Parental Hypocrisy is Not a Good Parenting Style

Category: Weekly Columns


I’m an avid skier and this past season I took on a role I never expected. I became the “helmet police,” whenever I saw people not wearing a helmet.  I did my police work in a polite, respectful manner, but I couldn’t help but get a bit more passionate when I confronted “Parental Hypocrisy” in its finest: with skiing parents and their kids. Parental Hypocrisy is not taught in Parenting Classes or is a recommended Parenting skill or style.

It is amazing to me how many moms and dads will demand and require their children wear a helmet while not wearing one themselves.  What are they teaching their children?  So, being the shy, retiring guy that I am, I will ask these moms and dads what they think about asking their children to wear a helmet, while not modeling that behavior.  Sometimes I get sheepish responses; sometimes I get “it’s none of your business” responses, and sometimes I just get blank looks.

My arguments for wearing a helmet are not just the typical safety ones. I use my personal story of surviving a bad ski accident, with a helmet, and quote my neurologist who said, “If you weren’t wearing a helmet, you would have been dead or worse.”  My other argument is the one that usually hits home as I ask the helmet-less person if they ever eat lunch, in the ski lodge? Of course, everyone says, “Yes.”

I then ask if they happen to notice what most of the college-age men and women are doing.  If they don’t answer, “drinking,” I remind them of those images we all have in ski lodges, at lunch, of lines of empty beer bottles/glasses in front of so many skiers and snow-boarders at lunchtime.  I then ask the “helmet-less” if they think that those beer drinkers, after they’ve consumed their 5 or 6 steins say to each other, “You know, I think it would be irresponsible of us to go out and ski now, don’t you think?”  At that point, the discussion is over.  Point, set, and match. Many people have actually immediately gone to their cars and got the helmets they left behind because “it’s such a pretty day” and I even ran into one guy, with his new helmet, weeks after we’d spoken.

Parental hypocrisy has existed as long as there have been parents.  I imagine Abraham may have tried to discuss the danger of drinking too much with his six sons, but I wonder if he did it while drinking some wine?  Did King Tut admonish his sons about the dangers of driving a chariot after drinking too much, and then take his custom-made Mustang chariot, with the flame decals on its side, for a drive with Nephrite, while swigging from his bota bag?

Thinking a bit more contemporary, do you think that Martin Sheen tried to teach his son, Charlie, the wisdom of moderation? Or, did Kirk Douglas teach Michael the virtue of fidelity, and walk the walk at the same time?

I have proclaimed repeatedly, in print and on radio, how our children watch what we do carefully, all the time, and with great impact.  There isn’t much we parents do that our children, especially once they’re in their teens, do not know that we do.  Don’t be naïve.  Model the behavior you want them to live.  Don’t be a parental hypocrite.

Let’s talk about some of the most common examples: drinking, smoking, and drugs.  Parent who drink must know that they must demonstrate responsible drinking if they ever have the least hope or expectation that their children will do the same.  That means you don’t drink and drive.  If, God forbid, you get a DUI then you must take full responsibility for it, pay the consequences, change your behavior, and be honest about all of it with your children, assuming they are old enough to understand it.

If you drink and your behavior when drinking is not pleasant, consider going to AA yourself or moderating your drinking.  The kids see how you act and it’s not a lesson you want them to learn (from you) at all!

Smoking cigarettes is much the same thing.  How can you possibly expect your children not to smoke if you do?

As for drugs, especially marijuana, this is a classic example where parents may think that they might be able to fool their children and imbibe in private without them knowing.  Forget it – they will know.  Just like you will find out if/when they drink or do drugs.  Whether it’s the smell, a leftover ash or device, or any other residue inadvertently discovered or purposely found by your children, they will find out.  Your kids are as smart as you are.

When I said “purposely” in the previous paragraph, it was a deliberate choice of words.  Your kids like to explore your private living areas.  Again, don’t be naïve.  If you have a stash of drugs, liquor, pornography, or any other vice, they will likely discover it.  So, again I say, you must model the behavior you want your kids to learn. It’s best that you walk the walk and talk the talk.


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