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If you’re not teaching your kids about integrity, society might not

As parents we need to develop the ethical muscle memory for integrity in our children, so that they will easily choose to do the right thing in difficult situations. The psychologist, Dr. K. Anders Ericsson suggests that it requires at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance in any given domain. Musicians, dancers, athletes all practice with mindfulness, deliberately monitoring their progress and targeting their goals. But do we teach integrity with such dedication?

Our children are constantly bombarded with images of celebrities, athletes, and politicians resorting to unethical behavior for financial or personal gain. Our most popular shows on prime time glorify violence and many times, dishonesty. With our children constantly tuned into media, how can they not think that this is normal?

So how do we combat the onslaught of entitlement and cruelty? By turning these vicious episodes from the media and our own lives into powerful teaching moments and discuss what integrity is and is not.

1. Integrity: choosing ethical behavior when no one is looking

To develop our own integrity muscle, we must courageously look at our own selfishness. Can we say no to something that advances our position, increases our finances, harms no one but is morally wrong? Tread lightly here. Since you are your child’s first and primary role model, your answers and actions will be their guiding light for many years to come.

2. Choosing a spiritual home and teaching empathy

Since integrity cannot be taught in a vacuum, giving our children an ethical foundation is crucial in developing that muscle. By joining a church, synagogue, temple or another community of worship or organization that is dedicated to improving our world, we join our neighbors who teach the values of generosity and compassion. By witnessing others doing the right thing, our children will have the incentive to follow their example. Let them know what your moral values are and show them what you stand for. Teach them empathy so that they will not belittle others and value kindness, instead of cruelty.

3. Every one of your actions in front of your children will be repeated.

When my grandmother said, “The apple doesn’t fall from the tree,” she was right.

How many white lies do you tell? Do you treat every human being with respect and dignity including your family and spouse? Do you ignore rules or fly into rage when a car cuts you off? Do you do your child’s homework and tell him to say he did it? Unfortunately for the majority of children, they cannot separate what we say from what we do. Remember they learn their moral behavior from you. Just look at Ethan Couch who mimicked his parents’ own questionable actions and ended up killing four people while intoxicated.

4. Whatever you consider important, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, will be exemplified through your children.

Three of my mother’s values, respect, work and honesty, were drilled into my brother and me. We were taught family comes first. And if something was morally wrong, our mother told us to stand up for what is right and make our voices heard. She emphasized that all of us could make a difference if we had the courage to follow our beliefs. And that although difficult, if there was a will to find an answer to a problem, there was a way. Because of those values, I had the moral courage to take difficult stands at school and at work. As a parent, demand that your child acts morally and give him your example to follow. They will thank you for it later.

5. If he does it, then I can do it too…. (NOT!)

News coverage and debates concerning media personalities’ scandals reflect the challenges found in the world. When discussing these scandals, ask your children how would they handle it? What would they do to win a competition or to get an A in biology class? Would they invent fictional accounts for their college essay to gain entrance to an Ivy League school? Are celebrities or athletes entitled to unlawful behavior? Regardless of financial status, are any of us allowed to lie, cheat or steal?

Sadly, I have listened to many parents who affirm that cheating is o.k. as long as you’re not caught. However, by refusing to accept dishonesty or stealing and by reinforcing integrity in our children and ourselves, we create an atmosphere that makes unethical behavior intolerable in our society.

How do we do that?

Model responsibility. Expect accountability. Do not make excuses for your children’s failures or try to bail them out. And perhaps, if enough of us do it, our children can soon flex their own integrity muscles with pride.

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Alexis Azria

Alexis Azria, a dedicated mom and passionate humanitarian, writing about the parenting issues and ethical dilemmas we face daily.