5 questions about teaching ethics to kids
Rushworth Kidder, author of "Good Kids, Tough Choices," talks about the vital challenge of helping children develop moral fiber.
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4. Bullies have been around at least as long as playgrounds, but the dangers seem better understood by at least some parents and teachers today. How does the phenomenon of cyberbullying fit into the equation?Skip to next paragraph
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With cyberbullying we have the intersection of the media side and the bullying. And there the research is beginning – grudgingly, I think – to come around to the conclusion that the mental state of the child is enormously important. And if we're not thoughtful about the mental atmosphere, it can actually lead to suicide. It can lead to enormous problems. There's an old adage that you and I grew up with on the playground: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.” That old ditty. Well, names can harm you far more than sticks and stones. If we can erode and corrode the mental atmosphere sufficiently, I will want to take my own life, or I will take my AK-47 and take someone else's life.
The most important thing there is the question of moral courage: It's the third thing I'm trying to get at in the book. One has to do with a sense of shared values. The second has to do with making good choices. The third part of it is the moral courage, which I call standing for conscience: When a decision has been made, are you willing to step up to it?
What we've found from our years of research is that people can have very good values and make wonderfully thoughtful decisions – but if they don't have the moral courage to take action when their values are put to the test, that's really no different from having no values and making no decisions.
Courage is the catalyst. Without it, it's just nice theories.
Moral courage is a hugely important part of it. In question of bullying, we have a wonderful opportunity to help kids learn how to be morally courageous, how to take a stand, the value of speaking up, the risk of speaking up – because there is no courage without some risk. Yes, kids are exposed. Yes, yes, it's a risky thing to do. This is really one of the ways to establish moral courage.
Courage down the ages has essentially been a rite of passage from adolescence into adulthood. "Here's a spear. There's a bear in the woods. Go out and get it and bring it back and in three days, he's going to be a man."
The real question is: How do we get kids to move from adolescence to adulthood if there aren't any bears?
I think the answer to that is got to be through moral courage.
5. The examples in the book go all the way to age 23. Why go so far past high school?
I thought I was going to write a book that ended at 18. And then the more we heard the stories that were coming back from real parents, the more we realized, by golly, there's a lot of parenting going on well beyond the teens. A lot of kids are coming back home, a lot of kids are living with their parents.They're not kids anymore; they're adults.
And yet they're in a situation where there's a parenting model at work. The worst thing that can happen is to take the parenting model that you thought was effective when they were 9 years old and continue to use it when they're 26. The question is how you gravitate the conversation to a sense of higher responsibility on both sides, and how you become an objective confidante or sounding board – not a lecturer, but a listener and a facilitator of the child's own understanding.
Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews books for the Monitor.