Rabbis rule for parents: Teach your children well

After writing "The Business Bible," which encourages ethical values in the workplace, Rabbi Wayne Dosick went on a national speaking tour, telling audiences to "come home to the values you learned as kids."

As Dosick waxed philosophic about adhering to the ethical boundaries passed on by parents, those over age 40 nodded knowingly, while those under 40 nodded out.

That's why the author and father of two sons wrote "Golden Rules: The Ten Ethical Values Parents Need to Teach Their Children."

Dosick, who is an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego, leader of the Jewish Renewal Elijah Minyan and columnist for the San Diego Jewish Times, was in San Francisco recently to promote the guide.

According to the rabbi, if a child doesn't develop a conscience by age 7 or 8, he or she may never do so. In the book, he gives parents practical suggestions on how to transmit values like honesty, respect, compassion and faith for their children.

His hope is that small suggestions — not yelling at the umpire at a Little League game, returning library books, visiting the elderly, planting a garden, witnessing a birth, voting, giving blood — will help the youngest generation develop a sense of ethics before it's too late.

Before he wrote the book, Dosick took stock of the world in which children are being raised. "More than half a million kids are carrying guns and knives to school. There's so much teen suicide, kids having kids," says the rabbi. "And it has nothing to do with race, class or socioeconomic status."

Dosick has spent much of his rabbinical career working with kids, and he says the absence of values and parental models impinges on all children no matter what their background.

"Sometimes Jewish parents are so busy reaching for the American dream, they have no time for their kids."

That's the problem, he says.

In a time when troubled grown-ups are blaming their own parents for everything from their lack of professional success to their relationship problems, Dosick is delivering a message young parents may not want to hear: No one else is going to save children from moral decay, not teachers, not the government, not even religious institutions.

"I don't know about your shul, but mine's not full to Yom Kippur capacity every Saturday morning," said the rabbi. And even if it were full — and if every American child were attending religious school — parents still must reinforce ethical values at home, he says.

Dosick doesn't let any parent get off the hook — not even Joan Lunden. The "Good Morning America" talk-show hostess and sometime Jergen's saleswoman spoke to the author when he was on the show for a panel discussion on raising kids. During a break, Dosick says Lunden told him she was a busy, working mother who needed hired help to raise her kids.

"I said, `Wrong, lady.' If you don't do it, who will?" Dosick recalls. He breaks into a wide smile and cites his favorite line from Deuteronomy and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, "Teach your children well."

Dosick's book is full of Jewish teachings, but it also includes lessons from Buddhism, Christianity and Native American culture. Layered throughout are stories of the rabbi's successes and failures with his own kids, Scott, 24, who is now finishing a master's degree in public administration and Seth, 21, who will begin a doctoral program in counseling in the fall.

Some of Dosick's best stories, however, are about his own parents, whom he calls "meticulously honest." The author talks about walking through a construction site years ago near his childhood home in Chicago. He and his young friends came upon a pile of bright red bricks. They each removed one from the huge pile to take home.

His parents made him personally hand the brick back to a construction worker with an apology.

"I felt exposed, vulnerable, but as if I did right," says Dosick. Unlike many childhood specialists, Dosick isn't so concerned about building kids' self-esteem. He says he's more concerned with teaching kids to do good rather than feel good.

"Unconditional love is important, but I'm not so interested in having a kid who gets all A's. I'd rather have a mensch."