Teaching Values to Teens

Teens are the next generation of leaders for our society. It’s important to keep that big perspective in mind because we, adults, are usually so engrossed in our own commitments that we tend to just give knee-jerk reactions to whatever adolescents deliver that day. Adults are so intent on enforcing “the rules” that we might forget that our true purpose is to instill positive values and morals that will make these teens become productive and responsible adults.

Our values are the ideas we hold about what is important and what is not, what is wrong and what is right. Generally, we don’t stop to think about our values, but they are behind all of our beliefs, interests and goals. They affect what friends we choose, what we do with our free time, how we spend your money – in other words, values are what drive all of our actions.

For example, is it more important that the 15-year-old gets an “A” on his biology test or is it more important that he values what an education will do for him? You might argue the point that grades are incredibly important, but the key is that we work hard at whatever we value. If the teen truly values his education, he will automatically strive for the “A”.

Teens need the adults in their lives to teach them values so they can create their own strong moral fiber. People who have good, strong values are generally happier, more successful in their relationships with other people, and more likely to contribute positively to society by reaching beyond themselves out into their community.

Where Do Values Come From?

Values grow out of our experiences with others, including the culture in which we live, our friends and our family. Parents’ values have the greatest effect on children. Therefore, parents must be sure to know what their own values are and make sure they feel proud to pass on those beliefs to their children. Parents should talk to their teens about what they believe and about other’s values – it’s important to give a teen confidence in their own values while at the same time respecting the values of others.

Tips for Instilling Good Values in Teens

Be a good role model. There is no single better way to teach than by example. Children of all ages learn by imitating, and they are very adept at picking up the differences between what you say and what you do. So if you want to teach honesty, be honest. Don’t lie when turning down a commitment because you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings – your children will learn that it’s okay to lie in some cases. If you want your children to be giving and unselfish, find ways to volunteer or help others.

Watch for teaching moments. In daily life, we are offered numerous examples of values played out in real life – these are your chances to initiate a values discussion. If you are watching the evening news and see a story about someone who rushed into a burning building to save someone, you can talk about courage. If you see a child at a local grocery store treating a parent or another adult disrespectfully, you can ask your teen what went wrong in that situation. Look for these opportunities to ask your child about the experience and share what you think is pertinent.

Have frequent conversations about values in your household. Don’t make the mistake of only talking about values when something goes wrong. Nothing will turn your teens off more than preaching values to them after they’ve made a mistake. Talk to them when everyone’s relaxed, and do it in a light, conversational manner. Be aware of using the “parental tone,” which has your kids wanting to run for the door. When values are a frequent topic in your house, teens will understand that they are important.

Serve others together. Children learn values when they experience them. Do you want your teen to see you put the values you say into action? Family service projects, like helping in a soup kitchen or weeding the elderly neighbor’s flower bed, are the perfect ways for teens to see first-hand the results of their efforts. And observing their parents perform simple courtesies like holding the door for a person in a wheelchair will help them learn to be unselfish and put the needs of others first.

Help them learn to stay the course during hard times. Life is full of challenges and tough circumstances. If we allow our teens to “give up” every time they face something difficult, we are instilling the value of quitting which they will carry into adulthood. Instead encourage your teen by telling them how confident you are that they can push through any obstacles.

Praise them when they uphold their values. Parents should reward behavior that exemplifies fundamental values. So when your child is honest even when it is hard, tell them how proud you are of them. When he or she is courteous or respectful to you or others, let them know it. Children tend to rise to the level of their parents’ expectations, so be sure to expect positive decisions from them.

Share your stories. Stories are not just for little kids. By sharing stories from your life – such as people in your workplace who made good or poor ethical decisions and the consequences of those choices – you will help them see the application of timeless values in the adult world.

Pay attention to who else might be teaching values to your teens. Anyone who spends time with your teen may be influencing him or her, so it’s a good idea to get to know your child’s teachers, coaches, and friends. It also may help to guide your children towards your faith or spiritual beliefs to strengthen their values.

Ask your kids questions that will stimulate dialogue about values. Telling your kids what values they should have won’t be very effective, especially for teenagers. Asking them questions that generate discussions will give you better results. Here are some ideas for questions that will open your eyes to what your teen believes and offer you the opportunity to share your own morals:

  • If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be?
  • If you saw someone hit someone else’s car in the parking lot and not leave a note, what would you do?
  • If you had a thousand dollars, how would you spend it?
  • If you saw someone bullying someone at school, what would you do?

There are no easy answers to any value-based question, but if you can get your teen to think about their values and start making positive choices, then they will be successful on the road of life.

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