COMMENTARY: Justin’s Introduction to Candor

When my son Justin was in high school, I went to an open house to meet his teachers. I was taken aback when one teacher casually mentioned that she had disciplined my son for cheating on a homework assignment.

I asked my son why he hadn’t told me about this incident. “You didn’t ask,” he said. To say the least, I was disappointed by his reaction. Surely he knew that in relationships of trust, candor – volunteering information you know the other person thinks important – is part of honesty. He said he didn’t. In fact, he was adamant that as long as he had not done anything to affirmatively deceive me, he was being trustworthy.

Not so. Trustworthiness involves a good deal more than not lying. Trusting relationships create high mutual expectations, not only of truthfulness but also of frankness and openness about all-important information.

So parents owe candor to their kids on matters that affect their lives, like plans to move, divorce, or get re-married. And kids owe parents candor on matters concerning their safety and education.

So my son was grounded. The next day, he came home beaming with self-satisfaction. “My teacher said that if she knew you were going to treat it so seriously, she wouldn’t have told you.” Obviously the teacher didn’t understand or care about her duty of candor to parents. And she sure didn’t grasp the idea of supporting parental efforts to build character.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 5

  1. In my opinion, punishing your son after he had already been disciplined for the wrongdoing was excessive. While I normally agree with your logic and fully understand the challenges of the “high road”, in this case simply letting him know your thoughts on how you thought it should have been handled should have been sufficient.

    As a retired military member, father of two, and grandfather of three, I think it is important to “run a tight ship” and hold children accountable–and my kids will testify that was the case in their upbringing. However, trying to know of every little infraction of your child and impose consequences for each is a bit much.

    1. I disagree, Michael Josephson was disciplining his son for keeping an important matter secret from him. Cheating at school is in the father’s area of responsibility and he should be privy to the incident. If I were Josephson, I would have a sit down with that teacher and tell her she is not my son’s friend, she is his teacher and she just taught him it’s okay to lie to his father. I am not impressed.

  2. The way I understand it, the teacher punished Justin for cheating on his homework. Dad punished Justin for failing to be open and forthcoming about something he knew his father would want to know about. Two separate issues deserving of two separate punishments. The lesson to be learned in the second disciplinary action was not “it is wrong to cheat” but rather “withholding facts can damage trust and is as unacceptable as lying”.

  3. How is cheating accomplished on a homework assignment? I imagine a homework assignment would allow research through all means. Or did he use some else’s work?

    An important question is why Justin cheated? Many reasons can account for this behavior, such as not enough time to complete the work or Justin feeling he does not understand enough about the subject to competently measure up, among other reasons. However, foremost in a mostly judicious young person is their embarrassment and this possibly accounted for the primary reason he did not share this experience with his father.

    A father, cognizant of a shortcoming, could, in their review take the time to share their own shortcomings with their children and how they came to recognize the right and wrong of a situation.

    On the very positive side, it is entirely possible that Justin , caught in the act, learned it was a poor decision to cheat and subsequently decided to cease such activity.

  4. Oh my – What an array of comments and ideas – Mr. Josephson did the right thing in making his son accountable – The real mistake is the teacher not informing the parents of their son’s cheating – Parent and teacher need to be one team helping young people to grow into productive and honest people – Honesty is somewhat of a rare community today in the world we live in – In 50 years of teaching and coaching I have never seen more dishonesty than I see today from young high school students and parents covering for them – Teachers need to be a role model of honesty to the students they serve and hold them accountable – if you pass on honesty then you teach dishonesty

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