How do we teach “integrity” to children and help them to become fully integrated persons?

by Sister Maureen, O.C.D., Supervisor of Education
Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles

What is integrity?

Integrity is a word that continues to fascinate me, and over the years the depth of its meaning grows within me. Originally, I understood the definition of integrity as an honest person. Later on, I realized that “integral” and “integrated” are forms of this word and have deeper meanings than just “honest” or “fair.” Our society considers an integrated person to be one who “has it all together” – educated, talented, successful, self-assured, etc.

Are there different kinds of integrity?

To have integrity, or to become integrated persons, means that all parts of our personality are mature and whole, or as much as possible in our human condition. Integrity encompasses our spiritual and moral maturity, our intellectual and cultural growth and training, as well as our emotional and physical well-being. An integrated person has all parts working in harmony with each other while reaching a level of development appropriate to age. Most of us have facets that are not quite in sync with other parts, but we still continue to strive for the “wholeness” goal.

Integrated persons live in the light of all the components of their being and draw on that combined strength. The core of this strength is their ever-deepening relationship with Our Lord, who is truth. The following are components of the “wholeness” of integration.

  • Spiritual and moral integrity is obtained by the consistent use of spiritual and moral knowledge and the experience of a relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. Choices in daily life are led by beliefs, training and prayer. When choices are in opposition or conflict to God’s teachings and will, then we are not living with integrity; we are not “whole.”
  • Intellectual and cultural integrity is similar. This does not mean reaching the highest academic degrees. It does mean, though, making use of the talents, gifts and opportunities that have been provided for intellectual, educational and cultural development and using these to the best of ability and for the good of others.
  • Psychological development is extremely important to become a person of integrity. A certain level of development appropriate to chronological age is necessary: ability to think, reflect, analyze, judge, make choices, and act in socially acceptable ways. These include the use of our emotions. Young children are not capable of thinking and acting as a ten or twenty year old; we don’t expect it. Conversely, when someone who is forty dresses and acts in ways appropriate for someone who is seventeen, we recognize that something is “amiss.” We strive for the maturity, or integration, that is commensurate with our age.

Do these meanings of “integrity” leave out the original understanding of “honest”? I believe not. A person who is honest is one who has truly become integrated and has the capacity to be truthful in all areas of his or her life and in his or her relationships with everyone – family, friends or strangers.

How do we teach children “integrity” and help them to become fully integrated persons?

After more than 40 years in education (which includes teaching a lot of parenting classes), I have seen that the children who are becoming persons of integrity are generally those whose parents are themselves mature and integrated and not afraid to guide their children according to these same values. Realizing the stages of human development appropriate at each stage of development, good parents strongly attend to these stages, helping their children to develop each component of their being. This takes nurturing children’s spiritual lives through Mass and the sacraments, prayer in the home, and lessons in sharing, giving and forgiving in the family.

Mentoring their growth in integrity also means encouraging children to strive for the best in their education and developing their abilities or talents. (It is encouraging the children to pursue THEIR interests and abilities, NOT to fulfill parents’ unmet dreams).

It is exposing children to educational and cultural opportunities that will help them develop their potential. It does not permit children to be filled with the negative aspects of the secular and technological “world.” Teaching children about integrity takes courage and creativity on the part of parents and teachers.

Some of these lessons are difficult. Parents must allow children the freedom to realize consequences for negative choices. Responsibility for self and others contributes to becoming a whole, or integrated person. Responsibility is learned by being permitted to take responsibility. If a child is rescued and excused by the parents taking over the responsibility, personal integrity will never come about.

The most important part of helping children to become fully integrated human beings is through example. Where children see their parents acting in age-appropriate, fully integrated ways, they will follow, for parents are the children’s greatest heroes. Parents who pray, receive the sacraments, make faith an active part of the home and train and nurture the growth of their children “24/7” in all facets of their development, will eventually rejoice in children who have become completely and fully integrated young Christian leaders who can help change the world.