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Will Your Kid Have the Right Priorities?

It’s tempting to ask your kids obvious questions about their future, like “What are your career plans?” and “What do you want to major in?” But how often do those conversations produce clarity?

Instead, it’s infinitely more productive to help them prioritize what’s most important to them. But how do you help them prioritize the right things so they don’t end up pursuing endeavors or values that take them down an unhealthy path? 

In the 5th century, St. Augustine wrote about the concept of Ordo Armoris (literally: the order of love) in The City of God and pointed out how vital it is to love the right things and in the right order. His basic premise was that not all values are inherently equal; some are better than others. Embedded in his concepts is the implication that we humans have the capacity to choose pursuits—but some are better than others. 

For instance, as I’ve worked with young adults for over two decades, it’s not uncommon to hear kids express their desire for a lot of money when they get older. This seems to be the lowest common denominator when they lack clarity or confidence about a particular direction. Having money is important; I like it when kids recognize how important it is to aim for self-sufficiency (read more about that idea here). But prioritizing money over everything else is a cringe-worthy pursuit—a tale as old as time. Someone who pursues money over everything else is guaranteed a host of problems.

Every kid must be guided to reflect on and define their life values. 

Expecting kids to define their values, select ones that are congruent with their unique wiring and core beliefs, and organize their lives around them is…a long shot. As a parent, I know one thing for certain: I want to help my kids thrive, and leaving them to figure everything out on their own over time is a recipe for unfulfilled potential. 

So what does that look like?

Guide your kids first to choose their values and then prioritize them. Let them know you understand their stress and pressure to make concrete choices about their future. Reassure them that there is a process to go through that will help them make more conscious, confident decisions. 

Start by sharing your values and priorities, with specific examples of how they have shaped your choices throughout your life. 

Warning: kids crave autonomy, and it turns out that it’s developmentally healthy, too. So it’s best if you are in a good head space to let them select values that don’t align perfectly with yours without you overreacting. But if you’ve been leading a good, congruent life, then you are their best role model. 

Further Note: there are specific values that we don’t want to offer as options to build your life on.

- Getting approval from others

- Making a lot of money

- Protecting myself

- Accomplishing things that make me look important

- Gaining a lot of popularity

- Avoiding missing out

That’s because research has proven (and ancient wisdom prevails) that adopting values with pro-social outcomes is more likely to lead someone to a flourishing life. In other words, the contents of your values matter—so pick ones that are both good for you AND good for others. Life will go better that way. 

All for the sake of kids,

Scott Schimmel
President & Chief Guide | The YouSchool
949.291.9061 | theyouschool.com

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For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.  

They're uncommon sense ideas, really.

Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).

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