Do the right thing

I think I was probably seven years old when I accidentally stole a pack of batteries from the local Tops grocery store in North Syracuse, NY. It was winter, and I had on a huge, puffy coat with a furry hood, and I must have bumped the end-cap of the check out line and a package of batteries fell into the back of my jacket while I was waiting for my mom to put the groceries into her cart. I didn’t notice it at the time (the coat probably weighed more than I did), but when we got home the batteries fell out of my hood and landed with a thud near the front closet. The packet couldn’t have cost more than $1.99, but instead of keeping the batteries, my mom bundled me and my younger sister back into our winter coats and loaded us into the car to drive back to the grocery store. Though I realize now that it was a lot of effort to return the small item, at the time it didn’t even seem like an option to keep the batteries.  My mom was just very matter-of-fact about returning to the store. It was the right thing to do. And it was also my first lesson in ethics.

Obviously, ethics and morals are on my mind this week as a result of the college admissions scandal.  Because my blog is about the college admissions process and more specifically about providing tips to parents and teenagers, it is only appropriate that this week’s entry tackles the topic of developing a strong moral compass.

Tips for Helping Teens Create Ethical Values

  • Model good behavior

    • My mom probably doesn’t remember the battery incident as vividly as I do because she always modeled ethical behavior and that day was just another day for her.

    • It isn’t always easy to do the right thing, but knowing that our kids are watching makes it that much more important.

  • Discuss scenarios and talk it out

    • The best conversations I have with students happen when we are involved in some type of activity and I can ask questions without putting them on the spot.

    • Instead of trying to talk through ethical dilemmas while sitting across from each other at the dinner table, go for a walk or a bike ride instead and let the conversation happen more naturally.  

  • Practice the gut test

    • Even though our world is changing quickly and teenagers are facing different ethical challenges today than previous generations, our instincts are still on target. Our gut will tell us when something isn’t right.

    • Ask your students how they feel when they know they aren’t making the right choice.

Professionally, my ethical values are grounded in the standards set forth by my professional organizations.  Fortunately, the industry of college admissions counseling is full of ethical professionals. For example, I’m proud to be a member of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA). The ethical principles guiding me influence my decision making process everyday. I love working with students and families as they search for and apply to college. And to be honest, it’s actually really easy to do the right thing.