moral courage

4 Ways to Develop Your Child’s Moral Backbone

Private Desmond T. Doss was an unlikely hero. He was compelled to serve his country during World War II while also objecting to taking human life. As a Seventh Day Adventist, Doss believed it was sinful to kill, even in war. So Doss faced repeated harassment at basic training, including a court-martial hearing, for refusing even to hold a weapon. Most mistook his religious conviction for cowardice and his refusal to work on the Sabbath for laziness. Remaining steadfast in his beliefs took an incredible amount of moral courage, especially during the invasion of Okinawa. His battalion was ordered to take a heavily fortified, 400-foot jagged ridge. After initially taking the ridge, the Americans were pushed off, leaving behind many wounded.

Forsaking his own safety, Doss stayed on the ridge and worked prayerfully, tending to the wounded. All night, he dragged men to the edge of the cliff and lowered them to safety. By day’s end, he had saved 75 wounded comrades. Desmond Doss’ conviction led to him be faithful to his fellow soldiers in the fire of war. How do we raise our kids to have the same strength of moral foundation? Cultural interpretations of right and wrong shift with the sand. There is more and more pressure to bend convictions and beliefs to fit into current cultural norms, so it’s vital to develop a moral foundation. Here are 4 ways to develop your child’s moral backbone in a world pressuring them to conform.

1. Develop their core identity.

One of the biggest contributing factors to a well-founded moral center is to have a strong sense of identity. Knowing who they are will give their stature a sense of gravity. I have found that the strongest identity we can give kids is that they are loved regardless of performance, attractiveness, or accomplishments. If they don’t know they are loved, they will search endlessly for love like a feather floating aimlessly in the breeze. I teach my kids that their identity is found in the love of the God who made them. That love makes their lives eternally significant and valuable. Where are your kids finding their identity?

2. Root them firmly in the truth.

People who have a firm moral backbone need to have a life marked by truth. In a Harvard commencement address, Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “Many of you have already found out, and others will find out in the course of their lives, that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate our attention totally on its pursuit.” The truth can be downright ugly at times, but our kids have to learn how to face it, particularly the truth about themselves. Otherwise, they will never attain character.

Nothing teaches people how to stand their ground more than personal experience.

3. Let them fight their own battles.

Nothing teaches people how to stand their ground more than personal experience. We all want to protect our kids, but fighting their battles for them sends the message that they’re weak. In the famous story of David slaying Goliath, David didn’t just magically slay the giant. David grew the moral courage, determination, and resolve during his days as a shepherd defending his flock against lions and bears. When the day came to take on Goliath, he was ready. Give advice, but let your kids fight their battles.

4. Teach them to determine right and wrong.

Too many people determine what is right and wrong by how they feel. Feelings change constantly over time and they are usually based on limited information. Kids need to learn to think critically and develop a measuring stick for what is right beyond their own limited narrative. A source greater than our own perspective, the crowd, or the culture has to determine right and wrong. In order to have a moral law, we have to have a moral law giver. The weaker the moral law giver, the weaker the moral law. Desmond Doss’s moral lawgiver was God and that gave him the conviction to stand apart. What is your kids’ source or measuring stick for right and wrong?

Sound off: What are some other ways to teach kids to have a strong moral courage?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is the most difficult challenge you have ever faced?”