Author’s note: We previously shared the first part of our story of publishing our book "Teaching Children Values," and it's on deseretnews.com. This week, we present the second part of that story.
When "Teaching Your Children Values" was first published, its simplifying one-value-each-month approach seemed to have a special appeal to busy parents, and the book quickly became popular. Still, like all authors, we wished it could reach more readers and help more parents.
One night as we had dinner with our children, the phone rang, and when I (Richard) answered, the woman on the line said she was the senior producer for "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Of course, what I said was, “Who is this really?” as I wondered which of our friends was carrying out this practical joke.
No, she said, this actually is "The Oprah Winfrey Show," and Oprah herself wanted to have us on her show to talk about our new book. She told us the date of the show — a couple of weeks ahead — and invited the whole family to come to Oprah’s Chicago studio and theater.
That is every author’s dream, and because we had done a lot of talk show interviews, we were not particularly nervous about it, although the sheer magnitude of Oprah’s 25 million daily viewers was a bit overwhelming.
When we really did get nervous was the day before we left for Chicago, when we learned that we would be on for the full hour and that our kids, who we thought were being invited to sit in the audience, would be onstage with us — all miked up and participating through the questions Oprah would ask them.
The idea of our six youngest children (the older three were away on missions or in college) sitting in close proximity for a full hour on live TV in front of 25 million people was, to say the least, terrifying. Our youngest two, Eli and Charity, had never gone 10 minutes without some kind of fight or argument, let alone an hour. We could imagine dozens of embarrassing possibilities and how any one of them could completely destroy our credibility as “parenting experts.”
We didn’t sleep much that night!
But much to our relief, things went well. Maybe the bright lights and the studio audience put our rowdy kids on their best behavior, and we got through it. The best part was Oprah herself, who had actually read the book and who clearly felt deeply and passionately about the importance of parents purposefully and deliberately teaching strong values to their children.
She began with recent news stories about child-to-child violence and other manifest lack of values and then introduced us warmly and said she thought we had some answers and solutions. Then she went through all 12 values one at a time, asking questions about teaching methods and expected results.
Her own enthusiasm was contagious, and within two days the book was on best-seller lists, and two weeks later it hit No. 1 on the New York Times' list.
So what do we learn from this? Well, as we mentioned in last week’s column, various values seem to come in and out of fashion and ebb and flow in their popularity. The media may pay great homage to values such as tolerance and honesty but ignore or trivialize other values such as respect or chastity.
Right now, the divisive political campaign we are all witnessing is another reminder of how far our culture has distanced us from many of the basic values we used to take for granted. What Oprah helped point out was that parents are the ones who have to commit to and teach the full range of traditional, time-proven values and that they often have to do it in spite of the contrary voices and reverse role models of the media and the popular culture.
The other message that seemed to come out of Oprah’s show that day, and that we hope continues to come out of our books, is that the best and really the only way to protect our children over the long term is to teach them correct principles and values. All parents soon realize they will not always be there to protect their kids and that when those children face danger from any source, physical, social or emotional, it will be the values they have internalized that will save them and get them through.
It has been more than 20 years since "Teaching Your Children Values" was published and since Oprah helped make it a best-seller. Since then, it has spawned various spinoffs, most particularly an audio adventure series called "Alexander’s Amazing Adventures," which helps kids vicariously experience situations where each of the values comes into play and makes a difference in their lives and in the lives of those they love.
For updates and ideas on teaching basic values to children, see valuesparenting.com, and try to take advantage of every resource you can find to help your family internalize the values that will motivate and protect them throughout their lives. And if you run into Oprah, thank her again for us!