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Teaching Youth About Right and Wrong (Part 2)

Last time I gave seven ways to challenge young people in your family to think along moral lines when planning their lives (see Part 1). To review, there are good times to use either: Punishment or Reward (pain or pleasure), Promotional or Emotional Consequences, Prophecy or Parable, Lecture or Modeling, Teaching consideration of self or Others, Protecting the child or also the Child’s relationships, and Teaching discipline or Self-discipline. (If you missed this, email me at [email protected] and I’ll be glad to send it to you.)

Now if these methods of teaching right and wrong aren’t working for you, I suggest you try the three more advanced methods given below, where you will learn how to use either:

8. Quarantine or Inoculation.

As children get more private and privileged, and as they are usually better with technology than their elders, keeping them away from contact with the moral viruses of our sick society becomes impossible. Like allergy shots, inoculation allows progressively more exposure to temptation with increasing evidence that young people have learned to use for themselves the various moral anti-virus treatments being described in this article.

So you can say, “Before we decide whether to let you go, who with, who pays, how long you can stay, and who to come home with, tell us all the kinds of trouble you have thought you could possibly run into, and how you would handle it. The more specific you can be, the more you are showing us you can think like an adult, and the more we will trust you. Do you need some time to think more about this, or do you want us to decide based on the thinking you’re ready to do right now?”

9. Invoking appropriate authority.

The family authority (“We’re so hurt and worried about you”) gets supplemented as children mature into understanding financial authority (“We can’t afford it. Can you pay for it?”), legal authority (“You will get expelled or arrested if you get caught.”), social authority (the jury of their peers), moral authority (their conscience, the golden rule), andspiritual authority (how it changes their hearts, minds, priorities, their prospects for prayer and an afterlife). If a child is discounting or rebelling against one of these authorities, try appealing to another one.

10. Telling the truth or Asking questions to draw it out.

The usual way of telling truth is to judge what the mistake was, the motive, the alternatives, and the punishment. Children of all ages hate the judge-and-jury sentencing. Especially if the mistake has been made at other times before, and assuming some misdeed has occurred that affected other people, here are some good questions to ask:

Blame: How much of the responsibility or blame do you give yourself for your behavior?

Motive: Besides the temptations from the situation and other people, what were you wanting to get out of this?

Consequences: List all the good and bad things that resulted from your choice, in yourself and in others. Even if you hadn’t gotten caught, what harm would you have caused?

Alternatives: What else could you have done that would’ve worked out better for you and everybody else?

Confirmation: We all give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. So before hearing what I think about all this, and to prevent having to hear it from me, have you thought about running these previous questions by somebody else, so you can beat me to the punch? Would you like to take a break to do that and then continue the rest of the questions afterwards?

Blame again: Now, how much of the blame do you give yourself for your behavior?

Forgiveness: Do you need to ask anyone’s forgiveness here? And who besides yourself do you need to forgive so you don’t have to carry around a load of shame and resentment that would motivate the next screw-up?

Amends: What do you think would be fair to do to give back to yourself and others what your actions have taken away? Think about money, health, self-esteem, self-confidence, reputation, their trust and respect for you: what could you do that would restore all that you have taken away?

Finally, no matter which approach you use, be sure to keep your tone measured, with concern but with matter-of-fact firmness. Don’t let them see you sweat, or show any signs of breaking your resolve. Let that be behind their backs when you do your venting with an adult partner to help you teach what’s best. That way most of the anxiety stays with our young people, motivating them to think things through.

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About Dr. Paul Schmidt, PhD

Dr. Paul Schmidt, PhD is a psychologist life coach with offices in Louisville and Shelbyville, KY, 502 633 2860.