We are always rewarded for our positive behavior. We are always rewarded in the way that it benefits our existence the most. Every decision that we make either strengthens or weakens our character. When parents interact with adolescents, it is good to talk about tangible rewards and consequences that they may receive. It is equally good to talk about intrinsic character strength that will be gained through positive choices. Evil can mimic rewards for bad behavior and thus give a good argument for reasons to be bad. However, evil cannot mimic the positive intrinsic change in character that is received as a result from good behavior, nor can it mimic the peace that comes from a stable wellbeing.
It is good to describe what morals and values are and why they are important to one's character. It is very important for parents to help an adolescent make premeditated decisions regarding situations that will require a moral judgment. It is easier for adolescents to make such decisions within a loving home and then act them out within the context of the problem, instead of attempting to make the moral judgment and act out the behavior in the face of opposition.
Ever since Miguel remembered, his parents had told him how to reap positive rewards. “If you study hard, you will have good grades.” “If you work hard, you will make lots of money.” “If your kind to others, they will be kind back.” Miguel took these saying to heart. He worked very hard in school, and when he turned sixteen he landed a part time government job. The job required that he submit a lot of paperwork for the small amount of service that he delivered. The paperwork often took up a fourth of the time that it took to perform the job.
Miguel noticed that his co-workers were working less than him, but making more. As he watched them, he soon discovered what they were doing. His co-workers were writing down that they were performing the whole service, but not completing the full required time. They were taking the extra time, they saved from lying about their hours, to complete the required paperwork. When Miguel questioned them about it, they told Miguel that the government expected them to lie about the time and that it was the only way to make real money.
Miguel had always been extrinsically motivated. He was always looking at what he could get in return for his good behavior. Not seeing any benefit for reporting accurate hours on his paperwork, Miguel decided that he would gain a higher return if he followed his colleagues and over reported the amount of time he actually performed the service. This way he could spend the time that he saved filling out the necessary paperwork and still make a good profit.
Miguel’s friend, Wally, also got a job with Miguel. He too was a hard worker. His parent’s also taught him that he could gain positive rewards whenever he exhibited positive behavior. Wally’s parents also taught him about intrinsic rewards. They taught him that a man’s character is shaped by his behavior. They told Wally that honesty, a positive attitude, and establishing personal values were a way to develop character. His parents taught him that having a positive character was greater than any extrinsic reward that he would gain. They often told him stories about people that maintained a strong character despite not gaining a tangible reward.
Miguel explained to Wally that they could make more money if they wrote down on their paperwork that they were performing an hour’s worth of service, but only perform twenty five minutes worth. Miguel reasoned that they were still working because they had to complete all the accompanying paperwork off the clock. He said that everyone does it anyway. “After all”, Miguel said, “it takes the rest of the hour just to complete the necessary paperwork.”
Wally had a choice to make. Should he cheat and gain more money, or maintain the same amount of money and strengthen his character? Luckily, Wally did not have to make that choice. He had already decided, as an adolescent, that he was going to be honest.
Wally’s parents, having experienced many things in life, often sat Wally down and discussed scenarios that they had experienced in their own lives. His parents would lay the various scenarios out on the table, and would then have Wally decide which path he would choose if he was them. It was easy for Wally to turn down Miguel’s offer, because he had already done so, in the past, during one of his parent’s many discussions.