It's been said that young children tend to lie at least once every two hours - sometimes to get something they want or to gain attention but usually to avoid getting in trouble and being punished. Often the lines between make-believe and reality become blurred. But when do youngsters' little 'white lies' become teenagers' big destructive whoppers? And how do those teens behave as young adults?
The Josephson Institute of Ethics releases studies of American high school students every two years and finds that the levels of lying, cheating and stealing have steadily increased. Results from their most recent study indicate that 12 to 17 year olds are five times more likely than those over 50 to believe it is necessary to lie and cheat in order to succeed. As they move out into the world at large, these same young adults are two to three times more likely to misrepresent themselves in a job interview, lie to a significant other, keep money mistakenly given to them.
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Why do our children resort to these kinds of misdeeds? Is it the poor role models found in the entertainment, political and sports worlds? Is it the pressure to succeed coming from parents and schools? Is it the normalization of certain illegal activities on the Internet - plagiarism of papers and reports, downloading pirated music and videos?
So what's a parent to do? As in other aspects of parenting, keeping lines of communication open is a good start. When your children are little, encourage and praise their honesty, let them know clearly what is unacceptable, talk with them about the real consequences of their behaviors.
As they mature, continue to help your teens focus on learning for it's own sake without obsessing about tests and grades. Let them know that they don't have to be perfect to be competitive. Monitor their Internet use. And talk with them about the inappropriate messages their "heroes" are sending.
Adult role models can be helpful in setting examples of the kind of behavior you want to encourage in your children. To read more about a family man who lived according to his own high standards, click on the title above. It will take you to our website article, What Sandwiched Boomers Can Learn from Tim Russert.