It’s Time For a Course Correction, And We All Can Help

Original Post: May 16, 2013

As I embark on an exciting new path to help make a difference in the lives of young people, I wanted to share some thoughts with you about where we are and how we all can help create a more respectful, caring and responsible next generation.

The result has been all around us —- in business, government, politics and the law.

There has been a loss of trust in our major institutions and it’s largely due to a decline in ethical behavior.

Our institutions are an extension of our collective character. So, as a society, it clearly is time for some serious reflection on the heading of our moral compass.

And, if we adults are in need of a course correction, what about young people?

Will the next generation be more ethical, responsible and respectful?

In 2008, the Josephson Institute released a study of nearly 30,000 students at 100 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. It’s survey found that 30% of U.S. high school students had stolen from a store, 36% had used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment and 64% admitted to cheating on a test within the previous year.

And it’s not as if those students regretted their decisions. 93% said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77% stated that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

Other surveys have shown similar traits.

According to a fall, 2008 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 75% of teens said sending suggestive content “can have serious negative consequences”. Yet, 20% of teens said they had sent or posted nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves and 39% had sent or posted sexually suggestive emails or text messages.

Errors in Judgment Now Go Public

We all say and do things we wish we could take back. But, where mistakes of judgement in personal interaction once were limited in scope, social media now magnifies them. That impulsive tweet, text or photo sent without much thought, not only can’t be taken back, it can’t be controlled at all.

This is especially challenging for young people who have not yet matured.

At younger and younger ages, children are expected to be responsible with their words and actions. In an age of immediacy where instant communication comes without a “pause” button, young people need tools and strategies to encourage wholesome thought and self-restraint —- to think before hitting the “send” button —- to consider consequences before reacting impulsively.

The lack of self-regulation and regard for moral consideration can be seen in the high number of “date rape” sexual assaults and the high incidence of domestic violence.

So, how do we inspire people of all ages to act morally and responsibly?

Choosing Ethics

While laws can deal with those who act criminally, no rules or regulations can force people to act responsibly. Behaving ethically is a choice. It takes a continually practiced belief system based on positive core values to create a culture of integrity.

In most schools, in accordance with state mandated testing across the country, the focus of the core curriculum has been on raising test scores.

For more than a quarter century, America’s public schools moved away from teaching ethics, instead providing a so-called “values-neutral” education. That has changed with schools embracing character education in an effort to deal with bullying and other behavioral issues.

It’s a challenge for parents and for school systems. Most human behavior is learned by observation. Young people are bombarded by messages that push them to conform rather than instill a sense of belief and confidence within them. The marketing machines are effective and condition kids to want the glitz and glamour, the sex appeal, and look-at-me behaviors.

Young people receive far fewer messages promoting respect and consideration for others.

The result is a culture based too much on superficial values and self-reward.

Having the Courage to Think For Yourself

Young people often feel powerless to control their world. They don’t see that they have choices. But, each of us can enlighten them to the enormous potential within…that they don’t have to follow along with the rest of the pack when it just doesn’t seem right.

By instilling in them the value of respect and self-restraint, helping them understand that kindness and compassion are signs of strength, not weakness, they can look beyond just obeying rules and boundaries to see that there are shared beliefs and values with their peers.

And when young people take a moment to consider what they ought to do rather than what they can or cannot do, they become more thoughtful decision-makers. That results in their making more responsible, healthy and productive choices in life.

Let’s raise the level of expectation and re-establish a higher standard of conduct. A renewed emphasis on universally-held values of respect, fairness, and honesty will produce a win-win outcome. It will benefit every segment of our society.

It all starts with the effort and attitude each of us exhibits everyday.

I’ll leave you with this inspiring quote from the late Rush Kidder, founder of the Institute for Global Ethics from his 1994 book titled “Shared Values for a Troubled World”.

“Each of us is a teacher of moral values. The examples we set, the choices we make, the lives we live, broadcast potent, clear ethical signals to all within our radius. We can not avoid responsibility for our moral atmosphere. We create it hour-by-hour in our actions and motives, seeding the next generation of moral actions with the ones we cultivate as models today”.

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