Being the "I" in Integrity

Posted by Julia Cook, Boys Town Press Author and Former School Counselor on Nov 3rd 2020

When I was 11, I walked over to the corner store to buy a soda. I paid with a twenty-dollar bill, and the guy mistakenly gave me back some ones and a fifty instead of a ten. I ran up to my dad and said, “Guess what? I just got paid to buy a pop! It’s my lucky day!” My dad looked at me surprisingly and said, “You’re keeping it?” I replied, “Heck yeah! He’ll never know.” Then he said, “But you will know. You’ll know today, and tomorrow, and forever. You just sold out your integrity for forty dollars. That doesn’t sound so lucky to me.” With a pit in my stomach the size of Jupiter, I turned around and went back to the store to make things right.

The big, fancy definition of integrity is “The ability to genuinely emulate the values, morals and beliefs that one claims to have. It is a collection of honesty, honor, courage, authenticity, respect, responsibility and restraint.” However, when kids ask me what it means I say, “A person of high integrity always tries to do the RIGHT thing… even when nobody’s watching.” Basically, I think integrity is a priceless quality that some people have and ALL people need. It’s a game changing ingredient in the recipe for humanity. Unfortunately, integrity is not innate. It has to be taught and developed through both experience and example.

Here are a few strategies to help foster a strong sense of integrity in the children you care for and teach.

  • Model integrity by setting a good example. Don’t make promises you cannot keep. Stay true to the commitments you set. Pay attention to your environment. Surround yourself with honest people. Stay focused on the task at hand. And finally, take responsibility for your actions. Adults who demonstrate integrity show kids firsthand that good choices lead to even greater results in life.
  • Teach right from wrong. Discuss virtues, such as compassion, patience, and honesty, and use real-world examples to highlight why these virtues are so beneficial.
  • Help kids understand that healthy relationships depend on mutual trust and honest communication. If one or both are missing, relationships fail. Having integrity means being honest and trustworthy in all situations.
  • Teach empathy. Children who learn to recognize and understand the feelings of others have stronger social connections and demonstrate more helping behaviors.
  • Reward respectable behavior. All kids have “What’s in it for me?” tattooed on their foreheads. Being rewarded for positive behaviors is a great motivator and encourages kids to do similar behaviors again.
  • Explain consequences before they are needed. When you do good things, good things happen. When you make bad choices, negative results and consequences happen. Never set a consequence that cannot be carried out. False threats build anxiety and confuse boundary recognition. Also, remind kids that there are people put on this earth whose sole purpose is to show the rest of us what NOT to do!
  • Teach, preach, and model digital citizenship. Everyone has a technology tail. What you do, where you go, and what you say online is traceable and stays with you forever. Teach kids to always be positive and respectful when posting messages or other content. A good rule of thumb to use is “Thumper’s Rule” from Disney’s BAMBI…”If you can’t say somethin’ nice…don’t say nothin’at all!” Also, make sure kids know they can always seek the support of a caring adult if they feel threatened, bullied, blackmailed, confused or fearful.
  • Integrity can be found everywhere! Always be on the lookout for stories, people, and events that demonstrate high integrity, and share them with your children.

Six days ago, I went to the grocery store and when the clerk gave me back some change, I noticed two twenties were stuck together. It was my lucky day! I was given a chance to do right thing, even when no one was watching. It felt good then, it feels good now, and I bet it will feel good forever.

“Real integrity is doing the right thing knowing that nobody’s going to know where you did it or not.” – Oprah Winfrey

For more on integrity, check out The "I" in Integrity, the newest title in The Leader I'll Be book series.