'It's Not Cheating, It's Sports Strategy': How Christian Parents Can Teach Kids to Choose Integrity
Introducing "Mom Says/Dad Says," an exclusive Christian parental advice column by Gregory Slayton, former U.S. Ambassador to Bermuda and author of the best-selling book Be a Better Dad Today: Ten Tools Every Father Needs, and his wife, Marina Slayton, author of the new book Be The Best Mom You Can Be. The Slaytons have been featured on Fox and Friends, Focus on the Family Radio and numerous other media outlets. They donate 100% of their royalties from parenting books to fatherhood and family non-profits.
Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, Governors Jeb Bush and Sam Brownback and Pastors Tim Keller and Luis Palau, among others, have endorsed the Slaytons. In their exclusive series for The Christian Post, both Marina and Gregory will answer thoughtful Christian parents seeking to raise their children up in the goodness of the Gospel and the Glory of God. If you would like to have Marina and Gregory answer your questions, please contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parent's Question: "My middle school son was recently playing in a basketball game when a kid on his team pretended to get hurt by a player from the opposing team. The supposed foul was literally ten feet away from where I was sitting on the bleachers so I had a clear view of what actually transpired. Our team's player was given foul shots, which he missed – fortunately, from my perspective. Our team ended up winning by a mere one point so the motive for cheating was clear. I discussed this boy's actions with my son on the car trip back home. My son was of the view that this was not 'cheating, but a potentially winning strategy.' What should I be doing as a parent to communicate how strongly that cheating is not an acceptable strategy in life?"
Mom says: I love this question because it hits on an issue all parents struggle with: how do we raise kids who work excellently, but don't live in thrall to the idol of success. We recently had a very smart biologist at our home for dinner and she got into an argument with our boys about Olympic badminton of all things. My boys argued that the 8 players who were thrown out of the London Olympics had in fact cheated because they deliberately threw games in order to face an easier team in the following round. Our Chinese guest energetically argued: "That's not cheating, that's strategy." Almost the same words and certainly the same line of thinking your son expressed. It is telling to see that this philosophy of life transcends geographic boundaries. We know it goes well beyond sports to all aspects of our contemporary life.
Our children cannot help but be impacted by our society's overweening desire to be successful. Deflategate, illegal steroid use, students who plagiarize (or shut down an entire university due to bogus bomb threats because they are not ready for a test – as happened at Harvard in 2013) all prove to what lengths people will go to be, or continue to be, "successful". And the list of depressing examples goes on and on. In many contemporary eyes, the demands of success necessitate sacrificing integrity at its altar. So what's a parent to do?
As parents, we have to share with our kids what our vision is for our family's future. We have to show them from where we are getting our true worth. Success for the sake of success is an idol – and like all idols, it can never be truly satisfied. Sacrificing our personal integrity at that false idol is a poor trade indeed. The most important thing parents can do is model integrity and show by our lives that we will not seek success above all things. Even when we as adults can benefit from cheating (on our taxes for example) we instead will choose to live by faith, virtue, and integrity. By talking the talk AND walking the walk we are paving the way for our kids to develop their own true moral compass. And this is one of the most important gifts we can give our kids. As the Bible teaches, what good does it do us if we gain the whole world, but lose our very souls?
Doing the right thing the right way is its own reward. This is what we must teach our children early on. Sometimes integrity is recognized and rewarded (which is terrific), but many times it is not. External rewards cannot be the ultimate goal. Our job is to do the very best we can. As Einstein famously said, "Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value." A job well done is its' own reward and we must model this for our children.
Dad says: We must be careful not to buy into the world's definition of "success" for ourselves, our family or our children. That will eventually lead to one of two ends: (1) we achieve that "success" and realize that it wasn't all it was cracked up to be or (2) we strive after it all our lives, never quite reaching that elusive dream. Neither are happy endings.
Likewise we must help our children to define "success" for themselves. Not just in terms of academic or other achievements, but in terms of character and integrity. These are assets that won't fade or be forgotten over time. These are assets that will yield great return in the lives of our children over the years.
As our friend Senator John McCain has written so eloquently "Character is Destiny." Let's help our children learn that eternal truth by both our words and our actions.