Cultivating Values in Middle Schools Kids by Gene Bedley, CEO Character Education Center www.ethicsusa.com Early adolescent children, while adamant about their ability to make their own decisions, often lack the wisdom and experience to make the right choices. Perhaps one of the most critical concepts middle school kids need to learn is “choices are ours to make and with with!” While preteens often reject adult guidance, there is ample evidence to suggest that they need frequent small dosages of truth to assist them in decision making. As adults, we realize that while truth seems scarce, it is necessary for living healthy lives, and that values and truth are transmitted through relationships.
While some may think that adolescents are against truth or authority, the problem often lies in how these concepts are presented. Mos t adolescents see themselves as inadequate. Adults have to break through this sensitive, often negative wall to lay a positive foundation of values. Young people need to know the values which will serve them all of their lives, and understand that adolescence is a brief stage compared to the span of their entire adult lives. Adolescents can be open to and lean from adults if parents, teachers, and other concerned adults follow the following principles.
Eight Principles for Transmitting Values to Adolescents
Principle 1: Describe what you need from kids rather than what they don’t do! Set high expectations for adolescents even though they may fall short on occasion. Showing empathy for kids’ struggles and successes will motivate them to reach even higher. When kids do break agreements, it is important to remake them; reframe your expectations and build in smaller steps to meet the desired goals. Middle school kids are often known for breaking agreements, yet by projecting a fairer-than-the-world attitude, you’ll get better-than-the-world behavior.
If you are a parent of a middle school kid … As a parent, describing your needs to your child works in the same way. Kids usually have less fears than we do and will want to go father away from home and stay out later then parents are conformable with. Simple messages like “I need you home by 8 pm; call me if you are going to be late” limit potential misunderstandings and legitimate fears. Certainly knowing who your child is with and where he or she is will help alleviate your parental fears.
Principle 2: Cultivate respect in your class or home by demonstrating high regard and consideration for others. By following this principle, everything else will seem to take care of itself. Respect is one of the most import values in building relationships with teens. The problem lies in the fact that many middle school kids lack respect and regard for themselves. let along for others. Middle school students need daily reassurances that they are worthwhile, valuable people.
In the respect seminars we offer for teens, middle school kids construct personal definitions of respect. We have experienced dramatic results. For example, the students of eighth grade teacher Maria Kipikni researched and constructed a sexual harassment policy. An example of what Maria’s students created can be seen online at
If you are a parent of a middle school kid … It is vital to continue demonstrating respect for your child. In order to receive respect, you have to give respect. Seldom if ever do adolescents improve without a model. The way each of us talks and listens to others illustrates the level of respect we have for ourselves, and by extension, others.
Principle 3: Involve fathers in more decision-making opportunities. Mounting research illustrates that if Dad is not involves during the teen years, problems can be anticipated. Our organization has established Dads in Action groups in schools. Dads who attend lean what to expect from the “new kids” in their house and tend to stay involved with their teens. Include Dads and Friends Days as part of your visitation program.
If you are a parent of a middle school kid … Put your child at the top of your priority list so they will have their priorities in order for a lifetime! Dads need to take a more proactive role during the adolescent years and allow moms to develop new roles with their children. Middle school boys resist being mothered. The key here is to prevent the adversarial relationships that often occur when parents don’t make the necessary changes adolescents require. Adolescents can handle “no’s” if the refusals are based on adults” realistic fears and parental love — mostly love!>p> Principle 4: Promote responsibility management. Adolescents often don’t see the advantage of have a positive relationship with teachers or parents, especially since adolescence tends to be a self-focused stage. Help kids understand that when they demonstrate personal responsibility, you will reciprocate by allocating more freedoms. They’ll then see the important connection between responsibility and freedom. Our kids need the skills of responsibility management to face their daily challenges. Here re some rules to promote responsible behavior.
Rules for Responsible Students>p> Rule 1: Making responsible choices means that I will live with the consequences of my choices and I will relinquish the alternatives. Rule 2: If I make the wrong choice and find myself in a hole, I’ll stop digging! Rule 3: I will do better today than I did yesterday. Rule 4: I will recognize that my feelings can lie to me and cause severe damage to me and to my family. Rule 5: I will reject rejection! Rule 6: I’ll be happy whenever I can manage it! Rule 7: By assisting others, I will discover my own self worth. Rule 8: I will evaluate respect by considering how I would want my best friend to be treated. Rule 9: I will be self-disciplined. Rule 10: I will view setbacks and mistakes as temporary, recognizing that they can teach me what to do better and different in the future.
If you are a parent of a middle school kid … Build your entire discipline plan around personal responsibility; help your kids by demonstrating responsibility. When they see and experience responsibility as the foundational value of all values, then they will be more accountable, especially when they recognize the benefits.
Principle 5: Recognize that adolescents need independence, yet they also need realistic, necessary moral and physical boundaries. Adolescents need limit-setting and problem solving strategies that include feelings. they desperately need teachers and parents who listen to what they are expressing and who notice what their body language is projecting.
While it is paramount for kids to be able to express their feelings, we need to help them see that no one should express feelings whenever and to whomever they want to. One of the great discoveries for teens is recognizing that feelings can lie and that we need to mast our moods. Teach your middle school student that “it’s easier to act your way into a feeling that feel your way into an action!”
If you are a parent of a middle school kid … Use inviting words with your teen like “Help me understand.” or “What do you think would work?” Validate their feeling by inviting their input during discussions.
Principle 6: Adolescents are going through one of the biggest physical changes in the human life cycle. Not since they were two years old has there been such a dramatic change. Through all the changes, adolescents need assurance and affirmations that they are a unique, unrepeatable miracle, and that they have a special place in school, in class, and in their home.
If you are a parent of a middle school kid … If you have enjoyed a great relationship in the years prior to adolescence, then you can be assured it can last through out a large portion of adolescence. (I’m not optimistic enough to state the entire adolescence period!) Be patient with your early adolescent. We can profit from the advice posted on school crossing signs which read: “Slow down, kids are learning how to live!” In fact, your teen learns restraint best when he or she has a parent who shows restraint. Rushing to judgment by punishing or rewarding often distracts from the learning process.
In a world that acts on impulse, we need to talk and share about the importance of restraint and patience. It is essential to be a patient listeners and observers. An affirming note left for your child, or a loving smile is really important during these years.
Principle 7: Self disclosure can be your most powerful tool in building healthy relationshipswith adolescents. There are many areas in which all of us can improve. If in retrospect you realize your expectations for a certain class activity were unrealistic, tell your students so. Let your kids know that you can’t meet all their needs. Inform them if you are working to become a more skillful listener; let your students know if you made a mistake. share some of your own struggles through adolescence. Self disclosure enhances emotional bonding. Consider adding a rule to your class: “It’s O.K. to make mistakes, that’s the way we learn!”
If you are a parent of a middle school kid … Consider adding this same rule to your home: “It’s O.K. to make mistakes, that’s the way we learn!” Whenever you can disclose a flaw or two of your own, it makes you more human and believable. your kids know your flaws anyway! It’s best to avoid the “Do your best” messages in favor of “Do a little bit better today than you did yesterday.” By doing a little bit better each day, you and your child will get to the “best” together.
Principle 8: The most dynamic force available to teens is adults who can express genuine love and appreciation for their existence. Express genuine compassion to teens by valuing their ides, looking in their eyes (to show genuine regard), and letting them know that they belong. I believe that almost all behavior is either an expression of love, or a call for love. Adolescents need a strength coach now more than at any other time in their lives. they need to know you accept them unconditionally. Genuine compassion will take care of most feelings of inadequacy they experience.
If you are a parent of a middle school kid … Your children need three messages every day of their lives: “I believe in you!” “I accept you!” and “I love you.” Love is the most dynamic principle parents can ever use and perhaps the super value of all values to express to children! Occasionally, adolescents will resist even praise. Yet, even when they seem to refuse your love, keep finding new ways to express it to them. All the flowers of all the tomorrows are found in the seeds of today.
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