07/16/2013 02:01 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2013

Good Parenting: Do as I Do (Sometimes)


The adage "practice what you preach" applies to parenting in a very meaningful way. Children copy and mimic their parents' mannerisms, attitudes, and behavior. Even the most oppositional child has the parents' imprint, whether they consciously imitate them or not. This fact holds parents to the highest standard possible in terms of how they model and conduct their lives. Children are always watching and learning, actively and passively. As a parent, you are called to task to observe and regulate your own behavior so that your children emulate the values, attitudes, and social behavior you are attempting to teach.

Oftentimes, parents model inappropriate behaviors without realizing it. For example, I was once sitting at my computer, writing a journal article, and my son, who was 7-years-old at the time, approached me with a question. I didn't look up, just continued typing, and responded to his question. So, it was no surprise that a few years later, when I approached him with a question while he was playing a video game, that he didn't miss a beat, had no eye contact with me, continued playing his game and answered my question. Parental modeling can be subtle and it can be overt. I was once approaching the entrance to a department store and encountered a mother and her two daughters. The older daughter lightly hit her younger sister on the back. Her mother promptly gave her a slap on her rear end stating, "We don't hit in this family!" We don't?

Here are some questions for you to mull over and consider, to help you evaluate the type of modeling you are exhibiting for your children.

• Do you buy an "R" rated movie ticket for your 14- or 15-year-old and her friends, enter the theater and then leave to pick them up later?

• Do you text while driving?

• Do you talk on your cell phone while driving without a handsfree or Bluetooth?

• Do you use inappropriate language?

• Do you keep the money if a cashier gives you too much change back?

• Do you provide and/or allow underage drinking in your home?

• Do you treat people that serve you, such as waiters and cashiers, with respect and kindness?

• Do you go out to dinner with your family, have a drink or two and then drive them home, even though you are legally under the limit?

• Do you present a positive work ethic regarding employment and household tasks?

• Do you treat your parenting partner, whether you are married or divorced, in a way that you want your children to treat their partner?

The questions are endless. Perhaps you should ask yourself additional questions as a way to gauge how you are modeling for your children. If you are guilty of any of the above, you are sending the wrong message to your children about societal rules, laws, and how to treat others. You need to set a tone -- a standard of acceptability and appropriateness -- so that you are directly and indirectly teaching your children the values, attitudes, and social behaviors that you believe are necessary for them to emerge into happy, mentally healthy adults. Perhaps there should be an "app" to set off an alert when we deviate from our own code of parental modeling.

Dr. Osit is a psychologist and author of "Generation Text: Raising Well Adjusted Kids In An Age Of Instant Everything."