Fostering Character Development in Teens: Honor, Pt 2

In There's a Stranger in My House by Dr James WellbornLeave a Comment

Teach it.  While research suggests that people have a natural tendency to be fair, there are also lots of experiences (and cultural messages) that encourage kids to think only of themselves.  There are a number of qualities that underlie a sense of Honor.

Define honor.  Honorable people treat others fairly.  Fair, just, equitable, right, good sport; these are a few of the concepts upon which honor is based.  Your kid will need to be prepared to deal with possibility that friends (or other nefarious influences like the internet) define honor as following a set of rules that are self-serving or biased.  When the so-called honor code is flawed, then acting honorably can actually be the wrong thing (think honor among thieves or gang members).

Understanding fairness.  Fairness requires you to put aside your own desires and feelings to determine an equitable and just resolution or treatment.  Fairness is about justice and freedom from bias.  Fairness is about balance and equality.  It is not about everyone having the same amount.  It is not about getting special treatment because of who you know or how much influence you wield.  It is not about getting something because someone else got it (i.e., gift, cool car, etc.).  Have your kid practice identifying fair solutions (“Do you think that was fair?  Why?”).  Some kids have a particularly difficult time separating out whether something is fair versus they just don’t like it.  (“You are grounded.”  “That’s not fair!”  “No, you don’t like it.  It is fair because you knew what we expected and you had the opportunity to follow our rules or break them.”  “That’s what I said, it is unfair!”  sigh “Just go to your room.”

Recognize biases and prejudices.  Bias is thinking that people are fundamentally lesser and undeserving (or fundamentally superior and deserving) because of the group they belong.  Unfortunately, people can’t avoid being biased but it doesn’t have to lead to discrimination.  Fortunately, it is possible to be objectively fair and just (regardless of how you feel).  You will need to help your kid see that fairness and respecting others is something all people deserve (regardless of whether they return the favor).  Even people you wouldn’t want your kid to associate with deserve equal treatment and consideration.  “I think they are immoral and would not want you to associate with them but they still deserve to be treated fairly.”

Perspective taking.  Being fair and just requires the ability to look at things from another person’s perspective.  Help your kid learn to have a balanced view of the issue or situation at hand.  “If it was you would you think that was fair?”

Encourage it.  “Remember, it’s important to be fair and treat people right.”  Let your kid know that honor is important.  “Don’t take unfair advantage.  Play fair.”  Talk about how succeeding or acquiring things unfairly takes away from whatever you may gain.  Talk to them about the importance of doing what is right.  Let them know that you expect them to stand up for what is fair and just for themselves but also for everyone else.

Anticipate it.  Talk to your kid about how much they will benefit from being an honorable person.  Talk about the good things that come from being an honorable person (e.g., admiration, respect, self-respect, parental pride, etc.).  Let them know how much people admire it (and how much you admire it).  Talk about what honorable people accomplish and the example they set for others.  Help your kid see that the obligations each citizen has to be fair and just and to promote fairness and justice are the foundations of a democracy.

Guilt it.  SHAME!  DISHONOR!  Honor is kind of a big character-istic because of our obligations as citizens in a democracy to be committed to fairness and justice, even for people you dislike.  Let your kid know that dishonorable behavior is unacceptable.  Make sure you communicate your disappointment (not disgust or revulsion).  “Well, I’m really disappointed that you treated them so unfairly.  They really didn’t deserve that.  I guess we have some more work on what it means to be a person of honor.”

Repeat it.  One discussion is not enough.  Punishment for being dishonorable is not sufficient.  Keep on it.

Fairness for others vs for self.  There is kind of a paradox about focusing on fairness.  When people focus on fairness for others they more naturally behave in honorable ways.  However, focusing on fairness when it comes to yourself can result in becoming more selfish and concerned about getting what you deserve (which is often more than what you actually DO deserve).  Be sure to keep your kid’s focus on other people when it comes to fairness and justice.  Honor is about how you treat others not what you require for yourself.

A Note on Spite.  Here’s something else to consider.  While humans demonstrate a natural tendency to be fair, we also seem to be naturally spiteful (i.e., feeling the urge to retaliate against someone who has harmed or hurt us).  Honorable people are not spiteful; they do not seek revenge or retribution.  (They seek justice and show mercy.)  You may have to provide direct intervention if spite shows up in your kid.

Additional Reading: 

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