We all want to know that when our child ends up in a jam someday, he'll make the right ethical decision. Would it surprise you to know that the good and bad news about moral courage is that your child's behavior in difficult ethical situations depends mostly on you?
Not on what you say, or drill into your child. Those discussions are important so that kids clearly understand what's right and wrong and why we make certain choices. But they aren't what matters most in what kids actually do.
Research confirms what we observe daily: most humans don't always do what they know is right. Integrity cannot be taught. Whether your son or daughter will summon up the internal fortitude to do what's right will depend on who he or she is as a person, and that, luckily, you can impact tremendously.
In fact, the little test below can accurately predict your child's behavior. And -- you guessed it -- it isn't even about your child. It's about you.
- Do you tell the store clerk when she inadvertently gives you too much change?
- Do you regularly admit to your child when you're wrong, and apologize?
- Do you speak up to the baseball coach and tell him that boy on the bench -- the one you don't know, who flubbed the last play -- needs a chance to play, at least a little, in every game?
- Do you make it safe for your child to admit to you when she makes a mistake, even a big one? Or does she feel she needs to lie to you, ever?
- Do you support your child when she thinks an adult is wrong, and help her to make her case?
- What do you do when you discover your child took the Gameboy from the dentist's office? Do you yourself ever take a magazine you like? Do you ever take pens, pads or other supplies from work?
- Do you tell your boss when you think she's asking you to do something that borders on unethical?
- Do you ever lie about your child's age to get the lower admission price?
- Do you regularly give some portion of your income to charity?
Is it hard to believe that this test can predict your child's behavior? Researchers confirm that children learn what we do, not what we say.
So the first part of helping your child develop moral courage is to develop your own.
The second, of course, is paying attention to all the teachable moments.
And the third is remembering that kids develop courage along with maturity, over time. Don't take it too hard when your child doesn't display the behavior you'd like. Just having a parent who thinks about these things is taking her in the right direction. Give her time.
Dr. Laura Markham