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Raising Honest Kids

6 strategies for instilling integrity in your children

Every day some headline screams out details of the latest scandal: A best-selling author's accused of plagiarism; a leading coach fudges on his résumé; a corporate executive's caught embezzling funds. Is it any wonder our kids are confused about truth? Why shouldn't they lie? It seems as though everyone else does!

A nationwide teen character study released by the nonprofit Joseph & Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics found 7 in 10 students surveyed admitted to cheating on a test at least once in the past year, and nearly half said they'd done so more than once. Overall the Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth disclosed that 92 percent of the 8,600 students surveyed lied to their parents. In addition, 78 percent said they'd lied to a teacher, and more than 1 in 4 said they'd probably lie to get a job.

Our culture's standard for integrity seems to be: It doesn't matter if you shade the truth as long as no one gets hurt and you don't get caught. God's standard is: Do what's right even when no one is looking and no one will find out. What can we do to raise kids with God's standard for integrity? Here are six suggestions:

Model Honesty

I'm often tempted to exaggerate. But in striving to raise honest kids, I've had to face my weakness. I've asked my children to tell me if I'm exaggerating. On more than one occasion, they have! It's so easy to exaggerate or use "white lies" for convenience's sake, such as requesting your child tell a telephone caller you're not home when you are.

What's the trend in your behavior? Is it toward absolute honesty or deception? God's Word says, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10). Kids see adult role models as examples of what it takes to get ahead in the real world.

Don't Blame Others

One day when I was potty training our twins, I noticed Libby had a strange look on her face and was walking awkwardly. "Libby," I asked, "did you wet your pants?" "No, Mommy," she replied. "Susy did it!"

I burst out laughing, but her response is a typical refrain in a house-hold with young children. When something goes wrong, our natural instinct is to blame others—our boss, our parents, our circumstances, our friends. Teach your child that in the final analysis, she is responsible for her own behavior.

Discipline Lying

Talk with your children about complete honesty. Make sure they understand lying means big punishment. We've always prayed that if our kids do anything wrong, they'll get caught. Often they are! If your child's caught in a lie, don't bail him out. Walk with him in his punishment, but let him suffer the consequences of his actions. Take time to talk about the importance of honesty. Getting caught can be a blessing, although your child won't see that at the moment!

Praise Integrity

Tell your kids the most important thing they can do is to tell the truth. Then, when they do, praise them for it. Remind them that no one can take away their integrity. You may lose your health, money, possessions, and friends, but you always can remain honest, and this gives you self-respect.

Follow the Right Standard

"Students seem to decide for themselves what constitutes cheating. If their work's tedious or holds little meaning for them, then copying others' work isn't really cheating," a popular high-school teacher recently lamented.

The Washington Post reported that a 2002 poll showed more Americans than ever say that cheating a little on taxes is acceptable. Television, movies, and videos often wink at lying, cheating, and deception. Yet the apostle Paul says, "Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully" (Ephesians 4:25). We must look to God's Word as our standard, not to other people.

Keep Growing

I want to be a person of integrity; that means I seek to be honest and consistent in all my attitudes and actions. But what happens when I fail? How can I then expect my children to live up to my standards—isn't that hypocritical?

I've learned hypocrisy isn't caused by high standards, but by parents who wink at the standards while insisting their children adhere to them. Integrity means maintaining high standards while acknowledging failure and seeking to grow.

Raising honest kids begins in the home, and it begins in my life and in yours. So ask God, "Show me where I'm not being completely truthful, and give me the strength to change."

Susan Alexander Yates is the author of numerous books, including And Then I Had Teenagers (Baker Book House).

Moms Speak Out!

What you had to say about teaching your child to be honest:

I used yarn to explain to my 3rd-grade class Shakespeare's quote, "What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." First, the class made up a story; we called that the truth. Then I asked two children to retell the story. One told the truth, the other lied. Every time the one child lied, I wrapped yarn around him. Soon he couldn't move! It gave my class a visual image of what happens when you start to lie.

Marla, Illinois

When my kids tell me they did something, sometimes I see if what they said is true, and sometimes I take them at their word. They never know when I'm going to check it out. Then, if I catch them in a lie, they're in serious trouble. Usually I take away a favorite activity for a period of time and increase that time for every chance they were given to "fess up." After they cry and settle down, I explain why trust is so important.

Bobbie Jo, Montana

If we catch one of our 4 children lying, we give that child a writing assignment, usually copying Scripture. We've found using Bible verses teaches our children what God says about lying. Each time one of our children is caught lying, we add another page and another verse. This assignment might take a couple days, but it's a wonderful opportunity to talk to our children about God's Word. It's taking something meant for evil (a lie) and turning it into something that glorifies God.

Bonnie, Pennsylvania

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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