Helping teens make right decisions

Greg Oliver - Contributing columnist

The headlines in our local paper are not much different than other Ohio towns, or nationwide, for that matter.

Robbery, drug trafficking, violence, trespassing, and opioid drug use dominate the front page headlines many days. Disrespect for other people and property seem to be on the increase. Community leadership organizations will hopefully be promoting a synergistic spirit of communications which might produce solutions to community problems with youth and young adults.

As a former school administrator, I feel we need to take a more proactive stance in helping teens make right decisions in their lives. You might call this, developing an internal moral compass.

Schools, however, are sometimes reluctant to include too much “character education” in their curriculum. Thus, we must deal with behavior problems which are manifest in violence, rowdiness, and disobedience.

It is very clear to me that only a program which embraces the concepts of a Principle Centered Learning Environment will be able to assist the stakeholders in preventing or reducing negative behaviors.

Character formation is only a part of the total relationship. It is not a relationship all its own. Character formation begins in the cradle and is primarily influenced by principles and values experienced rather than lectures delivered.

It is truly beginning with the end in mind.

Adolescence is not the time to present a whole new value system to the young person, it is time to explain more clearly and make more explicit the principles upon which the family has been living for years.

It is now that the family should develop a common mission statement, waiting until the time that the child is an adolescent prevents discussions about conflict, and soon parents take on the characteristic of a law enforcement officer.

Perhaps we should all make a point of teaching young people that is far more important to do “right things”, rather than just doing things right. The internal moral compass points the person to true north (the correctness and the why-ness)

The habit of putting first things first requires the ability to change and shift our paradigms; and assists us in how we view morality.

Morality is, after all, a total vision of life, a capacity to see the “rightness” of things, and the ability to discover what is worth doing and what is worth surrounding one’s life for. It is not a system of regulations narrowly concerned with sex, disrespect of others, theft, cheating, drinking, and drugs.

As parents, teachers, and other leaders, we need to present the ideas of private victories before expecting public victories of the inter-personal nature. Young people need to be their own master before they can serve as a servant in school, with peer groups, or in the community.

“The hardest victory, Is the Victory over self.” — Aristotle

I suggest that parents and educators should be more interested in helping children develop character than in finding immediate solutions to today’s problems.

A few of the character-building skills are:

1. The ability to read one’s own motives correctly.

2. The ability to rank conflicting values in an ethical manner.

3. The ability to postpone gratification for a greater good.

4. The ability to foresee the consequences of a possible course of action.

5. The ability and the willingness to make a choice and to act on it.

6. The ability to withstand pressure from others.

7. The ability to yield one’s rights for the sake of others.

8. The ability to assess one’s own dignity and competency, and the willingness to admit error and begin anew.

This sort of thing does not happen overnight — it begins in the cradle. Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire recipe for raising ethically upright children; no guarantee against heartache, disappointment, or disaster.

The hardest part of being a parent is learning that one is dealing with a person who is ultimately free. One of the keys in working with teenagers is to seek first to understand and then to be understood. The ability to listen empathically to our children is a gift given to truly effective role models. The feeling of validation is one of the feelings that our youth are craving the most.

As we adults sharpen our saw with activities for youth that foster nurturing of the body, mind and spirit, we will quickly see the law of harvest — we reap what we sow.

And maybe, if we, as role models, parents, coaches, counselors, business leaders, and government officials embrace the same character traits that we talk about, young people will see that we don’t just ‘talk the talk” but we “walk the walk”.

Wouldn’t that be the ultimate win-win?

Greg Oliver served as teacher and administrator on the Laurel Oaks campus from 1973-1985, principal at East Clinton High School 1985-1989, and still works in education as Specialist of Alliances and Partnerships with Pearson Education, with a remote office in Wilmington.

Greg Oliver

Contributing columnist