The two big questions we all have to answer in regard to trust are as follows:
Who do you trust?
Who trusts you?
Most of us will quickly name the person we trust. We trust them because they have been dependable, they keep their word to us, they have been available for us when we needed them. For most young people they recognize that they really trust their parents.
As a parent or an educator, maintaining that ‘trustworthiness’ is the key to maintaining a connection with any student or child. If they come to believe that they are not able to trust us, the broken connection can be devastating to the young person. In fact they may go through their life with a belief that they can not and should not trust anyone. That is a very lonely existence.
Answering “Who trusts me?” really opens the opportunity to examine ourselves. We have a responsibility of keeping our promises, living up to our word and the values of our family. When we demonstrate our “being on the “team” of our family, both our personal trust of others on the team and their trust in us, continues to grow. We demonstrate our team spirit by building our trustworthiness with others.
Repeat after me:
I am trustworthy.
I keep my promises.
I keep my word.
I am worthy of the trust others place in me.
You cannot trust anyone that cheats or steals. If you have ever had an item stolen from you or been cheated on, you know that feeling of violation, loss of trust and edginess that follows. However my discussions this week with our students have included another aspect of trustworthiness when it comes to these trust breaking practices.
What would you do if someone asked you to take part in cheating or stealing? How would you respond if someone asked you or demanded that you let them copy your homework so they could turn it in?
The immediate response from all students was a resounding NO, I would not let them do that. I would help them with their work or do it together with them or suggest that they get a note from their parents – but I would never just give them my work – that would be cheating.
The next question though was more difficult. What would you do if it was your best friend that asked you to let them use your homework. This changed the situation. It added in the possibility of losing a best friend. While the response was the same as previously, it did not come as quickly, as they thought deeply about all the possibilities.
When it comes to cheating and stealing, if we want to make a decision we will be proud of and happy that we did the right thing, we must prepare. Think about the situation and make up your mind ahead of time that you will say NO. Think of what you could do or say, “I will do it kindly and make suggestions of how to deal with the problem of not having done the homework – but I will not allow someone else, even a close friend, to copy my work and turn it in as their own.”
In 2012 the Josephson Institute of Ethics reported in a survey of 23,000 high school students from across the country, a decrease in cheating and stealing over the previous survey done in 2010. All of the questioned students were self reporting. Students also self reported overwhelmingly (85%) that “most adults in their life consistently set a good example when it comes to ethics and character”.
This is great news and heading in the right direction. As these students become adults, the results of what they do and say grow in their consequences. Cheating, stealing and lying become easier to justify as the stakes grow. It is easier to go against the virtue of trustworthiness when a person feels like they have their back against the wall. When they do not know how they are going to get what they want. When times get tough or when they have a belief that they are owed or deserve something better.
Trustworthiness can stand up to all of those difficult situations. In the most difficult circumstance, we can and should ask ourselves, “Am I being reliable, accountable and dependable when I take this action or speak these words?”, and then make our choice. As parents or adults that children look up to, it is important that we set the example, talk about the value of practicing ‘trustworthiness’ and let the youth in our lives see us display the virtue of trustworthiness in areas of small consequences to the very large ones. When students see adults setting a good example in trustworthiness, they will imitate that example and the statistics for cheating will continue to decrease.
Up to the age of 10 or so most children are very concrete thinkers – they have not developed the ability to see gray areas or to think abstractly. An example might be that it is difficult for them to understand the difference of when to keep a secret or to tell others what they have been told.
When we are teaching them about trustworthiness or or even loyalty we want them to know that their are times when they should keep a secret they have been told, like when we tell them or they find out about a surprise birthday party for a friend or their dad. We also want them to know when it is necessary for them to tell a “secret”, when they should tell an adult what they know, like when a friend is being mean to someone or they have lied about an event.
How can we help them differentiate between the two? When should they tell and when should they keep the secret? Here is a question they can ask themselves to check in on how to make that decision.
If a secret can hurt you or someone else, you should tell an adult.
This simple testing statement can help keep them safe and develop other great gifts of character. Loyalty, honesty, trust, friendliness, fairness, fidelity, integrity, responsibility can all be tied into this simple check that even very young children can make.
The moment that is most shocking to most parents is the first time that their child – who has been so good up to this moment – tells them an untruth. When it happens a second, third or more times, we begin to question ourselves and wonder how this could happen. “We ask, Is my child trustworthy, Will I ever be able to trust them again?”
I begin with the belief that every child is trustworthy, that they have that virtue in them. They are worthy of our trust in them to do and be honest with us, to keep their promises. So what happens that this wonderful child out of the clear blue sky, decide to tell us a lie?
First remember they are still a wonderful child. Second they will tell you that they lied because of one of two things.
- they didn’t think it was that big a deal or,
- they didn’t want to get in trouble.
Either way what they are saying to us is that what the family values (the behavior they are lying about and the value of honesty / trustworthiness) is not as important to them at this moment as their personal value of the behavior or of not getting into trouble. It is very easy for them to rationalize a behavior and justify their actions if they think that it is OK for them / not hurting others.
While we as a parent feel pain, anger and personally hurt, we want to be very careful about going down the road of “blame and shame”, of looking at our child as a bad person or worse “a liar”. Remember our children have a fear of not wanting to get in trouble and a fear of disappointing their parents. With fear comes one of two reactions – fighting or fleeing. Both of those choices begin to look like lying may fill the need for them.
With the need to redirect our child we want to look at this as a teachable moment, vs. just a personal affront. In fact if we remember that the child may very well just not want to disappoint us, just that thought will make our discipline come from a place of love vs. fear. Try these steps;
- Use a time out constructively
- Ask them to consider the virtue they need to practice
- Give consequences when it is called for
- Provide the opportunity to make amends
- Notice and name the virtue when you see them being practiced
Our goal is to build their character by building a healthy conscious. As we show our children in teachable moments how lying affects others, how the behavior they chose may hurt themselves and others, we are using our skills and example to empower them rather than demoralize. Above all else, look for and recognize your child when they are practicing the values of your family.
When discussing the character trait of trustworthiness, all of our students agreed that being able to be counted on was important to our relationships, whether they were friends, teachers or parents. We discussed multiple ways that a person could build that trust. Telling the truth, being reliable and dependable, admitting when a mistake was made.
What was powerful about our discussion was one word that was used by a student when asked about what it feels like when you lose that ability to trust another person. They said it was particularly true when the once trusted person was close to us, and they broke the trust. The word they used was LONELY.
I thought about that for a minute and have to agree that the feeling of loneliness does overcome us when trust is broken. We may feel like we are on an island, by ourselves, without support or the backing of those we once depended on for support. We are going to feel distraught and distressed. It is a moment that makes us stop and ponder all of our relationships.
Another student said it takes a long time to build the reputation of being trustworthy and a single quick moment to lose it. Reminding the group that our most important team is our family, I also reminded them that building and keeping the trust of others in our family is one our most important task as a team member. Being trustworthy helps others to know that they can count on us to make good choices and to tell the truth.