Updated: Apr 2, 2020

Author: Bob Riley Repost from

Comic Author: Grady Lam, Illustration: Joel Souza

Bob Riley, a software business owner in Arizona, shares his thought on how to counter negative social influence from peers, videos, and commercial messaging, by developing a family code. We shortened the article in this repost.

One of the most challenging things parents encounter is how to communicate values and ethics to kids. Potentially Negative Influences In today’s world, there are quite a few influences that pull our children away from being on the right path. Let’s look at a few of these.

Friends Perhaps the biggest influence on our kids are their friends – and friends become more and more of an influence the older kids get. In fact, the negative influence of bad friends is backed up by research.  A 2013 National Institutes of Health paper states “one of the strongest predictors of delinquent behavior in adolescence is affiliation with delinquent peers.” So unsurprisingly, who your kids hang around has a big effect on their behavior and even their value system.

The ethics of your kids’ friends can serve as a good influence, or be problematic. Some kids your child hangs around may have been brought up with value systems that you flat-out disagree with. This can show up as such behaviors as stealing, fighting or lying. It may also show up in a subtler way, such as their work ethic. There’s also a related problem here. How to Know Kids’ Friends are Aligned with Your Values? How can you, as a parent, know which of your child’s friends are good influences and which are bad influences?

You may suspect that some of your child’s friends are better influences than others through the occasional story that your child tells, but many times it can be very hard to get a read on how much your kids’ friends align with your value system. Aside from friends, there are other influences that can really impact what your kids value.


The videos your kids watch on Netflix, YouTube, and TV also influence how they see the world and what they think is right and wrong. When your kids see a YouTuber screaming about all these cool things they just bought, or behaving in a general obnoxious or self-centered fashion, just remember that your kids may subtly pick up this person’s behaviors and values.

Now, I’m not saying that kids should be sheltered from everything on videos or entertainment. Rather, that if kids haven’t had a value system communicated to them in a formal way, they could be overly influenced by some of the stuff they watch.

Commercial Messaging So, onto the next societal influence on our kids: commercials/advertisements. Children are constantly hit by commercials they see in electronic entertainment: TV, videos, and video games.

Commercial messaging is designed to influence your kids to have a non-stop consumer mindset by constantly convincing them that they always need to buy more (or perhaps better stated, get your kids to tell you what to buy).

Counters to these influences So we’ve talked about three influences on your kids – influences that as time goes on, may actually affect your children more than you do: friends, video entertainment, and commercial messaging. It would be nice if we as parents had a formal way to instill our values into our kids. Without something formal though, it can be hard to communicate non-obvious values to them. (A section on traditional solution can be found on the original article at we deleted it to shorten the article)

A Modern Solution: The Family Code So what is this tool? I call it a family code. A family code is a single page that contains a list of value-related concepts that you want to convey to your children. Basically, something that lets your kids know they are on the right track or the wrong track.

Along with this list can be more detailed information that gives your kids tips for living life. So why does this help kids? Because it can give them a north star. A quick way for them to know if they are moving in the right direction.

A family code can serve as a lens through which they see the world. This will allow them to classify things as being morally right or wrong. In short, determining which things are aligned or misaligned with their values.

Specific Benefits A family code can also prompt family discussions about difficult situations before they occur. This will help your kids to stand strong when they encounter those situations. This is also a step in the direction of helping kids find a sense of meaning.  I’d argue modern society has a sort of existential crisis in this area. A family code also gives you a quick shorthand to point out ethical or unethical behavior in your children or others.

My Family Code Not surprisingly, my own family has a family code which I’ll share a bit of here.

First, a quick note: this stuff isn’t coming out of thin air – much of our code is based on my own ethical structure which I acquired as a boy growing up in the Methodist church. Although I’m not religious, I can’t deny the strong effect that growing up in the church had on my moral outlook.

That being said, most people would probably consider a lot of our family code to be non-religious and contain values common to most human societies. The fact that my Buddhist wife agrees with the code would seem to indicate that it is a nice blend of what we both value in life, given our different upbringings.

I’ve also incorporated psychological concepts – however, these are less value-based and have more to do with grit and perseverance (Although, many people may consider those related to values.)

Values Section The first part of our code is the “values section”. This section covers what is right vs what is wrong in general terms. Although I periodically tweak these items, this is what we currently have in the values section:

  1. Be a help, not a burden. This reinforces the idea they should be responsible and pushes them to grow up. It’s very much related to self-reliance which we discussed in this article.

  2. Respect your parents and teachers.

  3. Be honest.

  4. Take responsibility for your choices.

  5. Respect, protect, and help your brother. When I say brother here, I’m not meaning brother in the generic sense. I mean his literal brother. We have twin boys and I want to reinforce that special bond when I can.

  6. Treat others how you want to be treated. Many of you will recognize this as the famous Golden Rule.

  7. Be thankful for the good things in your life. There is not as much appreciation and thankfulness in our society as there could and should be. This is my attempt at keeping my kids grounded and having them keep the big picture in mind.

  8. Assist those who need help.

Mentality Section I have a second section of the code I call “mentality”  This isn’t really stuff about right and wrong but are things for them to keep in mind when it comes to dealing with the hardships in life. These are:

  1. Always know your target and aim for the sky. I’m really talking about goals here, but as children understand the target better. Basically, I’m just saying know where you’re going and aim for something important.

  2. Push yourself and do your best even when you think life’s not fair. I have this in here to prep them for one of the harsh realities of life – that life’s not fair. But it also says, even though it’s not fair, keep moving forward because that’s your best bet.  From a psychological standpoint, I would say this encourages an internal locus of control. Focusing on those things in your control keeps you motivated and moving forward. Focusing on things outside of your control keeps you scared, anxious and frozen.

  3. Working hard is your best shot at hitting your target. Again, reinforcing the internal locus of control. Plus I like acknowledging that nothing is guaranteed in life, but the more you keep trying the better your chances of succeeding are.  Only those who give up guarantee they lose.

  4. Do what you think is right and don’t care what other people think. This encourages them to believe in their own judgment and not be afraid to be individuals. I’ll be having a few podcasts on this subject in the future.

  5. You may not always be the best at everything but you can always be the one who’s trying hardest. This statement may rub some of you the wrong way. But for me, it acknowledges the harsh reality that yes, you will encounter all sorts of people, some that better than you.  That’s not saying that that should cause you to stop trying though. I remind my boys that if they develop a very strong work ethic they will bubble up near the top and that’s good enough for a good life.

  6. You can’t choose how to feel but you can always choose how to act. Sometimes my kids are feeling lazy, or sad or whatever.  But they still have things they are responsible for getting done. And the best way to get out of those rotten moods is to keep moving.

Life Wisdom Section (This section is deleted to shorted the article, please read the original post at if you want to read that section.) How to Use the Family Code Let’s now talk about how you may want to use your family code.

  1. In a weekly review. Ask your kids how they’ve been following the code lately. What have they been doing well? How have they been not living up to the code? How can they do better?

  2. Print it out, hang in the kid’s room or a public area in your house.

  3. Quiz your kids on how they did over the last day on the code on a rating of 1-10. After they give you a number, you could easily follow up to find out more.

  4. Assess how their friends stack up on the code. Periodically ask your kids how they would rate various friends on the family code (1-10).  When doing this, don’t berate them or become overly negative for low-rated friends. Don’t tell them to just stop being friends with the low raters (that wouldn’t work anyway and could easily backfire.)  Just use this as a starting point for a discussion and mention how important it is to have higher rated friends. Over time you may want to very subtly encourage them to spend more time with higher rated friends and less time with the lower rated ones.

  5. When they behave poorly (or well) you have an instant reference. When you observe your kids behaving in a certain way you could directly refer to it using the terminology of the code.  You could even build on this like having a special award when you thought they did something above and beyond or just demonstrated the family code that made you proud.

One Way I Applied the Family Code (This section is deleted to shorted the article, please read the original post at you want to read that section.) Making Your Own Family Code So the question is, what should you put in your Family Code? Sit down and just start brainstorming.  What’s important to you? Think about not just how you want your kids to behave but what kinds of people do you want them to be? You can break things up into three sections like I did or just do one, or split it up however you want. The important thing is that you clarify these things so your child has a good compass to help lead them through life. Use a Family Code to Give Your Family a Focus A family code can be very powerful, especially in today’s world. Kids are bombarded with all sorts of information from the Internet and friends so it’s important that they get proper guidance from you to help them with that.

This article is based onEpisode 3 of the 99 Parent Podcast.

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