In many value situations, the choice is not clear-cut but is between more and less wrong, more and less good, more and less acceptable, and so on. For example, your grade schooler stands at the screen door on a rainy summer day watching the newspaper get wet and thinking he should get it out of the rain. At the same time, he remembers you clearly told him not to go outside in the rain today. What to do? If he does what is right (stays in) he also does what is wrong (lets the paper get wet). Alternatively, if he does what is right (gets the paper), he does what is wrong (goes outside). Yes, he could tell you the paper is outside getting wet, thus letting you deal with the problem. He is not yet at a point he can compute that option. Anyway, you are not very happy with him today and you might just get more upset with him if he bothers you. Your grade schooler is experiencing a value conflict. In another situation, your grade schooler is peacefully watching TV. You (Mother) call from the kitchen for your grade schooler to come help you. Simultaneously, father calls for the child to come help him. She knows she should respond to her parents and help when they ask her to do so. What to do? She is confronted with two equally right alternatives.
Your children must learn to make judgments about what kinds of things are more right than others, what kinds of things are more unacceptable than others. your child watching the paper being rained on learns to make the judgment your rule about not going out today had not taken into consideration the particular situation. He learns the specific situation involving the paper getting wet is probably an exception to your rule. your TV watcher being summoned by both parents simultaneously has to make a judgment. Perhaps she responds first to the parent closest to her by saying, “Dad (or Mom) wants me to do something for him (or her). I will see what he (she) wants and will be right back.”
Your adolescent planns to finish a science project the same evening her history teacher unexpectedly assigns a special project. What to do? Finish the science project on time or finish the history project on time? Her solution to the dilemma shows ingenuity in dealing with value conflict. She calls her history teacher and explains the problem. Her history teacher gives her a one-day extension on the assignment. Your adolescent has learned people occasionally change rules for legitimate reasons. She probably learned this from presenting such problems to you from time to time and finding you are usually willing to compromise a little. Sure, the history teacher may refuse to budge. The science teacher may also refuse to budge. If so, your adolescent has an even more challenging dilemma.
How can you, as a parent, help your children learn how to deal with value conflicts. You help in several ways. You encourage your children to make choices and act on their evaluations. You do this knowing they will sometimes be right and sometimes wrong, but knowing equally well your children need the freedom to make wrong choices from time to time. Part of your children’s learning to handle value conflicts is going through the sometimes painful process of making a wrong choice and learning, through experience, the choice was wrong. For example, your grade schooler and a friend, Cindy, are playing in the front yard. Another child comes along and asks your grade schooler to go for a bike ride. Your child and her friend start to get their bikes. The other child tells your grade schooler, “I want you to go but I do not want Cindy to go.” Your child really wants to go bike riding and goes ahead. Later, she finds she has really hurt Cindy’s feelings and has somewhat damaged her relationship with Cindy. Based on this incident, your child learns a lot about values and friendships. Yes, your children do learn quite a lot about values through making wrong choices.
Next, you help your children learn to deal with value conflicts by helping them develop criteria for making choices. Generally, teach it is sometimes better to choose in the interests of others than in terms of your own self-interest.
Another principle for choosing in value conflict situations is to prevent bad or undesirable things before doing good. For example, your adolescent is a hospital volunteer and is scheduled to work this evening. One of his friends calls on the telephone frantically asking for help, telling your adolescent he has had a blowup with his parents and is going to run away from home. Does your adolescent go to his friend or to the hospital? Following the principle of preventing something bad in preference to doing good, he goes to his friend and lets the people at the hospital know they have to do without his services this evening. As with any rule, there are exceptions though. Suppose instead of running away from home, his friend was having difficulty with his homework and wanted your adolescent to help. Your adolescent then has the choice of going to the hospital or helping to prevent his friend’s receiving a bad grade. In that situation, going to the hospital may be the best choice. He might offer to help later or suggest someone else his friend might call for homework help.
You have thought at length about values and helping your children develop values. You have also thought about the need for your children to learn about value conflicts and computing appropriate behavior consistent with their values. You understand even your most traditional values (including moral values) have their limits and exceptions. Remembering this complexity helps you be more patient with your children as they go through the difficult process of learning to set priorities, make value choices, and resolve dilemmas.