We live in a world where many people wonder what happened to ethics and morality – especially when it comes to teens. Sadly, the news is full of stories about teens who make poor decisions, such as joining gangs or selling drugs. Fortunately, those news stories don’t describe the majority of youth and most parents are still working hard to instill high moral character in young people.
Today’s world means it’s more important than ever to be very purposeful about instilling healthy values in your teen. After all, your teen isn’t likely to learn much about high moral character by watching movies or from following their favorite pop stars on social media. The following strategies can help you instill healthy values in your teen.
Determine Your Personal Values
If someone asked you to name your top three values right now, would you be able to answer quickly? If you’re like most people, that question may cause you to feel stumped for at least a few minutes. Spend some time thinking about your values and what order they fall in. For example, do you value hard work over community service? Do you value time with family over money?
There isn’t a right or wrong order when it comes to values. A value system is highly personalized depending on a person’s culture, family, religious beliefs, and community. Understanding your personal values is essential to instilling those values in your child, no matter what those values might be.
Although there are many different values people may have, here’s a sample list of values. Create your own list and try to put the top five in order from most important to least important.
- Community Service
- Spiritual Beliefs
- Hard Work
- Flexible Lifestyle
- Kindness to Others
Consider where you devote your most time, money, and energy and then consider whether you’re living according to the values on the list. If you say you value your health, but you aren’t carefully maintaining your health, your teen won’t learn that maintaining his health is an important value. Your teen will draw conclusions about what’s important to you based on what he observes.
Personal Values Vs. Parenting Strategies
Sometimes parents’ personal values differ from the way they parent their children. For example, a mother may say that kindness toward other people tops her list of personal values. However, when it comes to parenting her child, she may value his happiness over anything else. She may have difficulty saying no to him because she doesn’t want him to feel sad or she may try to always ensure he succeeds at everything he does to prevent him from experiencing failure, even when those these behaviors aren’t in line with her personal values.
A recent research study concluded that most teens are getting mixed messages about their parents’ values. Often, it’s because what parents are saying isn’t in line with how they behave. Consider the following questions to see if your personal values really line up with your parenting strategies:
- When am I most proud of my child? Are you most proud when your child achieves something? What about when he behaves kindly toward others? Or do you feel proudest when works hard? Consider your proudest parenting moments and see if that lines up with your top personal values.
- When I consider my child’s future, what is most important to me? When you imagine your child in adulthood, what hopes come to mind first? Is it most important that your child have plenty of money? Do you hope he has a great family? Do you want him to have a high status job? Think about whether or not your hopes for your child align with your top values.
- What values am I purposely trying to teach? Consider which values you tell your teen are important. Which values you take time to instill in your teen? Do you tell him it’s important to be kind to other people? Do you talk often about the importance of hard work? Are the values you’re trying to teach the most important values?
- What values may I be accidentally teaching? Do you recognize times when your behavior is inconsistent with your values? Does your teen see you behave according to your values consistently or might your teen be getting the wrong message about what’s important to you?
- Which values do you reinforce in your teen? Do you reward your teen for hard work? Do you provide praise for showing kindness? Do you tell your teen you want him to be kind, or do you tell him it’s important that he do what makes him happy?
Evaluate What Messages You’re Currently Sending About Values
Sometimes it’s helpful to take a step back and think about the type of messages you may be sending to your teen through your parenting strategies and discipline techniques. If you want your teen to value fairness, yet you’re constantly telling him that, “Life isn’t fair,” each time he complains about a consequence you give him, you may be sending some mixed messages. Consider whether your parenting strategies line up with your personal values in terms of the following scenarios:
- If your teen gave away a pair of shoes to a peer who can’t afford shoes, what would your reaction be? Would you be pleased with him for behaving kindly or would you be angry that he gave them away after you paid for them?
- If your teen took time away from doing his homework to help a friend who was struggling with a problem, would you feel proud he was helping someone else or would you reprimand him for getting sidetracked and not focusing on his own achievement?
- Would you rather a teacher say your teen is performing above average academically or that he is a kind and caring person who looks out for his peers?
- If your teen asks for a certain brand of clothing because the other teens are wearing it, are you more likely to buy it for him so he fits in or encourage him to be an individual?
- If your teen had an opportunity to volunteer for a day or had a chance to earn some money, which opportunity are you more likely to encourage?
It’s normal for parents to want their children to be successful and to be happy. However, if you value kindness and compassion, it’s important that your parenting strategies show that you truly do value those things. Clearly, when it comes to parenting strategies there isn’t one right or wrong answer. It is important however to ensure that your parenting strategies line up with the values you intend to teach your child.