Q: What can I do to help my teenager succeed? Is there something I can teach her or something that she can read? I just feel like we teach so many things in school, but life skills isn’t one of them.
A: Sean Covey, the son of Stephen Covey who wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, followed up his father’s book with one specifically targeted at teenagers. The book is a great resource for teenagers – and for parents of teenagers who want to help their teenagers develop and grow into healthy, happy adults.
What are those seven habits that Covey recommends for teens? I’ve outlined the first five below:
#1: Be Proactive. It’s easy to blame others and to react to negative situations. Someone gets angry at you, you yell at them. You are hungry, you quickly shovel food into your mouth. You get a bad grade on a test, you say that it’s all the teacher’s fault. Instead of reacting to what life throws your way, the idea is to be proactive and take responsibility for your life.
How do you make this a habit? This is the part that takes work. You need to think about what your values are and then systematically make decisions based on them. For every issue that arises, you come up with multiple solutions instead of concluding, “There’s nothing I can do.” And, with each choice to be proactive, instead of reactive, you are ingraining the habit so that it will be easier the next time.
#2: Begin with the End in Mind. What if you never think about tomorrow? What if you start things with no plans to finish them? What if you live in the moment and never think about the consequences of your actions on your future? Life might be great today, but tomorrow will likely be much more difficult. Instead, start with a goal in mind, and work toward that goal.
How do you make this a habit? The first step is to write down your goals, both short-term and long-term. Then, you can make a plan to get to those goals. In addition, it helps to constantly think about times when your actions and values clashed. If you really value a certain goal, but don’t act in a way that is consistent with gaining that goal, what made you act that way? Figuring out those gaps will help you act with your goals in mind in the future.
#3: Put First Things First. Who doesn’t love to procrastinate? It’s much easier to do something fun than to sit down and do what you’ve got to do. But establishing what our priorities are can then help us fight that procrastination and accomplish our goals.
How do you make this a habit? Mark Twain famously said that you should “Eat your frogs first.” In other words, if you have to eat a frog at some point over the course of the day, you should just get it over with in the morning so that you don’t have to stare at it all day. The same goes with your priorities. Take care of the first ones first – and understanding what they are is the first step towards this habit.
#4: Think Win-Win. Is everything a competition? Is it always you vs. them? Or me vs. him? If it looks like you are going to lose, do you intentionally make others lose as well? A highly effective person needs to readjust his focus to see the world as a me and him and not a me vs. him situation. In other words, you can both win.
How do you make this a habit? When you catch yourself comparing or competing, take a step back. Don’t tie your self worth to winning or being above somebody else. Rather, celebrate the successes of others. Place yourself in their shoes and revel in their achievements.
#5: Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood. It’s easy to talk and talk and never listen. It makes sense to always want to tell your side of the story first. Why listen to other people’s opinions if you already know so clearly what yours are? The truth is that if you learn how to genuinely listen, people will learn how to talk to you. When you have honest and real conversations with other people, you can develop strong friendships and connections – and ultimately be very effective.