Q. How can I be certain my children will grow up to live lives of integrity? They’re old enough to hear the news and they’re aware that many leaders in business, entertainment and politics make a habit of breaking the Ten Commandments and the laws of our land. Yet these leaders are very successful and are even held up as heroes. How can I instill integrity in my children?
A. Integrity begins at home. It must be caught as well as taught. Children “catch” it from parents who have high ethical standards; who are consistently honest and reliable. These are parents who don’t tell white lies, who don’t exaggerate, who don’t make empty threats and who don’t break their promises. Your example is of prime importance.
Many of us let our own integrity slide at times. Our culture is so accepting, if not encouraging, of this. The temptation to relax our standards is constant and leads us to make excuses, to rationalize small but compromising choices. We “forget” some cash income when reporting our taxes. We “borrow” a tool from work and never get around to returning it. We copy personal items on the office copier rationalizing they owe this to us since we’re underpaid. Or we tell a “white” lie to explain why we can’t attend a neighbors’ party.
Children know how consistent their parents’ integrity is and they’re influenced by this. We are their first models. To raise children with high moral and ethical standards we must model these standards. This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. Children will understand if we level with them. When we catch ourselves violating a standard we hold, we can share our struggle with our children and tell them of our determination to not let this happen again. We can also explain the peace of mind we have when we live up to what we know is right.
In addition to modeling the standards we believe in we must also articulate high standards to our children. Spell out to your children just what your values are. List them, talk about them, and explain them. Young children will need to learn the difference between a lie and the truth, for example.
Use experiences in your daily lives to teach integrity. TV programs can be watched with your children and then discussed, pointing out the questionable values shown or the support for your own ethics. Encourage them to question and think about the family standards.
Use a child’s violation of rules or ethics to teach them why this standard is so important. Don’t lecture or vent your anger, but rather teach them. Help them think about the consequences of their actions. Ask them what would happen if there were no standards? What would happen if everyone made their own rules and did as they pleased? Listen to and discuss their answers.
Our values stem from our view of life and from our faith in God, and they form our understanding of what life’s all about. Have you taught your children about your faith? Teaching children to know God and love him is of utmost importance to their developing integrity. In fact, knowing God is life changing! To further assure that your children learn to live lives of integrity, find a church that teaches biblical truth, and has a loving, caring Sunday school and youth program for all ages. You don’t have to do all the teaching.
In all that you teach your children, teach them “to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
“These commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are a way of life.” Proverbs 6:23