're not smart enough to emphasize more than one trait in our youngsters. We certainly can all keep our minds on several important factors at once.

Of course, kids first need to be taught to be good. We all want them to have good values and live genuinely good lives. That's accomplished by our having solid values ourselves which are evident to our offspring from the moment they're born. They eagerly watch what we do every minute and copy our behavior. We need to be better people, so that our kids can be better people.

That takes a three-pronged approach. In our everyday lives we need to be kind and caring. The way we handle our work duties and interact with family members and neighbors is key. In all our dealings we have to put our best foot forward.

Second, we need to be raise our kids up with love and understanding. And if we have to punish--and there are times when we have to--let's do so fairly, and with flexibility and a sense of humor. Kids will make boo-boos and we, the adults need to help them correct them and hurdle over roadblocks. And when we make a mistake, let's just go ahead and apologize. After all, kids need respect too.

And finally we need to present our youngsters with a kind and caring view of the world, not a critical, sarcastic, bitter commentary on the way things are and how everything was so much better in the good old days. Nonsense. The good old days had their problems too, myriads of them. Children need to see that the world around us is good, that our fellow humans are good and that a difference can be made by each and everyone of us. It's up to us to change what's wrong.

That takes us to the "smart" part of your question. You need to emphasize smartness in your children. For a smart teenager, whose school skills are up to par and beyond, is never tempted to cheat. Why cheat when you know all the answers? Why copy someone else's paper when you can write one that's much better? Why look over at the trig quiz of your friend when you're already finished with 10 minutes to spare? Do you see now how important it is to make sure our kids are smart? It's only the undereducated student whose skills are lagging pitifully or who never learned how to study who's tempted to cheat.

In fact, that's where we have made a major mistake in this country. We have let the scholastic achievement edge get totally dull. Our students want to have achieved academically, rather than do the hard work it takes to achieve. They want to be tops in their classes, without doing the work it takes to climb to the top. But that's where the parental challenge comes in. In addition to teaching your child to be good, you will have to see to it that she's really smart. After all, why send her into a world of academic competition unprepared? So the more you oversee her studies at home, the more you make your house school-success friendly, the more you praise her when she makes A's and B's, the more you reinforce her goodness.

It's easy to pass a class when you do all your homework every night. Then you don't have to lie about your report card. And soon Lainie will be confident in all her school work and proudly take her place among the other kids in class. And it's that smartness, that emphasis on your child's using her head, that'll shortly make her feel sad about all those sports idols who are failing in their family obligations. Your child will realize that to commit domestic violence is bad and not something to be admired.

That smartness you promoted in her will make her set an example for others too. Why should she shoplift when her smart brain tells her how disappointed you would be and how it would affect her future? So again, the years from birth up to 18 and beyond should be spent growing in heart AND head equally. You want your child to be well-rounded, not one sided. You want her to be the best human being she can be, and that includes having the most advanced school skills possible. So there's never a crucial choice or either/or as you raise your child. There's just one impetus, one powerful message to all of us. Let's rear our kids to be BOTH GOOD AND SMART. To neglect either quality would be to short-change our younger generation, which in turn would do serious damage our whole country.

Erika V. Shearin Karres, Ed.D.

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