The Character Movement


The Consequences of Moral Courage

By Joe Cavanaugh

A parent wrote me:

My 11th-grade son’s friend is drinking. I don’t know whether I should tell the parents because they’re just as likely to tell me to mind my own business as they are to thank me. (I also don’t want to be responsible for the kid catching hell.) I’m not sure what to do about this problem. I don’t feel like I can sit back and do nothing. But I’m also not sure what the consequences will be if I act. Help!

As parents, we need to realize that our children are faced with these kinds of moral dilemmas every day. One of the things we understand at Youth Frontiers is that – contrary to what many people might think – our children are very morally aware. They see bullying in the hallways, they see other kids cheating on tests and they see teachers favoring some students over others. Among themselves, kids are constantly talking about what is right and what is wrong.

Kids are also acutely aware of the fact that standing up and speaking out can be problematic. They know that speaking up may not lead to anything. They know that speaking up may bring ridicule from others. They know that speaking up can put them in violation of various unwritten and unspoken social codes.

Kids are more engaged in “grown up” problems than we may think and they are also wrestling with these kinds of dilemmas themselves. They’re not that much different from the parent in the story above who is struggling with what to do with knowledge of an underage drinker.

I’m guessing that this parent learned about this teen’s drinking problem through their own son. If this is true, then together they can have a conversation about all of the possible outcomes. What are the consequences of calling the friend’s parents? Are there other people at the school or in the community that can be brought in to help? What are the consequences of not acting? Of course, this parent wouldn’t want to leave the final decision with their son, but this is a teachable moment to work through a moral dilemma with their kid and figure out what’s right for their family to do in this situation.

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