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Children can be taught the value of integrity at an early age

October 31, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

When my husband and I discuss a news story over dinner, I wonder how our children will respond. What questions will they ask? Do they understand the conversation or are they just waiting for a break in it to share what happened at recess?

Some news stories are scary but easy to explain. This week's wildfires in California fit in that category. We've taught our children that fire is a tool to be used only by adults. When fire gets out of control, people can get hurt or may die.

Even the youngest child can understand that concept.

Other news stories pose a more interesting challenge to parents.

Take the Kobe Bryant case, for example.

It's obvious that he's done something wrong. In photos he's biting his lip or looking down. He's being led into a courtroom.

Bryant, 25, says he feels remorse for committing adultery.

A 19-year-old woman who worked at a posh resort where Bryant was staying says he sexually assaulted her.

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The Los Angeles Laker denies that, saying the two had consensual sex.

While his innocence, or lack thereof, is left to the court to decide, parents are faced with producing some potentially sensitive explanations.

Words like rape, assault, adultery and consensual sex are being used liberally on sports pages and the television news.

Young children who hear or read these words may start to ask questions. It's our job as parents to provide truthful, age-appropriate answers.

Parents need to use kid-friendly language when explaining concepts children can't understand, says Dr. Bill Maier, Focus on the Family's vice president and psychologist in residence.

A 6-year-old may only need to hear, "A lady accused him of doing bad things to her. He said he didn't do them. We don't know who's telling the truth. No one knows what really happened except for them," Maier says.

He says stories such as this provide parents with an opportunity to talk about role models.

What kind of character qualities are we looking for in the people we admire? We shouldn't just be looking for someone who is handsome, successful, rich, powerful and talented.

We should ask if the person is honest, respectful to others, kind, generous. Does he keep his promises? Is this someone we want to emulate?

"You can talk to kids about how power can go to a person's head. Sometimes people who are celebrities do things that are not good," Maier says. "If he raped her, attacked her, then he needs to be punished.

"We know he committed one wrong. He admitted that. People are overlooking the fact that he committed adultery."

It's difficult to explain faithfulness in a marriage relationship to a child who is too young to understand the concept of sex.

Last year as my 8-year-old son was memorizing the Ten Commandments, he asked, "Mommy, what is adultery?"

I didn't think he was ready for a detailed description. I simply said this: "Well, you know how at night you sleep in your bed, your sister sleeps in her bed and Daddy and Mommy share a bed?"

He nodded.

"Well, Daddy wouldn't share a bed with another lady and Mommy wouldn't share a bed with another man. If we would, we would be committing adultery."

He said something like, "Oh," and resumed playing, much to my relief.

Older children may want a more specific explanation of adultery, Maier says.

He suggests telling them: "Kobe Bryant did tell the press that he had sex with the lady. That's a bad thing because he's a married man. Mom and Dad believe in being faithful to each other."

Conversations such as this help children learn the value of integrity at an early age. Sometimes it's not enough to merely model the behavior we want to see in our children.

They want and deserve explanations for why we do what we do.

Hopefully we will convey the right message through our reactions and responses to what's happening in the world.




Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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