How to Help Your Teenager Develop Integrity
By Dr. Gary Smalley
Smalley Relationship Center
Over the years, my parents have attempted to teach me
how to be a man of integrity. Integrity, however, is not a value
that is simply passed on. It's something that must grow inside
us. As a teenager, I just assumed that I would wake up one day
and I would be a man of integrity. That would be like deciding
to run a marathon on the day of the race. Even with the right
desire and mental attitude, without the daily training, I'd collapse
after a few miles. Likewise, integrity does not develop exclusively
from desire. It stems from the daily practice of doing the right
As parents of teenagers, help them understand that integrity
is a process and not a quick fix. The process of developing integrity
begins by helping teenagers understand three important steps.
Step One: Drawing a Line
During a football game, have you ever noticed which part of the
field is most damaged? It's usually the middle because the closer
a player gets to the sideline, the more likely he is to run out
of bounds. Like the opposing football team, Satan is trying to
get us to step out of bounds. As we near the sideline, the closer
he is to influencing our lives. As parents, we need to teach teenagers
how to keep from stepping out of play. [Dr. Gary Oliver taught
me this concept and it's mentioned in Seven Promises of a
Promise Keeper (1994) Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family
Publishing, p. 87] The key is teaching them to create a new sideline,
ten yards away from the original line. In other words, they need
to leave room for error. Since everyone makes mistakes, having
room before you step out can be the difference between losing
a few yards and losing the game.
Step Two: Becoming Aware of Our Choices
[This was paraphrased from What Really Matters at Home
by John & Susan Yates. (1992) Dallas: Word Publishing.] In
addition to the evil one's influence, another damaging force working
against integrity is rationalization. Today's test for honesty
seems to be, "It's okay as long as you don't get caught,"
or "It's not that bad, every one's doing it." As parents,
we need to teach our children to stop asking what's wrong with
certain a choice. Instead, we need to teach them to ask what's
right with it. If we can help teenagers to consider whether their
actions are moving them closer to or further away from integrity,
then a major battle has been won.
For the past six months, every day I read a small poem above
my computer. This poem has become the key for developing integrity
in my own life.
The choices we make every day,
Dictate the life we lead.
To thine own self be true!
Basically, this is same message that Luke talks about in the
Scriptures. "Whoever can be trusted with very little can
also be trusted with much" (Luke 16:10). As a teenager I
did not understand the importance of this verse. Since then, it
has taken much pain and humiliation in realizing that how I handle
the small things dictates how I react to the bigger ones. I now
understand that all the little "white" lies I told,
set the tone for my life. Therefore, since I did not guard the
truth, I kept myself from developing integrity. I now start each
day out by thinking about the choices I'll make and how they can
dictate my life. For me, "to thine own self be true,"
simply means understanding what God wants for my life and being
true to His wishes.
Step Three: Accountability
The key to maintaining integrity is through accountability. Accountability
is simply being responsible to another person or persons for the
commitments you've made. If your teenager desires integrity, encourage
him to ask an older friend, youth minister, teacher, or coach
for accountability. The important ingredient is having someone
to ask the difficult questions. For example, "Did you compromise
your standards on your date last night?" or "Have you
lied or cheated this week?" Ideally, these questions force
us to carefully and prayerfully consider our choices because we
know that someone will be checking.
As parents, begin praying for the right person who can provide
accountability for your teen. Furthermore, encourage your teenager
to draw a line and then to stay ten yards behind it. Help him
to see how his choices will dictate the life he wants to lead.
Integrity will develop into the hearts of those who understand
why guarding the little things can lead towards what George Washington
most wanted—the character of an honest man!
© Copyright 2005 Smalley
Relationship Center. Used with permission.
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