REALITY CHECK: Parents who raise moral kids don’t do so by accident. They are purposeful and deliberate in their efforts. They are also aware that they are the single greatest influence over their child’s moral development. Don’t let these seven deadly myths stand in your way of raising an ethical child with solid character.
Educators, parents, and child experts agree that raising kids with solid character is harder these days. Many of the support systems that used to help our kids grow to have strong ethics are disappearing and the culture is clearly raunchier and racier. And there are scores of disturbing indicators that show all is not well with our children’s character including a steady rise in youth impulsivity, violence, peer cruelty, stealing, and intolerance. In addition we are seeing a growing increase in disrespect for authority, incivility, vulgarity, cheating and dishonesty. We’ve been relentless in our efforts to reduce those troubling trends, but in all our interventions the one area I believe we too often overlooked is developing our children’s moral intelligence.
Moral intelligence consists of the personal, social, mental, emotional, and moral skills that make up solid character and guide moral behavior. It is the capacity to understand right from wrong. It means to have strong ethical convictions and to act on them so that one behaves in the right and honourable way. Moral intelligence is what kids needs most to counter negative pressures and do what’s right with or without adult guidance. For the past few years I’ve shared with hundreds of educators, agencies, and parents alike that cultivating moral intelligence may well be our best hope.
The latest research confirms strong moral character can be learned and how teaching it can enhance our students’ pro-social behaviors and replace negative ones. Unfortunately, parents too often don’t use their moral-building influence due to a few deadly misconceptions. These seven parenting myths are especially deadly to kids’ Moral IQ:
MYTH 1: Moral intelligence develops naturally. One thing is certain: kids aren’t born with moral intelligence. Moral IQ is learned! The best school for learning the critical habits of solid character is always in the home. Too often parents assume these habits develop naturally: and it’s a major misconception. To ensure kids acquire strong moral habits and beliefs, parents must intentionally model, reinforce, and teach the virtues and habits comprising Moral IQ. Unless they do, chances are their kids won’t acquire them, and they’ll be left morally defenseless.
MYTH 2: How kids turn out is all in the genes. Most of us would agree there are some “givens” we can’t change about our kids, such as their genetic makeup and their innate temperament. But research shows that how our kids turn out is far from etched in stone. One 12-year study of 72-pairs of genetically related adolescents found their biological tendencies could be either be encouraged or stifled depending on how their parents responded to them. The bottom line: biology is not destiny if parents realize that a good deal of how kids turn out rests in what they model and reinforce and how they treat their kids. If kids are treated morally and deliberately taught moral skills and beliefs, researchers say chances are high they will become moral, but the first critical step is for parents to realize they do make a difference in how their kids turn out.
MYTH 3: Moral beliefs are set by early teens. Research confirms moral growth is an ongoing process that will span the course of our children’s lifetimes. In fact, current studies say the part of the brain where conscience is formed isn’t fully developed in males until 21 years of age. The adolescent years are when kids need adult guidance about tough moral choices most. So moral-building endeavors must be continuous and not stop during those teen years when parents often erroneously believe their kids’ moral growth has stopped. Don’t stop boosting your child’s conscience and moral reasoning. Don’t stop instilling your values.
MYTH 4: Peers influence kids’ morals more than parents do. Scores of studies-including ones by the American Academy of Pediatrics report that while peers do have a huge moral influence, parents influence their kids on moral issues that matter most such as religion, education, and values. Peers influence deals more with daily issues such kids’ entertainment, music, and dress choices. Parents must recognize they can still have the inside track in their children’s moral development because they can have the closest relationship, if they chose to nurture it. The bottom line: peers will be a bigger moral influence if parents allow them to be and in today’s racy, raunchy world parents can’t afford to make that mistake.
MYTH 5: Intelligent kids turn out morally intelligent. Intelligence does not guarantee moral behavior. (If you need proof just think of brilliant leaders-such as Hitler, Stalin, Lenin-who were also evil). If parents are to succeed in raising moral children they must help their kids not only think morally but also act morally. And that means they must deliberately teach their kids critical Moral IQ skills such as resolving conflicts, empathizing, managing anger, negotiating fairly, using self-control, etc. We’ve always known that the true measure of character rests in our actions-not in mere thoughts. Unless children know how to act right, their moral development is defective. That knowledge rests not in their IQ score but in what they’ve been taught.
MYTH 6: Moral growth starts at school age. A common mistake parents make is waiting until their kids are six or seven (the so-called Age of Reason) to build moral IQ. By then poor moral habits have formed and are so much harder to break. The fact is parents can start enhancing a chilren’s moral growth when they are quite young. Although at that age they certainly don’t have the cognitive capacities to handle complex moral reasoning, that’s when the rudiments of moral habits-such as exercising self-control, being fair, showing respect, sharing, and empathizing-are first acquired. The earlier parents begin cultivating their kids’ moral capabilities. the better the chance they have of raising good moral beings.
MYTH 7: Previous generations didn’t build kids’ Moral IQ, so parents today shouldn’t have to. I think today’s kids are being raised in a much more morally toxic atmosphere than previous generations and that culture impacts our children’s character for two big reasons.. First, a number of critical social factors that nurture moral character are slowly disintegrating: adequate adult supervision and monitoring, good, solid role models of moral behavior, spiritual or religious training of youth, meaningful and respectful adult relationships, personalized, caring school environments that focus on emotional, social and moral intelligence as well as cognitive, clear national values, community support, stability, and good parenting (to name a few). Second, our kids are being steadily bombarded with outside messages that go against the very values we are trying to instill. Those factors make it much harder for parents to raise moral kids which is exactly why we need to be much more intentional about our moral-building parenting effots .
Today’s parents can no longer sit back and assume their kids become decent human beings. Deliberately teaching the moral virtues and habits that make-up strong Moral IQ is the best assurance parents have that their kids will lead moral lives. Our first step is dispelling seven deadly myths so their kids do turn out to be moral.
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Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including Big Book of Parenting Solutions. For specific and proven solutions on how to boost children’s character refer to Part III “Character” and the following chapters and issues and the page the issue begins:
Bad Manners (page 140); Cheats (page 150); Insensitive (page 159); Intolerant (page 168); Lying (page 173); Materialistic (page 182); Not Knowing Right from Wrong (page 191); Poor Sport (page 201); Selfish and Spoiled (page 209); Steals (page 218) Ungrateful (page 224).