Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Five Ways How I'm Teaching Morality To My Kids

Raising godless and moral kids is not rocket science,
 but it does take consistent effort.

Every once in a while I'll be asked by either an irate or curious theist how is it possible to teach my children  morality without God. I consider this a fairly honest query, mostly because godlessness is such a foreign concept to many (especially here in the States). Ergo, here is a short list of ways I'm  nurturing their sense of right and wrong.

 Repeat the Golden Rule again and again and again and again -- repeat as necessary.

 As it was recently pointed out in a Huffington Post article the Golden Rule had been discovered by many cultures at different times and is not owned by any cult or sect. I have stated the principle in age appropriate language for my children when the topic is relevant. Anyone who has been responsible for caring for young children knows that relevant moments can come up quite often.

We own a animals.

If you want to instill the virtues of being responsible as well as compassionate there can be few better ways of doing it than with having an animal in the home. We currently have a 14 year-old dog, Ruby, and the kids have responsibilities in her upkeep. Ali (currently7) is officially in charge with feeding her, while her brother is in charge of picking up the Ruby poop in the yard (a job which he does not particularly relish). We also owned a cat years ago who we had to put down due to a tumor growing out of her face. Will, who was quite young at the time, placed a picture of the two of them in the cat carrier just before she left the house for the last time. He didn't want her to feel alone.

We don't load the kids down with superstitious myths that actually impair them from becoming moral adults.

My son learned about the Great Flood not as a cutesy story about bunny rabbits magically hopping onto an ark, but as a barbaric tale of mass murder. When I talked to my son about the myth: 1) I didn't have to treat the story as "real"; 2) I didn't have to explain how genocide is OK under some circumstances.

Super heroes

It's common for parents to lament the problems of raising moral kids today. What many do not understand is that we are living in a Golden Age of super heroes. Just as the Western promulgated basic morality (at least many Westerns -- just look at High Noon or even the TV series The Rifleman) super heroes offer a way for kids to think about doing the right thing. I took my ten year-old son out of school to see a matinee showing of The Avengers, and hope it made an impression on him besides the action sequences.

Not being a dick -- and not being a wussy

I don't yell at the waitress when my order is messed up. When someone disagrees with me in a social setting I demonstrate restraint (though when intoxicated I show less restraint, but am far more amiable). I assist with their homework when school is in session. And there are moments that I say I'm sorry when I make a mistake. On the other hand, they have seen me say, "That
is not OK and it needs to stop now," not only to them but at times to other kids. There was an instance that Ali was at an after school event and we were in a classroom. She was doing a time sensitive activity and some older kids were interrupting her while their mom was looking on doing nothing. I told them to stop it in the same voice I tell my dog not to hump the sofa. Mission accomplished.


  1. I have felt uncomfortable with the Golden Rule for some time. Fundamentally it seems to assume a monolithic and homogeneous view of human nature. If I set out to treat others the way I would like to be treated then I assume (a) that they have the same desires as me and that consequently (b) there is no need to get to know them and their personal preferences as they are just the same as me. I wonder whether it is time to introduce a Platinum Rule - "Treat others as they would like to be treated". It is still a principle of reciprocity and embodies everything the Golden Rule does but imposes a requirement to treat people as heterogeneous, diverse, wanting different things and a requirement to be aware of other people's individuality and to treat them accordingly. It has been found for example that many young people turn their music up loud in public and when asked why look puzzled. They always have music on, assume everybody else wants music in the background and therefore apply the Golden Rule, be considerate, and turn theirs up loud for the benefit of people on the bus who have none with them. Completely failing to understand that the others do not want any music but to, say, quietly read a book. They fail to treat others as they want to be treated. Golden Rule - fail.


  2. On the platinum rule: Maybe a two-part rule could work:
    1) "Treat others the way you believe they would like to be treated."
    2) "Adjust your beliefs about people when you learn more about them, both individually and collectively"

    The second one still needs to be made a bit snappier and I think it's the harder one to get right.


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