What would your teen do if he found a $100 bill on the ground? What if she found the answer key to a test, posted online? Are you raising an ethical teen? We all want our kids to succeed and make good choices, but how do you teach and model that behavior?
Linda Fisher Thornton teaches ethics at University of Richmond, and she's written a book about ethical leadership. She says to start by thinking about your children as adults in training: talk to them about making good choices, and the joy you feel in doing the right thing. Help them build the infrastructure to make good choices.
“One of the things we can do is have good dinner table conversations about the joys of doing the right thing,” said Fisher Thornton. “The consequences when they don’t do the right things and what it means to be a good citizen in today’s world so they are prepared for the responsibilities that they will be taking on.”
When they get off the path, guide them back. “One of the things you could do is talk with them about how they’re good people,” said Fisher Thornton. “In terms of them being responsible, if they make a mistake, we can say they’re a good person."
She warns to not use labels like “cheater” or “liar. Instead, establish that he or she needs to try to be a good person every time, and help them learn what
they should do to get back on track.
Address ethics as multi-dimensional: how does it impact me, how does it impact my family, my friends, my society? “In those multiple dimensions, they won’t oversimplify decision making later on,” Fisher Thornton explained. Be good role models, she says. It's okay to show them that you struggle to make the right choice as well and what thinking you do to make the right one.
"We provide guidance, nurturing, and support as they build that thinking infrastructure. They can't practice everything that could happen, so they practice thinking it through. So they have the confidence that when something would happen, they know how to handle it."
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context. You can read more about her here on her website. She also works as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Ethics and Leadership for The University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies.
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