Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

Has a Student Ever Caught You Being Less Than Honest? What to Do About It

You have to walk the walk
By Uri Gneezy — March 29, 2023 1 min read
How do I teach students to be honest?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

How do I teach students to be honest?

If we want students to be honest, teachers need to be honest. Here’s something I wrote related to the topic for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

When my son Ron was young, I told him not to lie—being honest is what separates the good guys from the bad guys. But this lesson soon got me into trouble.

One day, I took Ron to Disney World, and as we waited in line to purchase tickets, I saw a sign that said, “Under 3 years old: Free. Three and older: $117.

When it was our time to pay, the cashier asked me how old Ron was, and I replied, “Almost 3.” Technically, I wasn’t lying: He was almost 3, but from the wrong side. His third birthday was a few months earlier.

A couple of minutes later, Ron said, “Daddy, I’m confused. You told me only bad guys lie and you just did.”

I was caught. What message did I just send my kid? I told him one thing—don’t lie—but acted differently in the face of a $117 incentive, sending a mixed signal.

You can tell everyone that you care about honesty, but talk is cheap. To avoid sending such mixed signals to your kid, you need to set up strong consequences in advance. For example, if you want to convince your teen that texting while driving is a really bad idea, you would make the categorical decision never to touch your phone in the car. And you’d set a punishment—say, your children can report you to your spouse—if you do.

After 3-year-old Ron saw me sneak him into the park for free, he learned a lesson—just not the one I wanted to teach. When we got to the Dumbo ride, which was restricted to ages 4 and up, he told the operator he was 4 and, therefore, old enough to go on the ride. Not surprisingly, he learned from the wrong signal.

Don’t believe that just telling kids to do the right thing will be effective.

Do use incentives to help yourself model ethical behavior. Put money in a jar to donate to charity if you curse or when you’re late for an appointment. Your actions send a signal about what you really care about, and your kids are observing your signals.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being The Surprising Connection Between Universal School Meals and Student Discipline
Giving all students free school meals can help nurture a positive school climate by eliminating the stigma around poverty.
6 min read
Third graders have lunch outdoors at Highland Elementary School in Columbus, Kan., on Oct. 17, 2022.
Third graders have lunch outdoors at Highland Elementary School in Columbus, Kan., on Oct. 17, 2022.
Charlie Riedel/AP
Student Well-Being SEL Could Move Into School Sports. What That Might Look Like
Massachusetts is considering a bill to establish guidelines on how school athletics incorporate SEL.
5 min read
A middle school football team practices Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Oklahoma City.
A middle school football team practices in Oklahoma City in 2022.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
Student Well-Being Q&A Putting the Freak-out Over Social Media and Kids' Mental Health in Historical Context
Is it another in a long line of technology-induced moral panics, or something different?
3 min read
Vector illustration of 30 items and devices converging into a single smart device. Your contemporary tablet is filled with a rich history, containing ways to record and view video, listen to music, calculate numbers, communicate with others, pay for things, and on and on.
DigitalVision Vectors
Student Well-Being Opinion Stop Saying 'These Kids Don't Care About School’
This damaging myth creates a barrier between educators and students and fails to address the root causes of student disengagement.
Laurie Putnam
4 min read
Illustration of a group of young people with backpacks standing in row rear view, on an erased whiteboard surface.
Education Week + iStock/Getty Images