How Creating a Family Code of Conduct Can Help Parents Better Communicate with Their Sons

by Tim Hawkes

Photo credit: Hero Images/Getty Images

In this excerpt from Ten Conversations You Must Have with Your Son, author and educator Tim Hawkes discusses how developing a collectively agreed upon code of conduct can help family members connect and communicate. Below, Tim shares tips for how to think about your family’s particular code and get started creating it. Though the insights are written with sons in mind, they can certainly apply to daughters as well. 

Choosing a code of behavior

… Whose standards does a family choose? Which values and what moral code are the right ones to pass on to a son? The recourse to ‘God’ is very attractive because the trouble of working out what is right and what is wrong is hand-balled to a divine being.

Unfortunately, divine directive seems to be open to some alarmingly different interpretations. When is it right for the Christian to be loving and turn the other cheek, and when is it right for the Christian to turn over the tables of money changers at the temple? When is it right for the Muslim to kill the infidel and when is it right to welcome him into the home?

Confusion in this area has resulted in God’s name being used as an excuse to commit the most horrendous of crimes, at which God must weep. ‘God wants us to …’ becomes easily confused with ‘I want you to …’. Introduce the human factor and pretty quickly that which is compassionate and loving becomes divisive and judgmental.

Things are not much easier in the secular world. What is deemed right and what is deemed wrong is blighted by an interpretative element that does not always distinguish neatly between these options. It merely advances what the dominant culture considers right and wrong. This is fine providing one feels at home with the dominant culture.

Any study of morality throughout the ages will show that it has been heavily influenced by the need to survive. It classes as ‘right’ those behaviors that help a group survive and flourish, and it classes as ‘wrong’ those behaviors that cause harm. This results in societal pressure to restrict individualism when it threatens the wellbeing of the broader community, and the cat.

So, in choosing the code of behavior to pass on to their son, parents have choices. Some will adopt a religious code that will align with divine imperatives. And why not? Many of these directives are rather good. Whatever faith stance a family has, it is difficult to improve on ‘Do to others what you want them to do to you,’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

There are also secular options. Some of these are also fairly attractive.

Celia Green, a British philosopher and psychologist, talks of there being:

    • A Tribal Morality — which imposes behavioral norms on a son that are heavily influenced by the pervading culture in which his family lives. In other words: This is how we do things here!
    • A Territorial Morality — which forbids behaviors by a son that are dangerous to property or people. Thereafter, anything goes. In other words: If it doesn’t hurt anyone, do it!1

Unfortunately, it is not always that simple. What is accepted in one place may not be accepted in another. What doesn’t hurt some people will hurt others. For example, saying ‘sh*t’ in front of Aunt Agatha may not be quite as acceptable as saying it when a 130-kilogram gorilla stamps on your foot in a rugby brawl.

All sorts of other things can influence the values and moral code of a family — even geo-historical factors. The close, homogeneous communities of rural areas are typically more conservative, whereas the loose, diverse communities of the cities are typically more liberal. Big cities and interior trading centres have usually been influenced by the arrival of many different people, many different faiths and many different morals. Small settlements are usually more unified in their outlook. They reinforce each other in those attitudes that are theirs. They talk it in the pub, they marry it in the church, they reinforce it in the home.2

The Buddhists have ten rules by which they try to live:

  1. I will not kill any living creature.
  2. I will not steal.
  3. I will refrain from sexual misconduct.
  4. I will not lie, gossip or speak ill of anyone.
  5. I will not consume intoxicating drinks or drugs that impair the function of the body or mind.
  6. I will not indulge myself with food.
  7. I will not indulge in activities such as dancing, singing, music or any worldly act that debases me or others.
  8. I will not seek to beautify myself with clothes and jewels but with good thoughts and deeds.
  9. I will not seek luxury or rest until I have gained enlightenment or while others do not enjoy such comforts.
  10. I will not seek wealth but will seek to conquer greed.

Many in the western world would be more familiar with the Ten Commandments written in Chapter 20 of the Book of Exodus.

  1. You shall have no other gods but Me.
  2. You shall not make or worship idols.
  3. You shall not use God’s name in vain.
  4. You will remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
  5. You will respect your father and mother.
  6. You will not commit murder.
  7. You will not commit adultery.
  8. You will not steal.
  9. You will not be untruthful.
  10. You will not long to have things owned by other people



Even though your family might already have a strong allegiance to an existing religious code, there is value in writing a family code as well, and doing so with input from all family members. Such an exercise can draw your family into supporting a mutually agreed values system. As an activity, the journey is as important as the destination. Deciding what the household code should be is, in itself, a useful exercise to undertake. Here is an example.

In this household, you are required to do the following:

  1. Respect all people. (This includes the cat.)
  2. Be kind.
  3. Tell the truth.
  4. Be generous.
  5. Encourage each other. (The home will be a ‘putdown-free zone’.)
  6. Pull your weight with household chores.
  7. Be safety-conscious.
  8. Be resilient and handle setbacks well.
  9. Share your thoughts with each other.
  10. Demonstrate your love for each other.

In the film “Gladiator,” the gladiators encouraged each other with the words ‘Strength and honor’. Families can develop their own phrases of encouragement, phrases that become part of the family tradition, phrases that encourage members as they go to fight their own battles each day.


Excerpted from Ten Conversations You Must Have With Your Son by Tim Hawkes with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2016 by Tim Hawkes.


Tim Hawkes is one of Australia’s best-known educators. He has been a headmaster of leading schools for more than twenty years and is the author of several books. A regular contributor to educational debate on radio and television, Tim is frequently invited to be a speaker at conferences around the world.


1. Green, C. (2004) “Letters from Exile: Observations on a Culture in Decline,” Oxford Forum, Oxford.
2. Piaget, J. (1932) The Moral Judgment of the Child, The Free Press, New York.