“You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything
You’ve got to be your own man, not a puppet on a string
Never compromise what’s right and uphold your family name
You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything” – Aaron Tippin
I look back on my childhood with the perfect vision of hindsight and realize that my parents successfully instilled strong values and a moral compass during my early, formative years, and those values carried me through the turmoil and temptations of high school and college. There were few face-to-face lessons or stern corrections. Rather, Mom and Dad modeled wholesome values and morals, and directed our activities toward associations that supported positive behavior. My sister and I were both active in our church youth group and the Scouting programs, where we were “equally yoked” with kids and families that shared our values. More importantly, our parents were involved. They were at every Scout event, every cross country and track meet, and supervised every youth group outing. I never felt smothered, nor were they “in my business”. They were just…there, quietly directing traffic.
Serious discussion on values falls to philosophers and theologians, but can be summarized in short as your fundamental beliefs about right and wrong, good and evil, that you reference when making decisions. Core values about morality, goodness, faithfulness, honesty, and responsibility may evolve somewhat over time as we interact with others, but it all starts with the foundation provided by family upbringing and cultural norms. Act within the bounds of your values and what you believe to be right and the response is usually positive. Acting outside the limits of your values is always uncomfortable with a conscience feeling of guilt. Moving far beyond what your family, peers, or society agree are acceptable limits can result in your being excluded from the group or even detained (murderers go to jail).
Not everyone grows up with the same home life, parenting, experiences, culture, belief system, or education. The result is a varied mix of value systems in peers that can be particularly challenging during teenage years when testing the limits of freedom really kicks in. How is a teen supposed to know what is true; the values taught and modeled by her parents, or those encouraged by an exciting new friend? Here are my suggestions:
- Look to your parents and extended family. Would they approve and have you seen them model that behavior or belief? They’re your foundational reference and sounding board. Talk to them.
- What are the truths of your faith tradition? Why not ask “WWJD – What would Jesus do?” When in doubt, break open a Bible and see what it says about your conflict. Big problem? Talk to your pastor or youth minister. They’re there for you. The internet is NOT a great place for sound advice, but here’s a good site that’s “dad approved”!
- Has what you’re considering stood the test of time? Solid core values were developed centuries ago, and regardless if you believe God gave them to man on stone tablets or not, positive values retained over centuries are proven to win over evils around just as long.
- What are the ramifications and consequences of changing or acting outside your core values? What physical, mental, economic, or societal impacts do you observe where others have done the same thing, or expressed similar beliefs? Negative outcomes or societal pressure on a small percentage of people is usually an indicator that their values are not productive.
- Sleep on it. Peer pressure is a strong motivator to act immediately without giving sufficient consideration to the impact of your actions. When your conscience rings an alarm bell of warning, put off the action or thought for a day or two when the pressure’s off and you’ve had a chance to take one or two of the suggestions above.
- Place below all else the opinions of your peers. The cool chick and smart guy are probably hiding confusion about their own developing value system behind the “cool” and “smart” outward appearance. No teen is magically endowed with worldly wisdom and following along blindly can get you both hurt.
- When it comes to media and Hollywood, remember that their job is to sell glamour and promote progressive ideas. In marketing terms it’s called product extension and differentiation, where changing and elevating what’s being sold is the only way to retain an audience and grow revenues. There’s a reason “Little House on the Prairie” and “Happy Days” are gone, and reality TV is sadly the norm.
Lastly, keep in mind that our family’s values require the love, respect, and dignity of every human life. People may not believe in the same things you do, and may act in ways you never will, but you need to respect their freedom to do so nonetheless. Be responsible for yourself and your actions, rely on your core values to stay happy, and talk to your Mom and Dad every now and then. We don’t bite…much!