Community Psychiatric Centers
Monroeville, Greensburg, Monessen, and Wilkinsburg Pittsburgh

February 15, 2013

Teaching Moral Behavior, Tim McGraw-Style

Written by Dr. John Carosso

Gotta like Tim McGraw

All of you Tim McGraw fans know his song, Drugs or Jesus, where he sings:

In my home town
For anyone who sticks around
You’re either lost or you’re found
There’s not much in between
In my home town
Everything’s still black and white
It’s a long way from wrong to right
From Sunday morning to Saturday night

Is it as simple as that?

Well, people in Tim’s home town seem to think so.

C’mon, isn’t that rigid and narrow-minded?

I suppose that’s up to you to decide. However, ask yourself; is morality synonymous with basic ‘truths’ or facts like math; or is it bendable according to our preferences, like whether today I prefer vanilla ice cream?

What’s better for our kids?

Children respond much better when presented with straight-forward ‘right and wrong’ morality. Gray is not good for morality, or our kids. There are plenty of research studies to support this notion, most recent out of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, conducted by researchers out of Boston College. They found that when approached with the idea of morality as fact, as opposed to being flexible, increased moral behavior followed.

But kids will do bad things anyway

Some may, but we underestimate the fortitude and will-power of kids and teens to resist ‘bad’ options. If presented, from a young age, with the notion that particular behaviors are simply ‘wrong’, and if provided with oversight to help them be strong, you’d be surprised how well they’ll do. Of course, it’s important for parents to demonstrate that same fortitude.

Well, I did that when I was a teenager, so how can I tell my teen not to do it?

I imagine we’ve all done things that were mistakes and ‘wrong’, especially when we were younger. Now that we know better, do we want our kids repeating our past mistakes?

But who decides what’s right and wrong?

Yes, that is the 64,000-dollar question, isn’t it? Children pick-up quite early that relying on our own judgment opens the question; 'who says you’re right and I’m wrong'? It also opens the door to the ‘might makes right’ quandary. However, children seem to intuitively acknowledge and accept the logic and rationale that what’s ‘right and wrong’ is best left to the auspices of someone higher and wiser than mere humans.

Is that all?

Yea, pretty much; morality and wisdom have a simplicity that is very appealing and stark, like Tim’ McGraw’s lyric, “it’s a long way from wrong to right”. So now, as Dr. Laura used to say, go do the right thing.

God Bless

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