During a summer camping trip with my son, a friend of his, and the boy's father I had a chance to learn a valuable lesson. We were sitting around the campfire with the boys and in an effort to keep the boys chatting with us boring old folks I brought out a conversation tool I had used before with my son and his cousins. I asked, "If you could choose any super power, what would it be?" This is usually good for 30 minutes or so of ideas, laughing, teasing, joking and all round fun for everyone. The grown-ups get to hear what is important to their kids (in the form of a super power) and the topic is one that we can all relate to.
My son, who has been reading a comic series called One Piece, immediately chooses a power he read about that allows him to have any power he can think of. I stepped in there and eliminated that choice since it ends the conversation too quickly and insisted on a single power. Teleportation is a popular one, flying is another that comes up and since our kids are 11 year old boys, several destructive powers came up (laser beam eyes, cause earthquakes, call down lightning, etc.). The other father, when his turn came up, said that he would want the power to make people do the right thing. His was the only power that had an obvious societal benefit to it. At the time I did not recognize it as such. As we continued talking about powers, the conversation turned to bodily functions, as it often does after having beans for dinner and hanging out with two 11 year old boys. I suggested (to get a laugh and also because I thought it would be cool) that it would be a great power if every time you passed gas, gold coins popped out. Predictably, the boys enjoyed that and tried their hardest to make as many gold coins as they could that evening. Then, the other father, in between chuckles, said, "You could do a lot of good with all that money." That is when I got it. He was teaching our boys to be good people. He had expertly inserted into our game and conversation a bit of guidance that the boys would hear and hopefully remember. It was done in an indirect way which I think may have been easier for the kids to accept. I also realized that while I try to set a good example for my kids, I don't go out of my way to talk about values with them beyond the more production oriented ones like "work hard" and "don't give up".
In James Reed and Paul Stoltz's book, "Put Your Mindset to Work", they present three attributes that all employers (well, at least 97% of them anyway, according to their research) look for and desire in employees. They want someone who has a Global mindset, someone with Grit and finally someone who is Good. It is this last one that may be the most challenging. We all want our kids to grow up to be good human beings. But we also want them to be able to stand up for themselves and not get stepped on at work and in life.
The difficulty for employers is how to judge whether an applicant (in this case, our child) is good or not. A resume is not always the easiest format to display how little Johnny once helped an old lady carry her groceries to her car or how Susie took the wallet full of money to the police station. I am going to promote the Eagle Scout badge here again as I think it is relevant and falls into the category of "things you can put on your resume." More on this in my previous article: The Eagle Scout Badge on your son's resume. Volunteering for a non-profit is always nice. Personal references though are probably the strongest proof of being a good person. If our kids are consistently good (honest, trustworthy, loyal, sincere, balanced, moral and fair) then it will come out in a reference letter or call.
As with just about everything related to raising kids, starting with a good example is the most powerful lesson. I am embarrassed to admit that I have performed more good deeds since having kids than before. The desire to see them grow up to be good people is a powerful motivator to do the right thing. Especially when they are watching!
Reed and Stoltz recommend creating a code of conduct to help us (parents) be more consistently good. They offer the following advice for writing the code to put us in the right frame of mind. I could not have said it better myself!
"A good way to think about this is to think of a simple, clear, memorable code of conduct that you would give to your own children to help them to be better people, the kind others would love to hire and keep."
Studies have shown (you can refer to the book for which ones) that having a code of moral conduct increases the frequency and consistency of actually acting in line with the code. These studies were designed to test the impact of regular exposure to the code so it probably means that writing one and putting it away will have very little lasting effect. Keep it in your wallet or even better as a screen saver at home. Once your children are old enough to read they will see it and most likely ask you about it giving you a chance to talk about your values and expectations for them.