Parents are walking role models. Like it or not our children and teens watch, analyse, critique, and evaluate EVERYTHING we do or say! Unknowingly they are absorbing our actions, our behaviour, and our responses regarding both good and bad things that happen.
They're learning how we resolve conflict, they're watching the tools we use for communication, they're analysing how we conduct relationships, they're listening to the way we speak to others, and EVERYTHING we say or do is programming their responses both now and in later life to internal and external stimuli. It is vital therefore that everything we do and say reveals integrity.
Integrity is described as, ‘the qualifications of being honest and having strong moral principles. It is generally a personal choice to hold oneself to consistent moral and ethical standards. In ethics, integrity is regarded by many as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions’.
Integrity is not a value that is simply passed on. It's something that must grow inside us. As a teenager, one is not going to just wake up one day and be a person of integrity. Even with the right desire and mental attitude, without the daily training, observation and awareness it is not possible that our teens would walk out their lives simply doing the right things.
As parents of teenagers, we need to help them understand that integrity is a process and not a quick fix. The process of developing integrity begins by helping teenagers understand two important tools.
Tool One - Awareness of their Choices
We can teach our teens that how they handle the small things dictates also how they will react to the bigger ones. If they guard the truth, they will develop integrity. If they start each day by thinking about the choices they make, they will be able to learn how they can dictate they lives.
Sadly, today’s test for honesty seems to be, "It's not that bad, every one's doing it,” or "It's okay as long as you don't get caught.” As parents, we need to teach our children to stop asking what's wrong with certain a choice. Instead, we need to teach them to ask what's right with it. If we can help teenagers to consider whether their actions are moving them closer to or further away from integrity, then a major battle has been won. In any given situation we all have choice and that choice empowers us. When empowered we can take responsibility for those choices we have made.
Tool Two - Accountability
Accountability is the key to maintaining integrity. Accountability is simply being responsible to another person for the commitments we've made. In order for our teenagers to learn integrity they must first witness accountability from their parents. Telling your teen, “I have made a mistake and therefore I must accept the consequence is my responsibility also,” is a positive step to good parenting. Another is “I have been asked out to an amazing event on Friday but I am going to have to say no because I have already said yes to another friend.” By role modelling standards we set our children up to learn the reasons why we do what we do: ‘If I tell a lie then the consequence of what I have done sits with me. Whereas if I own up to my misgivings I am more likely to be trusted and respected because of the standards I set’.
Our aim is to help our teens to see how their choices will dictate the lives they want to lead. George Washington’s most sought after character was that of ‘an honest man’, which is why guarding the little things can lead towards what
will develop into the hearts of those who understand.
Lying, fudging the truth and not being completely candid are the opposite qualities of integrity and tend to be common issues with teens. Much of the cover-up for teens is seen as a little thing — simple self-preservation. However, it's in these little things that life-long habits are formed, and over time, the habit of small lies can grow into bigger acts of dishonesty. Our role therefore as parents is to raise teens who not only tell the truth, but who also value integrity. To be a person of integrity means to be someone who is completely honest, trustworthy, reliable and dependable, whether others are watching or not.
Sadly, today's culture doesn't value integrity. This often leads to an attitude that says it's OK to do whatever we want as long as no one gets hurt and we don't get caught, and as parents we're fighting against a culture that is not sharing our common goals. We're living in a day when success is becoming more important than honesty, but I urge all parents to set basic standards by which you wish your teens to live out their lives. What is not embedded now cannot be taught later on! If we endorse athletes taking steroids, and students cheating on ID cards, dishonesty becomes a part of our lives and a means of achieving success. So how do we inspire our teens to be men and women of integrity in a culture that winks at dishonesty and elevates success?
Here are some ways:
- I will not visit the head teacher of the school because my child has made it into team B instead of Team A, but teach my child to honour and respect the decision of the sports leader, EVEN IF I feel their decision is wrong.
- I will not lie to the school when taking my child out for the day, by saying they are sick.
(The desire for success can subtly influence our decisions and ultimately erode our character.)
- I will discuss issues that arise in the press about the integrity of others.
- I will be open about where I have made mistakes and discuss ways I made amends for my behaviour.
- I will take the hard road not the easier one, if it means I have the chance to demonstrate integrity to my teen.
-I will stand against the common flow of 'cheating to achieve success' and remain in integrity and accountability.
Finally I will leave you with two quotes.
“The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is”. Oscar Wilde.
“Like integrity, love of life was not a subject to be studied, it was a contagion to be caught. And you had to catch it from someone who had it.”
Lois McMaster Bujold.