COMMENTARY 783.3: Noah’s Term Paper

Noah really needed an ‘A’ on a term paper.  His friend Jason tells him that lots of kids “re-cycle” papers they don’t write and offers to give him a paper his older brother got an ‘A’ on three years ago. When Noah asked his for advice, his father hoped his son wouldn’t cheat but he didn’t want to be judgmental so he said, “Son, it’s your life, I can’t tell you what you should do.  It’s a personal decision.”

I think that’s shabby parenting. Noah’s dad declined to provide moral guidance and lost an opportunity to strengthen Noah’s values and his own credibility as a reference point. Kids need parents to bolster their moral will power to resist temptations.  His reluctance to actively intervene and influence is an abdication of responsibility.

What’s more, his noncommittal response is not an expression of moral neutrality but a statement that conveys the moral judgment that honesty and integrity are optional.

True, this is a personal decision.  Noah has the power; he can choose to be honest or dishonest, ethical or unethical – it’s his call.  But the real question is one of propriety: he didn’t ask his dad “What can I do?” but “What should I do?” This is a question about ethics and it can’t be dodged or evaded.

If we want our children to build good values and a strong character based on virtue we have to be willing to teach and advocate those virtues. Sometimes that means saying, “That’s wrong!”

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 3

  1. I totally agree. My son is now 18, and we have had many conversations over the years (and continue to have them today) similar to the one between this father and son. My response is generally along the lines of “It is your life and your decision – but this is what I believe you should do and this is why.” It is a parent’s job not only to provide example and help strengthen values, but also to help them learn how to reason and recognize the consequences of their actions so they can become better decision makers. I hope that is what I’ve done for my son.

  2. I totally agree with Michael. Every situation is an opportunity for teaching values to children. Yes, they will do what they will do, when they are not with you but my 45 year old daughters still tell me they hear my voice in their head often. They may not seem like they listen but you have to give them the message of what is right and wrong then they will have that in file whenever they need it. Start when they are born and don’t stop until they leave home. Hopefully you will have readied them for the world, one of a parent’s main jobs.

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