It seems that every time I pick up a newspaper lately, there is an article about teenagers and character (or their lack thereof). A recent study put out by the Josephson Institute, titled “Ethics of American Youth” seems to have ignited a rash of writings discussing their findings. This survey questioned 30,000 teenagers about the subject of honesty and the results were very alarming. At least one out of four teens confessed to stealing from a store or friend; one-third admitted to lying; and over half have cheated on a test. Over 25 percent admitted to lying on the survey itself! The articles go on to say how the numbers of teens who lie and cheat have risen dramatically in the past few years.
Another topic of concern to me is the articles I am seeing stating that the latest survey shows that abstinence education is failing. They claim that not only are teens who are educated in abstinence-only programs almost as likely to participate in teen sex (although they do delay sexual activity by several years), they are also less likely to use birth control, thus leading to higher risk of pregnancy and disease.
What I find ironic about these findings is that the “new” trend in public schools the past few years has been the idea of focusing on “character education”. When my children were still in the public school system, our school was very passionate about teaching character. Each week, a different character quality was introduced and discussed and kids were rewarded for showing “good character”. There are many organizations that attempt to instill character in our children, yet it seems to be failing. How can we equate the efforts of public schools to teach character and the seeming decline in the integrity of our children?
As a Christian, the answer seems obvious to me. The Bible teaches that “every inclination of (man’s) heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). It also teaches that it is only through Christ’s saving grace that we can become a new creation with the power to vanquish sin in our lives. We will never succeed in teaching our children “good character”…we can only teach them how to have “Godly character”. Yet, we are not allowed to teach that in our public schools. They have removed all reference to God and have become convinced that we are capable of being “good” on our own. The results from this false premise are devastating. We pat ourselves on the back, thinking we are instilling integrity in our children, yet our failure is becoming obvious in our society. We have corrupt politicians, immoral role models, and teenagers who think it is acceptable to lie or cheat in order to succeed (40%, according to the Josephson study).
We have become deluded into thinking that character education is enough. We have handed over the responsibility of training our children in godliness to a school system that mocks our faith. No matter what your choice regarding how you educate your children, you are still the one responsible for teaching them right and wrong. Don’t think that putting them in a “good” school which teaches “character” is enough. It is not, and never has been, the responsibility of the government to shape our children’s character. Removing God from the equation has obviously failed. Teaching children to be kind, or honest, because it is “the right thing to do” is not enough. They need to understand that good character comes from understanding God’s holiness and desiring to please Him. If abstinence educators were allowed to teach teenagers the real reasons for purity (and I don’t mean avoiding pregnancy or disease), I am certain the numbers would be different. If teens were instilled with a desire to please God and an understanding of the rewards reaped by doing so, abstinence would be seen as a worthy commitment, and not an impossible choice.
We, as parents, need to take back the responsibility of instilling character in our children. We need to recognize that this can never be accomplished apart from the God who created them and knows their every thought (Psalm 139). Even more frightening than the numbers of teens who lie, cheat or steal, are the results showing what teens think of their own character. An overwhelming 93% said that they are “satisfied with their personal ethics and character”, and 77 percent said that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know”. The Bible teaches us that our standard is to be God’s word, not the standards of the world around us. Unless we are faithfully instilling His word into our children’s hearts, they will be led down a path of corruption, even by “good” programs such as character education.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” II Peter 1:3-4
If you’d like to think more about this subject, I highly recommend the movie “Time Changer” from Christiano Film Group.
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