Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Back to School: Time To Add Ethics To the Backpack?

Let's consider ethics as part of back-to-school prep

School is right around the corner for millions of children and teens across the land. If you have school aged children or teens you might be shopping for schools supplies and perhaps some new clothes as well. While you are adding things to their backpacks, can you make a little room for ethics too?

Much attention has been focused in recent years on school bullying. Horrific case examples of children being bullied and then committing suicide or homicide certainly make headline news. Yet bullying has been around for as long as children have been going to school. Only in extreme cases does it actually make the news. So many suffer in silence. Furthermore, there are so many subtle ways to bully treating others with disrespect and lack of compassion. It seems to be a chronic problem with few clear and direct solutions. Even the White House has engaged in a nationally funded campaign against school bullying.

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Sadly, I don't have simple solutions to this problem. No one does. But perhaps before school starts you might consider talking with your children about school ethics. Ask your child how do they want to be? What kind of person do they wish to be in school and elsewhere? Could you engage them in a conversation about respect, responsibility, integrity, competence, and concern for others? Maybe the best rule of thumb really is the Golden Rule...treat others as you wish to be treated. While it may seem trite and obvious it really is an excellent way of operating in the world (not only for school children but for everybody). If you really treated others as you wish to be treated then bullying would disappear for good. In fact, a lot of social problems would disappear for good for that matter. 

While we're at it, how might ethics inform not only how children get along with each other but also how they relate to teachers, school administrators, and how they approach their both curricular and extracurricular activities? Again, asking your child what kind of person they wish to be and what principles they might wish to use when making decisions could help them consider ethical approaches to all of their decisions at school and elsewhere. Asking them what are the behaviors and principles of those they most admire might engage them in conversation about ethics as well. Reflect on how you model ethical behavior too. In doing so, we can all help to create a more ethical environment for everyone. 

So, in addition to packing up some notebooks, pens, and rulers perhaps a little ethics in the backpack wouldn't be such a bad idea at this time of year.

What do you think?

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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