Friendsgiving and the Four Stages of Friendship

The holidays are already just around the corner (how did that happen?), and so many of us are already filling up our calendars with festive events, dinner parties, school functions, and traditional gift exchanges. It’s a season to focus on family and friends. How many of you are having a Friendsgiving celebration this year? I know that I am, so I definitely have the topic of friendship on my mind.

With so much focus on spending time with those we love, I’m reminded of what real friendship looks like. “Friend” is one of those words that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social media-inundated world. Now, the word “friend” can easily refer to a life-long confidante, or simply someone you just connected with on Facebook or started following on Instagram! BIG difference, don’t you think?

Generally speaking, healthy long-term relationships progress through four stages and—no offense to Facebook—“friend” isn’t the first stage. Ideally, each relationship stage should build on the other and at the proper pace. What advances a relationship to new stages or levels, IF it is meant to advance at all, are: mutual trust, compatibility, a shared interest in cultivating a deeper friendship, and the tests of time.

The stages go like this (imagine a pyramid, starting at the base):

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Prospect (a potential friend)
  3. Friend
  4. V.I.P. (Very Important Person)

Every person who becomes more than an acquaintance will start in the first stage.  Most stay there forever while others may progress into the next stages. Only a very few will make it to the VIP stage—and that’s the way it should be. Most of us usually have 4-5 VIPs, the crème de la crème of people in our lives.

Unfortunately, many people—particularly young people—can rush the stages, prematurely moving from one to the next in a quest for intimacy, new friends, popularity, or a full social calendar. When the stages are rushed, people exhibit behaviors in one stage that should be reserved for a deeper one. Inevitably, these relationships disintegrate due to a breakdown in trust, a loss of interest, or a pace that is uncomfortable for one or both of the parties. Note this applies to both friendships and romantic relationships.

If you want healthy, lasting relationships, don’t rush to stage four (like they do in the movies!). When you do, you risk making an emotional investment without really knowing the person—a mistake that can take a major toll when the relationship ends. It’s better to go slow through the stages and reserve the VIP level for people who really prove their friendship, commitment, and compatibility over time.  Don’t forget that good friendship and true love take time and good timing, and that’s okay.

Take some time to think about your current relationships. Can you recognize which stage each one is in? This holiday season, make a conscious effort to invest your deepest relationships and those poised to move up to the next stage. Those are the friendships that will build you up and last a lifetime!

Four Ways to Form Authentic Friendships at College

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

– Zig Ziglar

For many first-year college students, one of the most exhilarating aspects is living in the dorms.  It’s an amazing opportunity to test their new wings of independence (albeit with some supervision from the resident advisors and directors), make new friends, and be surrounded by a community of people in the same boat. However, living on a college campus comes with its own set of challenges, and we’d like to address those today.

When students leave high school and enter college or their career, peer pressure does not just simply go away. In fact, the pressure to fit in can feel even feel more intense for some college students. Living with hundreds of other young people can, unfortunately, lead to negative peer pressure, striving to fit in, poor decisions, and even loss of self.  So, here are four ways that you (or the college student in your life) can form authentic and edifying relationships while living on your college campus:

  1. Deliberately seek out friendships in areas in which you’re likely to find people with similar interests. For example, if you’ve never partied in your life, hitting up a frat house party on a Saturday night is not exactly a sure-fire way to land your next BFFL. Do you enjoy staying active and spending time outdoors? Join an intra-mural and seek friends out here. Are you spiritual? Join an on-campus religiously affiliated club or group. Are you a brainiac with a love for academic challenges? Apply for your school’s honor’s program.
  2. Step outside your comfort zone and BE INTENTIONAL. This is a tough one for all of us because no one likes to feel uncomfortable. But, this is how friendships start and you take an acquaintanceship to a deeper level. As cheesy as it may sound, don’t be afraid to ask someone if you can sit by them in the “caf.” Ask one of your hall mates in the dorms to come over and play board games. Or invite an acquaintance from your Art 101 class out to coffee. More than likely, they’ll be glad for the offer! Be proactive. You’re worth it and what’s the downside?
  3. Be aware of your (potential) friends’ core values. This is crucial, because if you fundamentally oppose someone’s values, your friendship won’t be fit for the long term. If you want to do a self-check on the values that are most important to you, you can use this free checklist Make a list of your top ten, and never waiver from them, no matter what! Remember, not everyone in the world is meant to be your friend. So, if someone’s behavior does not align with your values, or you feel you have to change in order to fit in, it’s time to kiss that friendship goodbye.
  4. Be yourself and be vulnerable. Authenticity is the key to lasting, mutual friendship. You must allow yourself to be seen and appreciated for who you really are, and give up trying to be someone you’re not.

 

When life gets busy and your days are filled with lectures, studying, and practice, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain friendships. However, remember that friendships require deliberate actions from both parties in order to stay afloat (maybe ask one of your friends to study alongside you in the library!). More than anything, be true to yourself, never be afraid to say NO if something doesn’t feel right, and don’t hesitate to rely on help from a trusted adult (mentor, teacher, parent) if you’re struggling with your friendships.

Our Best Success Pointer, Ever? You Be the Judge.

When I wrote What I Wish I Knew at 18, I had no idea which specific pointer might resonate most with readers. After all, each of my 109 life success pointers had its own reason, place, and value. I’m often asked which is the most important one of all. I have tremendous difficulty answering this question, and I wrote the book!

To my surprise, though, one pointer seems to be resonating most of all, especially with those who are using our student guides with kids. Any guesses? It’s the one called, “Love and friendship take time… and timing.” Surprisingly, it’s having a powerful impact on adults, too!

What’s all the excitement about? In this particular lesson, we encourage young people to be patient in cultivating new friendships. We describe a relationship pyramid with four progressive stages of depth and help kids understand the parameters and privileges that go with each level. The stages, in order, are:

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Prospect (a potential friend, progressing from an acquaintance)
  3. Friend (a “graduate” from the Prospect pool)
  4. VIP (very important person in our life—a select list!)

Those who take a healthy approach to relationship building are selective in determining who stays or moves among these stages. We help readers understand that time, trust, and shared beliefs/values/interests are the defining qualities that determine whether a relationship will graduate, regress, or stay at the same level. For example, you shouldn’t expect—or permit—the same level of intimacy and trust with an “acquaintance” as you would with a “VIP” (e.g., very close friends/family members).  Looking back, my biggest relationship messes were when I made some incorrect “stage assignments.”

Clearly, this isn’t rocket science. However, there seems to be something extra special about this pointer because we receive far more comments on it than any other. Why? In this age of Facebook “friendships” and other social media relationships (Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), intimacy (or false intimacy) can form too quickly and sometimes almost dangerously. The goal with this advice is to frame relationships in a more natural, realistic way, and offer a more mature perspective.

Many young people today are rushing into relationships and behaviors before they’ve been properly qualified (thanks, in no part, to our cultural messages). In their quest to make new friends or fit in, some compromise their values by engaging in behaviors with the two lowest levels that should be reserved for friends or VIPs. It’s happening more frequently among middle schoolers and is especially common on college campuses when students get lonesome and strive to make new friends quickly. In the end, many relationships fall precipitously down the pyramid, often with severe consequences, when regrettable decisions ensue…

It’s not only kids who need this advice, it seems. At a recent educator conference, a parent who had been going through What I Wish I Knew at 18 with her teenage daughter thanked us for this particular lesson.  “That pointer,” she proclaimed, “changed MY life!”

Have YOU been reading What I Wish I Knew at 18 with a young person or going through the Student Guide with teens in your life?  Which pointer has impacted your teen(s) the most?  Which one has impacted YOU the most? We’d love to add to list of “People’s Picks” for Best Success Pointers!

3 Tips for Conquering Conflict

Question: What do the Montagues and Capulets have in common with convincing a five-year old to eat her brussels sprouts? Answer: Conflict! We can all relate to this on some level, right? Whether it’s conflict with a boss, coworker, spouse, child, friend, parent, teacher, or even a next door neighbor, the fact is conflict is a part of life! We aren’t going to always see eye-to-eye with everyone. What matters is what we do (and how we react) when conflict arises.

We invite you to use this article as an opportunity to perform a self-check. How do you rate on your levels of self control, understanding, and respectfulness when conflict arises in your life? What can you do to better handle conflict with others?

Here are three tips to help you manage conflict:

  1. Respect yourself and your right to be heard. Whether it’s peer pressure, a challenge to your rights, personal safety, or position, it’s important to stand up for yourself. Sometimes, we allow others to intimidate or dominate us out of fear or insecurity. Also, certain personality types (especially the “S’s” in the DISC model) are so focused on “keeping the peace” that they risk being taken advantage of, especially by people with dominant personalities. Although conflict is uncomfortable, we must respect ourselves in the process while being respectful to the other party. Don’t ever sacrifice your well-being or comfort for the sake of someone else. You deserve to be heard just as much as the other party.
  2. Strive to be an agreeable disagreer. So often, conflicts arise from misunderstandings that could have been prevented or at least controlled. Sometimes they’re based on different philosophical views or perspectives where there isn’t a right or wrong answer. (This is especially true when it comes to talking politics. The current political climate is pretty tense, and conflict is high—both on social media and in real life.) We may want the same outcome as others with whom we disagree, but simply have different strategies to get there. Always strive for mutual understanding, while being attentive to your tone and body language, but agree to disagree if that’s the case. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Consider having a heartfelt retroactive talk about it once things have calmed, and vow to do better next time if it didn’t go as smoothly as you’d have liked. And, remember that barking, yelling, and name calling won’t change anyone’s mind, anyway. Instead, it usually emboldens.
    Finally, if you’re in a heated conversation and your emotions are bubbling, try using this phrase: “I have a different perspective.” If the other party is disrespectful after that, simply suggest a follow up conversation at another time and move on.
  3. Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. We’ve all been victims of a wrong or a mistake. It causes anger, shame, resentment, depression, and worse. However, when we harbor grudges and refuse to forgive, it can be like an all-consuming cancer. Strive for reconciliation whenever possible and don’t hesitate to seek support. Holding a grudge and/or refusing to ever speak to someone again will not make you feel better—it will feel like a burden that just won’t go away.

The ability to manage conflict is a hallmark of a true leader and a symbol of integrity and maturity. What is your favorite tip for handling conflict? Do you have any life lessons from past experiences you’d like to share?

Never Underestimate the Power of Your Words

Think of a time when someone spoke loving or encouraging words to you. Those words will probably stay with you forever. However, you can probably think of even more instances when others have been critical or mean spirited or gossiped about you. Those words won’t be easy to forget, either, but for a different reason.

Words have incredible power—they can be uplifting and change someone’s life for the better, or they can be destructive and leave people with wounds that will last a lifetime. The thing is, the only words we have power over are our own. Once spoken, there is no way to get them back. Plus, we can’t control what other people do with the words we’ve spoken. Even if you don’t want them to, your words could end up traveling in a million different directions and—depending on what you said—get you in trouble one day. (This is especially true for anything we put on social media.)

It’s crucial to understand that our words reveal much about our character. Our words are reflections of our trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness, and respect for others. Also, they’re telltale signs of our temperament and self control. What do your words say about you? How are we doing as a nation?

In recent history, some horrific tragedies have occurred among young people when they were publicly ridiculed through gossip, texts, or social media posts. Some of these even resulted in suicide. So much heartache—all caused by words used heartlessly and irresponsibly. Yes, our words can literally be a matter of life or death, especially to people who are vulnerable.

Here are four ways to guard our words and ensure we’re received as a person of integrity:

  1. Only say things about other people you wouldn’t mind them hearing. Try it for a week and you will truly be amazed by how it affects your choice of words. (I wish every school would take this challenge. Imagine what it would do to bullying!)
  2. When offering constructive criticism, recite it back to yourself in your head before giving it to the person. How would you feel receiving this exact criticism? Be empathetic and CONSTRUCTIVE (not hurtful!).
  3. Do not put anything on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram (even in private messages) that you would not want getting out. The internet is not private, ever.
  4. If you’re in a disagreement with someone, watch out for accusations, assumptions, and the tendency to name call. If you sense that you’re reaching the “boiling point,” pause for at least ten seconds to collect yourself and your thoughts. Above all, strive for mutual understanding and avoid words that incite emotion. A calm tone, especially in disagreements, makes a big difference.

When you apply these concepts in life, you’ll be admired for your tact, restraint, and uplifting spirit. You’ll see that your words can change your heart, body, and mind from the inside out, and your relationships with your friends, significant other, coworkers, and even your children will improve. And, if you can get others to join you, it might be the beginning of a wonderful movement in our culture! Are you up for it?

What are some ways you’ve helped build a positive culture of words

in your classroom, school, family, workplace, or community?

Eight Ways to Avoid “Foot-in-Mouth” Disease

These days, it feels like the majority of our communication is online. Thanks to Facebook (and other social media platforms), e-mail, blogs, and the capability for many career positions to work remotely, most of us are more comfortable communicating online than we are in person. In fact, because we live in such a tech-inundated world, face-to-face communication skills (especially amongst young people) are at their all-time worst. Needless to say, we could all use some tips on how to avoid miscommunication—for those times when a text message or SnapChat just won’t do.

You see, it’s not uncommon for the messages we send to be received differently than we intend. And when it happens, it can be a disaster. It’s crucial that we are aware of the way we say things and how we come across to others. This applies to making first impressions at job interviews, dating, relating to your employers, making new friends, and more. It can’t all be done online! (Thank goodness!)

Miscommunication can happen to all of us.  Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it. Three things affect how others receive our messages… and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful. As you step out from behind your computer, look up from your smart phone, and engage with the people around you, keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about (e.g., politics and religion). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. As a result, the other person can become hurt and offended. Take a deep breath or two before you speak so your internal filter can soften your rhetoric.

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking, rolling eyes). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. Always pay attention to the non-verbal cues your audience is sending!

 

  1. Filter – (No, I’m not referring to Instagram.) Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, focused or distracted, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and you can’t control it. Filter is the one aspect of miscommunication is that most out of our control.

 

In short, here are eight ways to help you avoid miscommunication with others (and needing to put your foot in your mouth or apologize later on):

  • Be sure your expression (body language, facial expressions) are in sync
  • Think before you speak
  • Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the receiver’s position
  • Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend.
  • Be a discerning listener when they respond
  • Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings
  • Avoid coming on too strong, especially with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to build the relationship capital needed for people to give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Remember, it’s okay to be professional in casual settings, but not the reverse!

How do your own in-person communication skills rate? Do you have any other tips on avoiding miscommunication you’d like to share?

 Note: This is an excellent lesson for role-playing in the home or classroom. Encourage your teen or students to act out different scenarios in which the verbal communication could be misinterpreted. You will find a great lesson in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 study guide on this subject.

Priceless Mentoring Conversations

mentoring

You did it! You’ve entered into one of the most important and fulfilling roles you’ll ever play. You’re a mentor. And now that you’ve signed up, you’re probably wondering, “What next?” And, then you remember all of the mentors who invested in you and how they…

  • Listened to what was on your mind and heart
  • Encouraged you every step of the way
  • Inspired you to be more than you ever imagined you could be
  • Shared real life stories to help you face difficult situations
  • Offered wisdom that you would apply in the years ahead
  • Understood you and believed in you

    These are the hallmarks of a great mentor.

If you are a new mentor, perhaps you’re asking the question, “What should we talk about?” Of course, the answer depends on the age of your mentee and whether yours is a more formal or informal mentoring relationship. If it’s a formal one, you’ll be given guidance and direction from your program leaders. Regardless, the age of your mentee will also inform your conversations…helping them navigate life NOW while sharing a glimpse of what lies ahead in the next few years. That’s different for a fourth grader than for a middle schooler or high schooler.

In our work with What I Wish I Knew at 18, we are often asked what are the most important topics to share with the younger generation, whether in the classroom, the home, or in mentoring relationships. Drawing from our recent “Leadership for a Lifetime” blog series, here are some invaluable subjects to discuss in an age-appropriate way and when the timing is right:

  1. Their uniqueness, value, and strengths. Far too many young people have an incomplete understanding of the treasure they are to this world. You can help them build their self awareness of who they are and what they have to offer. This Personal Balance Sheet exercise can help.
  2. The importance of positivity. It is said that you become the average of the five friends with whom you associate with most. Whether it’s friends, music, video games, TV, movies, or websites, surrounding yourself with positive influences is a key in life.
  3. Living with vision and intentionality. Today’s students are facing tremendous pressures, distractions, and anxiety with little margin to spare. It’s easy to become consumed with the NOW. Have them share their dreams and their goals for the next five years. Then, encourage them to make plans to turn their dreams into reality.
  4. Building a personal brand based on integrity. Brands aren’t just for businesses like Coca Cola and Starbucks! Encourage your mentees to develop a strong set of core values like integrity, work ethic, dependability, kindness, generosity, respect, teamwork, humility, and high standards of excellence. Share whom you admire the most and encourage your mentee to do the same, and you’ll open up this critical topic.
  5. The value of adversity and the power of resilience. Help them understand that adversity happens to all of us (using your own story for examples). The question is, How will we handle it? Share the personal growth you’ve gained from adversity and how those who helped you often faced similar challenges. Today’s adversity can become tomorrow’s encouragement to someone else!
  6. Time is of the essence. We’ve never faced a time when distractions were more prevalent. Help your mentees understand that time is a precious asset and should be managed accordingly.
  7. The secret formula to life. In the end, life is about how we use our time, talents, and treasure to make the world a better place. Through conversation and volunteering together, you’ll help them appreciate the formula, U>Me.
  8. Stay flexible. While you may have a lesson topic in mind, it’s important to ask whether there’s anything special they’d like to discuss. Whatever that is, that’s where you go!

We hope these suggestions lead to unforgettable conversations with you and your mentee. We salute you and wish you the very best in your mentoring relationships!

3 R’s for the New Year: Reflections, Resolutions, and (No) Regrets

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Looking back on 2015, do you have any regrets? Are there things you did and wish you hadn’t—or things you didn’t do and wish you had? Any relationships that are strained? Opportunities missed?

We all have regrets from time to time. However, you can minimize big ones (or avoid them altogether) if you periodically ask yourself the regret question and then actually do something about it. The new year is a great time to start, but reflecting on our regrets and resolutions is a great practice to adopt all year long.

For many people (myself included), personal reflection time is the area we sacrifice when our lives get busier. Unfortunately, when this happens, we can get out of balance, grow impatient, and often burn out. We’re not at our best. That’s why it’s so important—at New Year’s and all the year through—to take time to unwind and reflect. Frankly, it’s the only way we can go deep with ourselves—to explore how we’re doing and consider where we’d like to go. Find a place that inspires you and quiets your soul, and let your mind ponder some new growth possibilities. (If you are a person of faith, it’s a great opportunity to include prayer for discernment and wisdom.) You’ll be surprised by your renewed spirit and by the new ideas and insights that can surface during quiet times like this.

I also find there is wisdom to be gained from older people who are in a naturally more reflective stage of life. When I’ve asked some of them about their life regrets, I’ve heard things like:

  1. I didn’t spend enough time with my loved ones.
  2. I didn’t tell my family and friends that I loved them often enough.
  3. I was too stubborn or proud to admit my mistakes and apologize.
  4. I chose bitterness over reconciliation.
  5. I allowed my life to be consumed by work.
  6. I was too hesitant to take risks, try new things, and believe in myself.
  7. I wasted too much time.
  8. I didn’t appreciate the little things in life.
  9. I valued things over relationships.
  10. I worried too much.

Do any of these apply to you? Be honest! Although regrets run the gamut, did you notice that most involve relationships and priorities? This is why it’s so important that our life be balanced and our priorities right. When we see something is out of order, let’s resolve to make a mid-course correction.

After some time for reflection, ask yourself what resolutions you’d like to make for the upcoming year, especially those that might minimize regrets next New Year’s Eve. The Oxford English Dictionary describes resolutions as “(decisions) to do or to refrain from doing a specified thing from that time onwards, or to attempt to achieve a particular goal, usually during the coming year.” What have you been doing that you’d like to stop doing? What have you not been doing that you want to begin? Are there new growth opportunities or experiences on your bucket list? Then don’t stop there. Turn your resolutions into goals and your goals into executable actions. That’s living with intentionality!

This discipline of regrets, reflection, and resolution is a good one for all ages. Consider sharing it with the young people in your life. It will help you—and them—make needed changes and “relationship repairs” along the way. Wouldn’t it be great, though, to reach the end of 2016—and even to the end of life—and be able to say, “NO (or few) REGRETS?”

Image credit: Brianna Showalter
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6 Tips for Maximizing Family Togetherness (and Avoiding Conflict)

One of the greatest things about the holiday season can also be the most challenging:

“Hooray! The whole family will be together!”
“Oh nooooo! The whole family will be together!”
Even the happiest of families has conflict, especially when large numbers of people are indoors for extended periods. Add to the mixture the complexity of holiday activities and expectations, kids coming home from college, relatives travelling from afar, and other friends and family popping in and out. It’s not hard to see why the holidays can be stressful on our relationships!

It helps to have a good strategy for dealing with the (inevitable) conflicts that will surface when extended family and friends gather. When tension or arguments arise, you’ll be able to keep your cool, extend grace, and navigate the holidays with a “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” mentality!

Here are six tips to help you manage (and preferably avoid!) conflict this holiday season:

Be sensitive to the need for private space. Having a full house during the holiday season means that people who typically do not live together are now under one roof. This can be particularly stressful for teens in the family, and for “introverts” who tend to feel drained rather than energized by crowds of people. Sometimes this is hard for the “extroverts” to relate to! Respecting these differing needs for personal space can help avoid resentment and conflict.
Ask yourself, “Does this issue need to be addressed now?” Keep your emotions in check; pause before you respond to a snide comment, an inconvenient request, an entitled attitude, a grievance, or even a simple difference of opinion. The less we react emotionally in the moment, the more we’re able to respond gracefully and tactfully at the right time with the right attitude. Circle back to discuss the problem when you are feeling less heated about it. You may find it doesn’t need to be discussed at all.
If it does need to be addressed now, respect yourself and your right to be heard. Sometimes we allow others to intimidate or dominate us out of fear or embarrassment. Although conflict is uncomfortable, sometimes we do need to speak up about an obvious problem that is causing distress for us or another person. In the process, we want to respect ourselves by speaking up about it, while being respectful to the other party.
Strive to be an agreeable disagreer. So often, conflict arises from misunderstandings that could have been prevented or at least controlled. Sometimes they’re based on different philosophical views or perspectives where there isn’t a right or wrong answer (Hello politics!). Always strive for mutual understanding, but agree to disagree if that’s the case. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. If needed, have a heartfelt conversation about it once things have calmed.
Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. We’ve all been victims of a wrong, and injustice, or a mistake. It causes anger, shame, resentment, depression, and worse. When we harbor grudges or struggle to forgive, it can be like an all-consuming cancer, and generally the person who suffers for it is you. Strive for forgiveness, and reconciliation whenever possible—and don’t hesitate to seek support.
Remember “FLPP.” In our book Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, we offer a strategy for dealing with conflict, restoring strained relationships, and rebuilding trust. It involves keeping your communication with that person FREQUENT, LOW-RISK, POSITIVE, and PERSONAL. What can you talk about that doesn’t provoke irritation or conflict, is encouraging and positive, and shows you care? Focus on these kinds of interactions to build a platform for deeper conversations at a later date.

May your holidays be peaceful and merry!

We’d love to hear your stories about how you avoid or negotiate conflict in your family over the holidays. Please share your thoughts and suggestions. We can all learn from one another!

4 Tips to Help Teens Listen to Their Conscience and Stick to Their Values

Parents and teachers, your teens and students are facing tough decisions every single day, and their choices are only going to get more difficult. Where should they go to college? What should they major in? Should they really go to that party? Should they take things to the next level with their boyfriend or girlfriend? This week’s post focuses on choices, and how to ensure your teen is equipped to stick to his or her values and make the right call. We encourage you to share it with the young people in your life or use it as a tool in your classroom or household.

Life is a series of choices, some planned and some not. Some involve fun, while others involve pain and heartache. Some are made from the mind after lots of thought and reasoning, while others are made impulsively from the heart or what “feels right.” Some turn out well and impact our lives for better, and some we regret.

Are your kids ready to make the right choices, both now and in the future?

I had the privilege of working for an inspiring leader, George Russell, who could distill the complex down to profound, but simple truisms. One of them was, “If you’re not sure whether to do something, imagine it as the headline in tomorrow’s newspaper.” Wow! How’s that for clarity and common sense? This works like a charm in our professional and academic lives, but also our personal lives, too—heeding that “inner voice” that has our best interests at heart. I know every time I ignored what my conscience was telling me, I lived to regret it. And, I know I’m not alone!

In a cultural climate where “values” are often measured on a slippery scale of personal taste, convenience, self-gratification, and “tolerance,” kids can get into real trouble when they dismiss the caution signals. That’s why helping young people identify their values and strengthen their conscience is so important. It’s more than important…it’s crucial!

Yes, this is what some refer to as “conscience training.” In times of growing independence, freedom, and opportunities, young people are increasingly faced with risky situations that require quick decisions. In some cases (many that involve alcohol, drugs, sex, social media, and cheating), one bad decision in the heat of the moment may do irrevocable harm to their reputation, college career, personal health and safety, or relationships, and derail their future plans and dreams.

That’s why having—and always listening to—that inner voice is so important in high-risk situations. Here are some ways to help set your teen up for success when it’s their turn:

  • Have them talk about their non-negotiable values. Moreover, encourage them to write them down and stick them in a school binder or on their desk. Make sure they don’t forget the principles that are important to them. These values are a big part of their brand.
  • Realizing that most unhealthy choices involve succumbing to peer pressure, be sure they understand their value and surround themselves with positive people and influences who have their best interests at heart.
  • Discuss potential situations that may put their reputation and integrity at risk. Remind them their best bet is to avoid high-risk situations altogether. And, if they can’t avoid them, they should at least decide in advance how they will react if their values are tested.I’ve heard far too many stories of people who didn’t heed this advice and whose futures were severely impacted because of it. They often lose years of momentum and wander confused and broken in the aftermath. Many times this could have been avoided had they asked themselves these simple questions:

“How will my conscience feel in the morning? What is it telling me to do right now?”

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to make a choice that challenged your value system? Did you have the courage to go with your values over the pressure you received from others? Share your experiences with your teen. Remember that life is about learning and recovering from our mistakes, and that stories are often the best teachers.

Note: We encourage you to visit our Resources page and download your FREE copy of our Personal Balance Sheet Assignment to share with the young adults in your life. Making sure they understand their own value is a crucial part of making good choices!