– by Walt Mueller
©2003, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

I grew up in a neighborhood infested with boys my age. Every day after school, an energetic group of twenty or so of my young peers would converge on a grassy back yard “playing field” or blacktopped driveway to engage in a wild game of whatever sport happened to be in season. Our usual games were football, baseball, and basketball. After what seemed like an eternity of picking teams that were “fair,” we’d start to play. It usually only took a couple of minutes or half an inning for the first argument to erupt. The jawing over a close or controversial call almost always led to someone emphatically letting loose in a high, squeaky, and determined pre-teen male voice with the words “Cheaters never prosper!” and/or “Liar, liar pants on fire!” While the catalyst for our arguments was always some petty disagreement, there were two things we all knew were wrong – cheating and lying.

Fast forward to the front end of the new millennium. A growing number of today’s children and teens are cheating and lying simply because they have no clue it’s wrong. At the end of last year, the Josephson Institute of Ethics (www.josephsoninstitute.org) released their 2002 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth. The survey of 12,000 high school students offers eye- opening evidence into the changing values and attitudes of today’s emerging generation. Consider these findings:

  • 74% of our high school students admit to cheating on an exam in the last year.
  • 48% of our high school students admit to cheating on two or more exams in the past year.
  • 38% admit to shoplifting in the last year.
  • 28% admit to stealing from their parents
  • 93% admit to lying to their parents.
  • 83% admit to lying to their teachers.
  • 43% say that “A person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. These alarming behaviors are symptomatic of a deeper problem sweeping through our youth culture and culture-at-large. As George Barna has discovered, 64% of our adults and 83% of our teenagers believe that truth is always relative to the person and their situation. Our kids are growing up in a world where there are no boundaries and every person is left to himself to determine personal standards of “right” and “wrong” based solely on their feelings. Consequently, behavioral standards are rapidly changing on issues beyond just cheating and lying. Barna has found that this world without absolutes has led a growing number of Christians to believe that “activities such as abortion, gay sex, sexual fantasies, cohabitation, drunkenness, and viewing pornography are morally acceptable,” In today’s world, cheating is seen as an avenue to prosperity and lies never lead to flaming trousers. That sad fact should serve to fan the flames of parental and youth worker responsibility as we take deliberate efforts to point our kids to the unchanging absolutes and standards of God’s Word – absolutes and standards that bring true freedom and joy.

How can we do it? While I don’t think there’s an easy answer and the task will be tough, let me remind of you three strategies that must be present in our youth ministries and parenting if we hope to turn the moral tide in our families, communities, and culture.

First, know the Word. God’s unchanging Word is the only true and reliable guide for all of faith and life. While my burning desire is for my kids to know and live the Word, that flame of desire must burn brightly for the man I see in the mirror. I can’t lead them to a place I’ve never been. God has said that His commandments are to “be upon your hearts.”

Second, speak the Word. The Scriptures tell us to “impress” the commandments of the Lord on our children. We are to “talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Look to make the most of every “teachable moment” by showing how God’s word sheds light upon God’s world.

Finally, live the Word. Nothing can damage our ability to teach God’s standards and absolutes through example more than an unexamined and careless life of hypocrisy. We must ask God by His grace to lead us to the place where we model what he wants our children to think and be.

Our culture is spiraling further and further down in the chasm of moral confusion. As God’s people, our prayers and resolve should focus on doing our part to lead children and teens into a clear understanding of what it means to glorify God through knowing and living God’s right in a world that believes there’s little or nothing wrong.


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For more information on resources to help you understand today’s rapidly changing youth culture, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.