Anthony Weiner is no longer front-page news now that he has resigned in disgrace from public office. So what’s a parent to make of Weinergate, that perfect storm mix of politics, power, sexting and lying? The media frenzy over the ex-Congressman’s behavior provides a clear teachable moment for our teens. Given the dramatic effects of the inappropriate messages and photos he sent and the devastating results of his untruthful words, we can talk to our kids about the serious consequences of making bad decisions.
As parents, we know that young children lie, apparently about once every two hours. Sometimes they do it to get what they want or gain attention but usually it’s to avoid getting in trouble and being punished. Often the lines between make-believe and reality become blurred.
But when do kids’ little ‘white lies’ become teenagers’ big destructive whoppers? And how do these teens behave as adults out in the world? Weiner provides an unambiguous example of the slippery slope of lying and the difficulty of extricating yourself.
According to the Josephson Institute of Ethics, teens are five times more likely than those over 50 to believe it is necessary to lie and cheat in order to succeed. More than one in five admit to lying, cheating or stealing in the past year, with 80% saying they have lied to their parents about something significant. As they move out into the world at large, these same young adults are two to three times more likely to misrepresent themselves in a job interview, lie to a significant other, keep money mistakenly given to them.
Anthony Weiner seems to have been stuck in this adolescent phase of development. If you want your teens to move beyond this and recognize the dangers of lying, here are four tips to get you started:
As in all aspects of parenting, keep the lines of communication open. When your children are young, encourage and praise their honesty and let them know clearly what is unacceptable. As they mature, continue a dialogue that helps them recognize the real consequences of their behaviors.
Be the role model you want your kids to emulate. And find other good examples of adults behaving well. They can help reinforce the examples of integrity, authenticity, and good citizenship that you want to encourage. Since poor role models abound in the entertainment, political and sports worlds, it’s up to you search out those you want your kids to follow.
Talk about the difference between rules, ethical standards and flexible guidelines. These distinctions aren’t always easy for them to make. And teens have witnessed the normalization of illegal activities on the Internet – plagiarism of papers and reports, downloading pirated music and videos. But you can make a case for controlling the blurring of these lines. Have frank discussions about character and encourage them to develop a set of values.
Teach them to focus on learning without obsessing about tests and grades. Kids face high expectations and the pressure to succeed from parents and schools. Let them know they don’t have to be perfect to be competitive. Help them learn to be resilient so they can bounce back from disappointment. Cheating and lying increase when self-esteem is low. So work to facilitate building their self-confidence, self-reliance and self-respect.
Sir Walter Scott didn’t know about Weinergate two hundred years ago when he cautioned, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” But we can use his experience to initiate talks with our children about lying and give them the tools they need to avoid the fate Weiner brought on himself.
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