This article originally appeared in Living With Teenagers magazine.
By: Walt Mueller
"Hey Dad, the Ten Commandments are on!" I wasn't sure what my ten-year-old son was trying to tell me when he yelled those words up the stairs to me last Easter Sunday. When I came down to the family room to ask him what he was talking about, he already had the TV tuned in to the beginning of Cecil B. Demille's epic film starring Charlton Heston and Yul Bryner. My favorite part of watching the classic with Nate was his amazement at the depiction of how God interacted with Moses and the Israelites. "Did that really happen?" was a question he asked several times throughout the film.
"Did that really happen?" A good question! Watching The Ten Commandments with Nate gave me the opportunity to seize the teachable moment by affirming the film's faithfulness to Scripture while pointing out those details that were speculative or inaccurate. When all was said and done, I was hoping Nate would walk away impressed that our loving God had acted in history by giving people in all places and all times decrees and laws designed to protect us from harm while ensuring our well-being. It's a lesson I hope and pray Nate has learned. But judging from what I've seen and heard in contemporary youth culture, any attempt he makes to live faithfully by those commandments will put him in a shrinking minority. Sadly, we've gotten to a point in our cultural history where the choices we make trumpet the fact that our answer to the "Did that really happen?" question is a resounding "NO."
One recent study of teenage attitudes and behaviors indicates that we're losing our sense of right and wrong as it relates to matters of cheating, stealing, and lying. Released every two years, the Josephson Institute of Ethics' "2002 Report Card" reveals some interesting and alarming trends among the 12,000 high school students surveyed. Here are just a few:
$ The number of students admitting they cheated on an exam at least once during the last year increased from 61% in 1992 to 74% in 2002.
$ Students who attend "religious schools" were more likely to cheat (78%) than students at non-religious schools (72%).
$ 48% of students admit they cheated on two or more occasions during the last year.
$ The number of students admitting they stole something from a store in the last twelve months increased from 33% in 1992 to 38% in 2002.
$ Students who attend "religious schools" were less likely to steal (35%) than students at non-religious schools (39%).
$ Perhaps most alarming is the fact that 34% of students who say they have "personal religious convictions" stole from a store in the last year.
$ 28% of all students admit to stealing from their parents, while 25% of those with "personal religious convictions" admit the same thing.
$ 93% of students admit to lying to their parents in the last year as compared to 83% in 1992.
$ Students attending religious schools were more likely to lie to a parent (95% vs. 91%). Students with "personal religious convictions" lied at the same rate as the national average.
$ The percentage of students who admit lying to their parent two or more times jumped from 70% in 1992 to 81% in 2002.
$ Students also lie to their teachers. In 1992, 69% admitted to the behavior. Today, that number is up to 83%.
These grim findings led Michael Josephson, the President of the sponsoring organization, to conclude that "The evidence is that a willingness to cheat has become the norm and that parents, teachers, coaches and even religious educators have not been able to stem the tide."
As a fellow Christian parent, I'm sure my concern for Nate is the same concern you've got for your kids. In just a couple of years, Nate will be entering adolescence. The voices of the culture will be shouting in his ears and begging his allegiance to ethical standards that won't always reflect God's order and design for His world. How can you and I be sure that we aren't lumped into that ineffective heap Josephson says hasn't stemmed the tide? Let me offer four practical suggestions.
First, know the trends. I find that I get lazy when I don't know what's happening in my child's world. Ignorance leads to inaction. Knowledge generates a response. That knowledge should extend beyond surveys and facts, to what's really going on in your teen's immediate world. What are the trends in their circle of peers? When I shared the survey's findings with my three teens and asked them to judge the accuracy of the results based on their experience with their peers, they all looked at me and matter-of-factly said, "Dad, everyone cheats, lies, and steals." Of course, I know it's not "everyone," but I know from their response that it's too many!
Second, pray for your teens. The pressures are great. When cheating, lying, and stealing become the societal norm, those behaviors are no longer viewed as sinful and wrong. Thus, the pressure on our teens becomes greater as they become expected and "normal" behaviors. Ask God to cement his standards on their hearts and to instill in them a strong sense of conscience.
Third, follow the directive of Deuteronomy 6:7, to "talk" about God's commandments "when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.". . . . in other words, all the time.
And finally, follow the directive of Deuteronomy 6:7, to live God's commandments every minute of every day. There is nothing that matches the power of example. Don't believe for a minute that they aren't watching!
Our hope for Nate and his peers should be that they grow through their teenage years and into adulthood living lives that by honoring God and his commands, clearly shout, "Yes! That really happened!"
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©2004, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding