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Right and Wrong vs. Following or Breaking the Rules

I’m a dad and it’s important for my daughters to follow the rules: use the crosswalk when crossing the street, get their homework done before hanging with friends, no swearing, etc…

But more important that following the rules is for my girls to know the difference between right and wrong. And, you would think that if your kids are following the rules, then they’re doing what’s right. And, in most cases this is so, but not always. That’s why right takes precedence over rules.

When I was in second grade, I saw a friend down the road playing with a puppy. I asked if it was his. He told me it was another neighbor’s dog and that they didn’t want it. So, they were planning to take it out of the city limits, toss it from their car, and leave it to die. Therefore, I stole the puppy, telling my friend to give it to me and instructing him to tell the owners that the puppy got out of his grasp and ran away.

I knew stealing was breaking the rules. It was actually breaking the law. But I also knew that doing what was right was more important than following the rules in this case. I saved that dog’s life.

My sixteen year old, Riley, isn’t driving yet. She went to an outdoor concert with a group of friends. One of her girlfriends’ moms drove everyone in her van, but Alexis, Riley’s friend with a driver’s license. Turned out that the mom who drove the girls ended up having too much to drink, then decided to drive the group the thirty miles back home… under the influence.

The law stated that Alexis was not permitted to drive someone my daughter’s age in her car without a licensed adult in the car. If she did, she could lose her newly acquired license. These are the rules. But, Alexis knew had she let Riley get into the car with an impaired driver, the results could be disastrous. She chose to take the risk and offered to drive Riley home. She chose right over the rules.

Our children need to know the rules. We should tell them why they should be followed, and most of the time if they are followed all is well. But, there are those instances when the rules need to be broken to do what’s right. That means our children need to know what’s right even more than what the rules are.

So, how do we do that? Rules are easy. They’re black and white. Often they’re written somewhere. The question is, how do we teach right? The easiest way is for us, as parents, to model good morals, what we want our children to know as right. It’s not about saying; it’s about doing. Let your children see you help those in need: volunteer at a non-profit, do a cancer walk, buy a sandwich for someone on the street.

We can also point out the right and wrong in life, on the news and in TV shows and stories. Have these discussions: “It may be legal to hunt deer, but is it right?”, “It may have been against the rules to sit as a ‘Whites Only’ counter if you were African-American in the 60’s, but was it wrong?”

Look for opportunities. Talk about them. Then, if the time comes, there’s a good chance your child will choose right over wrong, even before worrying about the rules. This is how change comes about, and it’s how leaders emerge.

America’s Relationship Guru

Leon Scott Baxter, “America’s Relationship Guru,” is the author of Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting and the founder of SafetyNetters.com. He’s the father of two girls, 12 and 16, and has taught elementary school for eighteen years.