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Parenting Press: How Teens Learn About Values

Tip—Teens who have a strong family value system to question and argue against have a firm basis on which to create their own values.

Teen behavior is an expression of what is happening developmentally. It is natural for teens to question and test the values they have been raised with. Adolescence brings with it an increased ability to think abstractly. Teens use this ability to question values from every angle. They talk it out and they act it out.

According to Dr. Harriet Heath, developmental psychologist and author of Using Your Values to Raise Your Child to Be an Adult You Admire, “This exploring is part of their developmental task of establishing who they are and by what values they wish to live.”

Teenagers need the love, support, and guidance of their parents to keep in touch with life as it really is and to have a secure base from which to question. According to Heath, teens need parents to discuss issues without jumping to the conclusion that their child is experimenting with something just because he is exploring the issue verbally; they need parents to discuss issues calmly without becoming defensive or judgmental.

“This kind of verbal exploration is vital for teenagers,” she writes. “Being able to explore questions with a trusted adult who knows them well, as well as with friends, teachers, and others who may be available, puts the teenager in a better position to face the issues squarely.”

Tools—A parent’s role in a teen’s evolving value system is to keep your teen safe and provide emotional support while helping him stay focused on the issues he is calling into question.

What is the value involved with the issue? Is it your value and your teen’s? What are the implications of holding this value and acting on it?

During the teen years you are not so much a source of information about the value, but a help in exploring the implications of that value. You can provide needed facts, clarify statements, diffuse challenges, and remain calm. This last task can be, perhaps, one of the most difficult if one’s own values are being challenged.

Heath recommends keeping the discussion nonconfrontational. You can say something like, “That’s a strong statement. What raised this issue for you now?” Or ask matter-of-factly, “Are you telling me what to expect when you come in on Saturday night?”

Link to book description

Heath also comments that parents who know their own values well and can describe what they mean and why they are important will be most helpful to their questioning teens.

You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in Using Your Values to Raise Your Child to Be an Adult You Admire by Harriet Heath, Ph.D.


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