Is Inappropriate Behavior a Moral Issue? (The Answer Might Surprise You)

Posted October 16, 2009 by

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Is inappropriate behavior a moral issue or a performance issue

James Lehman says that you should "View inappropriate behavior as a performance issue not as a moral issue." I think that some parents may have a difficult time accepting this suggestion, because they may think that James' program doesn't stand behind instilling values. In actuality, James Lehman thinks parents need to be very firm in their limits. Issues that center around lying, stealing, drugs, and abuse are core issues that parents can take a black-and-white stance on. So for instance, if you have a child who has come home intoxicated or been at a party, it's not, "Well I suppose all his friends are doing it and it will lose it's appeal sooner or later," but more "Drinking won't be tolerated and the rule is no parties where there is alcohol."

When we talk to parents on the Support Line and discuss the concept of not viewing the behavior as a moral issue, we're definitely not debating whether or not the behavior is appropriate. A parent who is viewing the behavior as a moral issue may think to themselves, "My child doesn't care about anybody else, they like being hurtful," or "I can't believe my child would do this, only bad kids do this kind of stuff, we're a nice family with clear values." As you can imagine, thinking these sorts of things lead to the parent feeling angry, sad, and confused. The more you go down that road, that part of you that believes that your child has a character defect becomes stronger and stronger. Unintentionally, your tone and facial expressions denote all those feelings whirling around inside you. As a result, you may shun your child and avoid them for long periods of time, become explosive—or both. It may gradually get to the point where you're being disrespectful of your child. Ultimately, communication shuts down and that leaves no room to discuss the problem or what your child could be doing differently.

Having standards are so important. They send your child the message that they're capable of becoming more responsible. So, as hard as it may be when you're faced with a child whose behavior is destructive, don't counteract the positive effect of having clear rules and values by labeling your child as a "bad kid". For your child, the behavior issue will then become a personal thing. They will start thinking that if the authority figures around them believe that they're bad, then they must be. Kids don't have the maturity to keep working on their behavior if the adults around them don't have esteem in them. Kids oftentimes have a hard enough time identifying what the problem is, so developmentally they won't say "I believe in myself and this is what I need to do to feel better." Remember that treating behavior as a moral issue sets the family up for a nasty gridlock that will prove to be a major block to solving the problem. Instead, behavior is about performance and what the child needs to do to meet the demands of the family he's part of.

Has an issue come up in your family that shocked or surprised you and that lead to a focus on your child's departure from family values


As a 1-on-1 Coach, Tina Wakefield coached parents on techniques from the Total Transformation, as well as Empowering Parents' other programs, for over 8 years. Tina is also a mother and stepmother.

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