Youth today are presented with a wide variety of values which are modeled to them from every direction. Social media influencers, movies, games, songs, religious institutions and communities as well as friends, family members and more all possess the opportunity to impact youth as they decide who they want to become in this world. The challenge then lies in two parts: first, do adults today have an accurate understanding of what their own values are, and second, how do we ensure positive and healthy values are instilled within today’s youth?
Elizabeth Crary, seasoned author and longtime parent educator, defines values as “the beliefs or attitudes that motivate people. They are the concepts each person feels are important for himself and possibly for humanity as a whole. For a value to be truly yours, you must act on it — not just verbalize it or think that you should follow it” (Without Spanking or Spoiling). Values, therefore, are comparable to a life compass; they guide and help determine the paths chosen throughout one’s life while providing clarity and strengthening self-esteem and resilience.
The values we hold can easily be seen from the outside; how we choose to spend our energy, time and money highly reflect what we value most. Additionally, children are excellent observers and are often taught through the actions of others. One of the best ways, therefore, to teach youth is through show and tell.
If parents and caregivers are able to show, or model, and tell, or verbalize, the values they hold in high regard, children are more likely to allow those lessons to take root within their own life. When the show matches the tell, and actions back up words, the chance of influence is even greater.
It is therefore important to have an honest and accurate grasp of the values we hold so that we are able to send clear messages to those around us. As a parent, values can seem to conflict with one another at times, so it is even more vital that we know what we value and prioritize. For example, you might desire your child be both independent and neat; both positive values in and of themselves. Although, when the situation arises where your young child attempts to exert his independence and pour himself a glass of juice, making a mess in the process, what do you decide in that moment is most important — independence or neatness?
Being honest with ourselves and clear about our own values is the first step in passing along healthy values to the next generation. Additionally, being on the same page with a spouse or co-parent and deciding together what values to pour the most effort into is essential in presenting a unified front.
Teaching youth about values, as anything, will look different depending on the child’s age and personality. Modeling values to younger children, along with strategies like praise to encourage wanted behavior, can influence the values children develop. As children mature, using clarifying questions to teach abstract ideas works well. For example, if you are wanting to teach your school-aged child selflessness, asking the following questions can assist in deepening his/her understanding: Why do you think it is important to help other people? Are there times when you believe it is okay to focus on your needs before others? What would your school look like if no one helped anyone else?
Storytelling is also a powerful and respected tool in teaching and has been used by individuals, specifically within Native communities, for generations. Telling stories to better explain and demonstrate the importance of values can be structured in a variety of ways. Personal stories of triumphs or mistakes, family stories that have been passed down generation to generation, stories involving well-known tribal leaders or role models within the community, stories involving modern-day celebrities and even superheroes can motivate children to adopt values such as honesty, bravery, altruism, confidence and more.
Having open, honest and non-judgmental communication with children, especially teens, is another important aspect in successfully encouraging healthy values. Taking the time to truly listen to children and working to prioritize healthy communication within the family can allow teenagers to be more open minded in accepting or adopting positive values of their own. Nurturing good values in others does not always look identical to our own values, which is okay as long as we operate with the overall idea that the ultimate goal is to encourage healthy and positive values, even if those values are not a mirror image of our own.
Children are the future, and much of what is poured into them and modeled to them while they are young help determine who they then become. Let’s agree to build up a healthy generation who know what they value. Let’s teach with our words, model with our actions and provide children opportunities to strengthen their values.
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