4 Tips for Talking With Your Child about Values

By: Gene Roehlkepartain, Guest Blogger

How do you raise a child with character? By teaching positive values. Values are like an integrated compass—they help point the way to thinking and acting appropriately. Use these tips to start discussions with your child about his or her values:

  • Take advantage of teachable moments. Issues of values and priorities come up every day, at school, with friends, in the media, in the news, and many other places. Whether or not you agree with the values being discussed or promoted in a particular case, use the moment to ask and talk about the values that are at stake and how those values do or don’t reflect your values and your child’s values.
  • Use “what if” triggers to stimulate values conversations. Values can be hard to talk about in the abstract. So think of provocative questions and examples that stimulate conversations about what’s important. For example: Imagine that you won $1 million. What would you do with it? Or: Suppose one of your friends asked you to shoplift a loaf of bread to give to a homeless person. What would you do?
  • Dig deeper into how values work. As your teen matures and thinks more critically, explore how your teen sees different values operating in her or his life. Researchers have identified four different patterns. As you talk about a particular value with your teen, explore which of these processes is at work. The process of reflecting on these issues will help her or him become more articulate about her or his own values:
    • External motivation—Youth are motivated to follow certain values by either external pressure (threats or punishment) or by the promise of external rewards.
    • Unconscious motivation—Teens assume certain values, but they haven’t fully accepted them. They are still motivated by external forces, such as seeking approval or avoiding disapproval.
    • Accepted values—Individuals accept the values as their own, seeing their importance and how they should affect behaviors. However, there is sometimes a gap between values and behaviors.
    • Integrated values—Values become part of how a person sees herself or himself, making them part of a person’s core values, goals, motives, and identity. At this level values truly shape behavior.
    When the first two dynamics are at work, young people feel more like they are being controlled. When the second two dynamics are at work, young people feel more independent and exercise self-control.

  • Ask about pressure points. Find out if there are areas where your child feels pressure to shift or ignore values that are important to her or him. Talk about ways to resist those pressures, including finding ways to be clear about stating your values in ways that are respectful but firm.

Tell Us: How do you start conversations about values with your child?

Dr. Eugene C. Roehlkepartain is Vice President of Research and Development at Search Institute. Roehlkepartain is widely recognized as an expert in child, youth, and family development in community contexts. Particular areas of interest include family strengths, community supports for families and youth, spiritual development, service-learning, youth philanthropy, and linking youth development with financial literacy.

Image via GoodNCrazy on Flick'r


Gene, have have offered insightful advice. All of your points are clearly stated and meaningful!

Parents of young children may be interested in “Twenty Ways to Foster Values in Children,” at: http://www.kellybear.com/ParentTips/ParentTip4.html

For a related list, “52 Character Building Thoughts for Children,” see:

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