Living By The Code

Somebody took my chocolate.  I keep it in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet, and I dole it out as prizes or rewards.  After Christmas, I had a good stash, because I’d brought in stocking candy from home, and I’d bought a couple of bags of Christmas clearance candy.  Last Thursday I opened the drawer and was shocked to see how little was left.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t opened the drawer in the past week, so I have no idea how long it has been missing.  All I know is that a few days before, I had a full bowl and a couple of almost-full bags, and now I only have a handful of Hershey’s miniatures.

I’ve asked the students (and their parents) to keep their ears open for any leads on the perpetrator(s), but I’m not sure how much good it will do.  Even though I’m on good terms with all the students, it’s hard to fight The Code.

The Code, which is observed by students of all personality types and abilities, simply says “You do not get your friends – or people you like – into trouble.”  I used to be surprised at how even class leaders and straight-A students would adhere to this code, until I figured out something critical:  most junior high students see it as a moral obligation, right up there with offering to share your lunch when your friend doesn’t have one.  It’s a sign of your loyalty, a test of your friendship – you just don’t rat out your friends.

In the past, when the truth has come out, I’ve gone back and asked friends of the guilty party why they didn’t tell me what they knew.  Looking distressed, they’ve all answered the same way, “I knew I should tell you, but – I didn’t want to get my friend in trouble!”

It’s easy for adults to write it off as succumbing to peer pressure, or as an attempt to gain popularity.  But it isn’t always fear of repercussions that is the motivation.  Teens at this age are at an interesting moral place; they’re examining what they’ve been taught and taken for granted as a child, and evaluating its worthiness in their own worlds.  At the same time, they’re measuring their moral codes against those of their peers.  In the spectrum of moral maturity, they’re somewhere in the center – no longer doing what’s right because they’ve been told it’s right, but not yet able to decide for themselves based on internalized principles.

To put it more simply, they do what seems right based on what their friends will think.  In this case, even though they know it would make me happy to discover who took my candy, in their hearts they feel it’s wrong to turn in their friends.  This isn’t the same as being a snitch; they’re often more than happy to snitch on those who are outside their circles of friendship (as long as they can remain anonymous)!

In fact, I’m hoping it’s that snitch who solves the crime for me.

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