Moral Choices and Our Kids
Guest Post by Sandra Humphrey
In working with young people, both as a clinical psychologist and as a volunteer, I have noticed that many of them are lacking a sense of direction to their lives and have no strong set of personal values or belief system.
Our character is an integral part of who we are and having a strong set of values helps us define our character.
Strong character is not instinctive. It’s learned and it’s never too early to begin talking with our young people about personal values and helping them define and develop their own code of moral conduct.
As society’s moral guidelines become increasingly more ambiguous, it’s more essential than ever that we all have our basic code of ethics well crystallized in our own minds.
Just as bodybuilding builds strong physical muscle through “sets” and “reps,” we also need to help our kids build good moral muscle. And we can do this by dialoguing with our kids about choices. Moral Choices.
Life is all about choices. The choices we make determine not only our character but also the quality of our lives. As they say, practice makes perfect and one way we can help our children is to help them practice or rehearse what they would do in different situations before they are actually confronted by those situations in real life.
Our ultimate objective for our children is to empower them to make their own choices–good choices. And we can help them do this if we can get them THINKING and TALKING about moral issues. Kids love to talk and we just have to give them the opportunity to do so.
Here are a few ideas and questions to facilitate some great discussions:
“Honor” is an old-fashioned word. What does it mean and has it gone out of style? (I have found that some kids have no clue what “honor” or “reputation” really means).
We all need a “moral compass.” What does this mean to you? Do you have a “moral compass?” If so, how would you describe it? (I have found that kids like the concept of a “moral compass” and can relate quite easily to this question).
How do you test the choices that you make? One good test is the test of time. How will you feel about this choice a month from now? One year from now? (You will probably be amazed at how dramatically our kids’ concepts of time differ from our own).
Is your speech a reflection of your character? Is your speech different in the locker room than it is at home or at church? Do you have more than one language–a different language for different occasions? (This question usually provokes a lot of discussion and disagreement between kids about what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable).
What does “being cool” really mean to you? (This one can stimulate some great discussions with a lot of varied and spontaneous feedback).
How do you decide whether something is right or wrong? Is it just a question of whether anyone else will get hurt? (This one will really get kids thinking and hopefully talking).
How important is winning? Does it really matter how we win? (This one can frequently provoke some unexpected personal revelations by the kids).
Do you think that these days just about everyone cheats to get what they want? (You may or may not be surprised by just how prevalent cheating is and by how many kids admit to doing it).
How much is “trust” worth? If it’s a choice between missing out on a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity or dishonestly exploiting a situation to your own personal advantage, how would you decide what to do? (The kids themselves will come up with dozens of hypothetical situations for this one).
Do you think it is ever okay to break a promise? (This can lead into some great discussions about our responsibility to other people when they are in trouble–e.g. when they are using drugs, hiding an eating disorder, etc.).
Would you choose character over conformity? (This one will stimulate some great discussions
about peer pressure).
These are just a few of the conversation-starters I use when I visit classes to talk to students about moral choices. The important thing is to get our kids thinking and talking. Remember that strong moral character does not come instinctively. It is learned.
Hopefully, these discussions about moral choices will help our young people develop a sense of direction and purpose to their lives which will result in more rewarding and more fulfilling experiences not only for them but also for those whose lives they may touch.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is help in developing a strong sense of self, so that they will not be unduly influenced by peer pressure. To stand firm for what they believe, they will need strong character, and we can help them develop strong character by helping them define their values and code of ethics when they are young, so that regardless of what others around them do and say, they will act according to their own conscience–even if sometimes this may mean standing alone.
Sandra McLeod Humphrey is a retired clinical psychologist, a character education consultant, and an award-winning author of seven middle-grade and young adult books. She’s also the recipient of the National Character Education Center’s Award for Exemplary Leadership in Ethics Education (2000) and the 2005 Helen Keating Ott Award for Outstanding Contribution to Children’s Literature. You can learn more about her books by visiting her Web site at www.kidscandoit.com.