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How to teach old-fashioned values to the modern day teen

Elisheba Haqq-Stevens, RN, has an MFA in creative writing and just finished her first novel. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons.

Teaching teens responsibility

Our world today is vastly different from the one we knew as children. Modern day teens are surrounded by an electronic world. They would be hard pressed to describe a turntable, a typewriter, cassette tape or even a video machine. An ever changing world can be demanding, but if parents adopt a few old fashioned, common sense values when raising teenagers, the challenges can be manageable.

Modern Teen Boy

Household Responsibilities

All children, including teenagers should participate in household responsibilities.  Everyday jobs that require simple skills, like loading a dishwasher or dusting, are routine and do not need to be paid. Bigger projects that require more work, such as cleaning the garage or organizing a closet, can be set aside for a weekend, or as an opportunity to earn some extra cash. 

Besides learning important life skills, teenagers will learn discipline regarding their free time.  Even teenagers who are busy with sports, or school activities should understand that household responsibilities are as important as other pursuits.

Set limits on time spent with friends

By the age of thirteen or fourteen,  a teenager's need to spend time with friends intensifies.  While it is good to encourage healthy friendships, they also need to nurture relationships within the family unit.  Family members offer alternate perspectives and grounding that is not available in their peer group.  A wealth of information is gained from outside their own generational borders.  They also learn conversational and communication skills apart from text messages or email.  Teens should understand that socializing with friends is a privilege, not a right.

Limit Screen Time

Screen Time includes anything that requires power and a screen, including internet, TV, MP3 or IPods, hand held games, electronic game systems, DVD's and text messages. Ideally, this concept should be implemented when the child is very young.  During the school year, Screen Time should be excluded (or at least limited) from Monday until Friday afternoon .  In addition, all computers should be located in a central location. 

While limiting screen time may be the biggest hurdle of all, it is well worth the effort.  It may seem harsh, but it encourages participation in other activities—sports, reading, creative hobbies, face to face conversations and most importantly homework.   

Teach Teens to be Grateful

So often a phrase such as "I need a new pair of jeans" is confused with "I want a new pair of jeans." Most Americans do not really have a great need for too much.  Teens learn from observation and if parents are often dissatisfied, they adopt the same attitude.  Teach the value of saving and anticipating a purchase instead of having every want fulfilled immediately. 

A good rule of thumb is to save 50% of what is earned, give 10% to charity and reserve 40% for spending.  Encourage teens to use their own money to purchase gifts for friends and family members.  Families can volunteer their time for charities on a regular basis, not just once a year.  All children should write thank you notes for gifts received.  Sending emails is nice, but should always be followed by a handwritten card. 

Stress free Summers

Summers are difficult as the normal routine is greatly altered.  Teenagers should be allowed to relax and sleep in occasionally.  While camps and jobs are a great way to spend extra summer time, they should not be over scheduled in the summer.  Family vacations, or weekend trips are times to relax, rejuvenate and reconnect.  Teens should be encouraged to accomplish something during the long summer days—exploring a new hobby, reading, or even learning a new skill.

Share your own thoughts and feelings

Teenagers need to be reminded that parents are people.  They forget that we can be hurt or encouraged.  Share your own ups and downs.  Be open and help them to see you as someone who struggles and succeeds in life.  Tell a personal story or ask your sibling or grandparent to relay a memory.  Read aloud helpful journal entries you made while you were young.  Hearing about your own journey, will make a teenager's own struggles seem less intimidating and even similar. Most teenagers really want to understand the "why" of a decision or action and are receptive to open and honest communication.

Most of these concepts are just common sense, but teens respond to clear direction and discipline.  Parenting a teen would be better accomplished by returning to some of the old-fashioned basics our parents and grandparents used.

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