Mark Twain once said, “It is curious—curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.”
To display moral courage in today’s world is, sadly, a rarity. Some have referred to the end of the twentieth century as the “Decade of Moral Erosion.”
Between the pressure children feel to indulge in drugs, have sex, shoplift and drink alcohol, to the stress they feel from terrorist, child kidnapping, corrupt adult leaders and their parents who they observe lying, cheating, gossiping, and bullying their way through life, this is a scary time to raise youngsters.
How can a child develop moral fiber, courage and spirit? It isn’t easy when the Internet, television, video games, music lyrics and movies frighten them, expose them to casual sex and crude language and the most violent images one could ever imagine. It isn’t easy.
Can parents help children stand up to the harsh, negative influences of contemporary American culture? You bet they can! According to Michele Borba, Ed.D. author of a book published awhile ago, Building Moral Intelligence, parents must “nurture a solid moral core that will guide their children to stand up for their beliefs and act right without us.” She adds, “we can teach kids the core virtues and skills of strong character and moral courage and can begin when they are toddlers.” That’s the good news. The tough news is that parents have to do it. And that’s where, sadly, it falls apart.
Dr. Borba offers seven parenting tips to help children stand up for their beliefs, effectively face negative peer pressure and live lives with a moral anchor.
1. Know What You Stand for So Your Kid Knows. “Parents with clearly identified moral convictions are more likely to raise good kids. Because their kids know what their parents stand for and why they do, their kids are more likely to adopt their parents’ beliefs. So begin by asking yourself what virtues and moral beliefs matter most to you,” advises Dr. Borba.
2. Walk Your Talk. One great question Dr. Borba suggests is to yourself ask each day is: “If I were the only example my child had to learn moral habits, what did she learn today from watching me?” How many of these messages apply to you? Do you…____ Eat a “sample” from a store’s candy bin in front of your child without paying?
____ Buy a ticket for a “child under twelve” even though your child is older?
____ Drive faster than the speed limit with your child as a passenger?
____ Tell your child to say you’re not there when your boss calls?
____ Do the majority of your child’s work on a school project, but have him sign his name?
3. Share Your Moral Beliefs and Take Stands. Speaking frequently to your child about values is called direct moral teaching. Parents who raise ethical kids do it a lot. Most important, according to Dr. Borba: Stand up for your beliefs whenever you feel a major value is jeopardized. Your kid needs to see and hear about moral courage so he has an example to copy.
4. Ask Moral Questions to Stretch Moral Development. Dr. Borba points out that questioning is an important parenting tool for enhancing children’s consciences and strengthening moral beliefs. The right kind of questions can help kids expand their ability to take another perspective and ask themselves: “Is this the right thing to do?” She offers a few questions parents can ask that stretch your kid’s moral thinking: “How would you feel if someone treated you that way?” “If you don’t follow through on your word, what do you think would happen? “If everybody acted that way (i.e. cheated, shoplifted) what would happen?”
5. Boost Empathy. The author observes that kids who stick up for others are kids who feel for others. Empathy is what motivates that feeling, halts cruel behavior and urges kids to take a stand, according to the psychologist. Dr. Borba, in her book, suggests two powerful ways to nurture empathy:
- Ask: How would you feel? She recommends that parents ask kids to ponder how another person feels using situations in books, TV, and movies as well as real life.
- Use role playing. Dr. Borba indicates that it helps kids imagine others’ feelings so ask your child to think how the other person would feel if roles were reversed. “Switch sides: what would the other person say and do?”
6. Reinforce Assertiveness Not Compliance. If you want to raise a child who can stand up for his beliefs, then reinforce assertiveness—not compliance. Dr. Borba teaches parents to encourage children to share their opinions and stand up for what is right. Parents who raise morally courageous kids, according to the psychologist, expect their kids to act morally – even demand that they do.
7. Teach Assertive Skills. Dr. Borba’s last point is to teach your child assertive skills so he can take the right kind of stand whenever he’s confronted with a moral dilemma. Here are three ways to boost moral courage:
- Teach assertive posture.
- Say no firmly.
- Tell reasons why.
Finally, Dr. Borba notes that it is necessary to remember that your child’s moral growth is an ongoing process that will span the course of her or his lifetime. The moral knowledge, beliefs, and habits you instill in your children now will become the foundation they will use forever.
Dr Michael Mantell, based in San Diego, provides coaching to business leaders, athletes, individuals and families to reach breakthrough levels of success and significance in their professional and personal lives. Mantell may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org