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Integrity & Character in College

As parents, we naturally strive to instill a solid moral compass in our children.

We try to encourage honesty, decency and integrity. Teaching them that it’s about making the hard choice to do the right thing, even when no one is watching.

So what happens when children go off to college and discover a number of their peers may be cheating and lying their way through school? What will they do if they realize that less than 2 percent of students get caught plagiarizing a paper or cheating on an exam? Will they hold true to the life lessons their parents imparted about right and wrong? What can parents do to keep kids from straying away from their established moral compass?

As a clinical psychologist that works frequently with teens and young adults, I’ve heard their responses to the questions. In essence they say, “Do you want to know the truth or do you want me tell you what you want to hear?”

The truth is that at one point or another they have compromised their morals, because they feel they must to be competitive or accepted. When “everyone else does it,” they feel like they can’t compete academically or may be ostracized for not participating. If and when they cross the line, they feel guilty or devoid of their morality.

The reality is that college is a time of significant growth with influences from an outside world that includes new peers, professors and possibly co-workers. While they leave home knowing the difference between right and wrong, college-age students are still developing cognitively, morally and emotionally. shutterstock_156882188

Take comfort in knowing the lessons parents teach largely remain the center of their moral compass that all new information must filter through. They may not divulge when they are contemplating whether or not to access the database that has previous exams from Biology 101, but they are referencing what their parents would say if they did.

Being mindful that these choices are a reality to them is your first step.

Acknowledge their challenges to make difficult choices on a regular basis. Recognize that growing up is always hard.

Growing up and maintaining integrity in a way that would make parents proud is more challenging today. The opportunities technology provides with access to information is an even greater temptation. Parents must focus on loving their children through the challenges. More often than not children will come through it with their integrity intact.

Tips to Help during Difficult Times

Set a good example. Even while away at college, kids pay attention to your actions. Talking through challenges that you observe, experience at work or at home and discuss thoughts on situations and making smart choices.

Actively teach integrity. Discuss integrity and values early and often. If they don’t see you make it a priority, they won’t continue hold on to it when they are gone.

Ask about the challenges. All college students face challenges. Academic pressures, newfound freedoms, and choices will confront them. Listen when they struggle and show compassion.

Don’t be judgmental. College is about acceptance, diversity and expansion. If a parent appears judgmental or close-minded the child will shut you out. They are in a new world where all things are possible, but you are still the one they rely on most to guide them.

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