At age 16, Leslie was thrilled with the freedom her driver's license gave her. Her parents were cautious about when and where she was allowed to drive. So, when Leslie asked her mom if she could go to a specialty store to buy a gift for a friend, her mom asked that she not drive far from home during rush hour. Leslie agreed to wait until the next day.
But when Leslie arrived home later than expected, her mom questioned where she had been. Leslie explained that she had been shopping near home. It wasn't until her mom noticed a receipt from the specialty store that the conversation continued. Sure enough, Leslie had casually lied about where she had really gone.
Lying, fudging the truth and not being completely candid tend to be common issues with teens. Much of the cover-up for teens is seen as a little thing — simple self-preservation. However, it's in the little things that habits are formed, and over time, the habit of small lies can grow into bigger acts of dishonesty.
As parents, we want to raise teens who not only tell the truth, but who also value integrity. To be a person of integrity means to be someone who is completely honest, trustworthy, reliable and dependable, whether others are watching or not. Unfortunately, today's culture doesn't value integrity. This often leads to an attitude that says it's OK to do whatever we want as long as no one gets hurt and we don't get caught.
We're living in a day when success is becoming more important than honesty. From athletes taking steroids to students cheating on college placement exams, dishonesty is often seen as the surest way to succeed. So how do we inspire our teens to be men and women of integrity in a culture that winks at dishonesty and elevates success?
Here are a few points worth considering:
Grow in integrity
As parents, do we value integrity more than success? If I value integrity, I will insist that my son make honest line calls in his tennis match, even if it causes him to lose. I will not write my daughter's college essay for her, even if I think it might increase her chance of acceptance. Because of our culture's warped values, we have to be vigilant: The desire for success can subtly influence our decisions and ultimately erode our character.
Talk in the car; talk at the coffee shop; talk at the dinner table. Just talk together. Discuss character traits with your teen. Ask: "How would you define integrity?" "Why is it important?" "Is there a person you know who exhibits integrity?" "Why do you think it's hard to be a person of integrity?" Listen to your teen, and then be honest about ways in which you may struggle. Discuss what God's Word has to say about integrity.
To better understand the challenges your teen faces, it's important to understand his world. Walk the halls of his school. Read the school paper. Drive car pool. Entertain his friends in your home. Know what your youth pastor is teaching at church.
It's also helpful to be aware of what's happening in teen culture. Read articles explaining issues that affect today's teens, and become familiar with popular music, movies and other media. One dad watched several TV shows with his teenage son. He offered his son a quarter for everything he could point out that was not true. The project was enlightening for both father and son as they became more aware of our culture's disregard for integrity.
Pray for your teen
Pray specifically that your teen would get caught if she's doing anything dishonest. When she's caught, follow through with the consequences, and do not bail her out. Support your teen as she learns from her consequences, reminding her that your love for her does not change.
Pray also that your teen would have the strength and personal conviction to do the right thing, even when it's difficult. Prayer helps us all as we endeavor to become men and women of integrity.
Sometimes it's through failure that real growth begins. We are going to fail, and so are our kids. It helps to remember that teens are not looking for perfect parents — they're looking for honest parents. Honesty brings credibility to our character and reflects our commitment to model integrity. And that's true success.