Sunday, March 2, 2008

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

The 7 Habits of Highly Effect Teens by Sean Covey was all the rage at the activities directors conference I just attended. At least four workshops I went to mentioned it in some context. Since I'm looking to improve my program for next year and have been thinking about adding a book to it, I bought a copy.

In case you're wondering or are not one of the two million plus people who have already bought a copy, the seven habits are:

Be Proactive: Take responsibility for your life.
Begin with the End in Mind: Define your mission and goals in life.
Put First Things First: Prioritize, and do the most important things first.
Think Win-Win: Have an everyone-can-win attitude.
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood: Listen to people sincerely.
Synergize: Work together to achieve more.
Sharpen the Saw: Renew yourself regularly.

You may recognize these ideas from Mr. Covey's father's book which shares almost the same title. It's all good advice, though I'm a little nervous about 13 and 14 year-olds with their own mission statements. Mr. Covey keeps things brief, informative and entertaining. There are many cartoons, interesting lists and lots of bullet points. He quotes from many student interviews as well as from assorted celebrities. Each chapter ends with suggested activities to help the reader become an effective teen. (These are also great lesson plan shortcuts for teachers. That's probably one reason why they were included. Teachers are a really big market, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.)

What I found missing was a solid foundation of research. Mr. Covey brings lots of anecdotes to the table to prove his points, but not a single hard and fast statistic or study to back up what he's saying. His father's ideas have been around for a while, surely there must be some data about their actual effectiveness. How did he find out what effective teens do? What is his definition of an effective teen? Just where did this information come from? It appears to be the typical stuff motivational speakers always tell us at assemblies and conferences like the one I just went to, but they'll usually throw a number or two at us. That's my major issue with the book.

See if you can guess my other issue with it. He has a section on diversity, of course, and does push beyond the tolerance idea to promote the celebration of diversity. At the end of that particular chapter there is an activity for students to rate themselves as either shunners, tolerators, or celebrators of diversity when it comes to the following list of categories: Race, Gender, Religion, Age, Dress. Have you guessed what my issue is? Look at the list, it's a good list--all of these issues are real on my campus. Kids do pick on other kids for all of those reasons. But who's been left off? Which category is missing? I'll give you a hint--it's the one that is still most often referred to in derogatory terms on probably every campus in America. I'd bet you dollars to donuts that it's mentioned in a derogatory fashion on every campus in America at a rate five times greater than any other term in any other category listed. Have you guess it yet?

Mr. Covey makes the same omission in his list of help lines at the back of his book. There's a number to call for just about every issue teens face that you can name but one. Mr. Covey does not disclose his religion, but he is from Utah and his book is endorsed by Laura Schlessinger and Robert Schuller. It's true that a book promoting tolerance of everyone would probably not sell two million copies; not to people who read books endorsed by Laura Schlessinger and Robert Schuller anyway. But I think kids are clever enough to figure it all out. The message here is that you should be nice to everybody listed because they are all good people and are basically just like us. However, there are some people that are still beyond the pale, and you can be mean to them.

The odd thing is, I find that most of my life, I've followed the habits Mr. Covey describes. I've never read this book before today, but if you looked back at my life, you might conclude that I read it in high school and decided to follow its advice. So, will I use it in my class next year? I'm not sure. I'll have to add a few things to the worksheets. I'm going to ask my students to read it and tell me what they think. I'll let you know when I hear from them.

Until then, I'm giving The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey four out of five stars. He's sure to have another edition; maybe that one will get five.

Update: 4/20/08

I've loaned the book to three student reviewers so far. All three were girls in my leadership class. (The leadership class runs all of the student activities programs at the middle school where I work.) Two were eigth graders and one was a seventh grader.

Their reviews were mixed. The seventh grader loved the book. She was the only one to read it cover to cover and come away 100% enthused. She agreed that it would make an excellent addition to our class, that it has lots of useful information, that it is an enjoyable read. The first 8th grader is probably 90% enthused about it. She felt it has lots of good things to say, that it could really help people, but she did not get all the way to the end. The 2nd 8th grader gave up after about 40 pages. She found the book dull and hard to follow. She said that reading an entire book written like this is very difficult, but that we might be able to use it next year if we do only one or two chapters a month. She was not interested in doing the activities that are in the book.

So there you are. I'm still not sure about using the book; I'm actually leaning a little more into the "not use it" column. If anyone out there has any experience with using the book in a middle school class, I'd appreciate hearing from you.


Susan said...

I have used this book for a number of years at the end of the year for my 8th grade class. Last year my students expressed that they wish we had read the book at the beginning of the year instead, as it would have helped them get through their 8th grade year. I took their suggestion and we start it next week. We'll see what happens!!!

Araya said...

I am reading the book right now in my leadership class. Almost all of us hate the book. We disagree with what it is saying. I agree with the religion thing. We found that as well. Sean Covey is following his dad's footsteps. The first book was understandable but to wright a book like this and target teens is despicable. Most teens have a extremely weak character and no direction. We do not know what we want nor do we want to find out this soon. As my friend said: "If God wanted us to grow up faster than we are supposed to we would be born in a suit and tie." The first habit is not realistic at all, it is about sucking up to people and doing what they want. It is about stepping down and letting people push you around. This was written assuming everyone wants and acts the same way. This would be a perfect utopia, fortunately our world has diversity and people with opinions so this is utterly impossible. Everyone you will be around is reactive. To not react to a situation is impossible. If I could be proactive then I would have no problems in life and I would be extremely bored. I wouldn't be able to find out who I am. I would have NO character at all. The second habit is to determine what is going to happen in your life before you even know what you want and know who you are. These times are crucial. We don't need a book bossing us around telling us exactly what we should do before we can. We have to be able to do something in our lives and make mistakes to find out who we are before we decide what our entire life is going to be like. I hate this habit. I disagree COMPLETELY with it. Where did our lives go? How do anything and learn anything if our heads are stuck in the future planning it all out when it isn't even a fact yet. Some quotes to express my frustration are: "Sometimes we need to stop analyzing the past, stop planning the future, stop trying to figure out precisely how we feel, stop deciding with our mind what we want our heart to feel. Sometimes we just have to go with... "Whatever happens - happens" ~Unknown and "Life must be lived as play" ~Plato. Notice that no one is planning anything in these quotes. All we need in life is to be happy. That IS life. By our being happy others will follow and that in turn will effect people more than anything. The third habit is about completing things which are important. What is important to some people? With this (if we are to follow Covey's "rules") then it is too controversial. To some people playing video games could be important. This habit would be acceptable if you completed tasks which were URGENT, not important. Get what you need to get done, not what you WANT to get done.

Araya said...

Habit four was out of the ball park. The world is not win-win. Nothing you will ever face will anyone ever win. There will always be win-lose. Even lose-lose is impossible. I do not believe that you will ever be in a situation is completely fair. It is just giving teens a false hope that life may be fair at some time. Instead of telling them the truth that the world isn't fair Covey is misleading them. Habit five has so many problems it shouldn't even be talked about but nevertheless. If you listen to people's opinions before you voice yours then you are going to be swayed. Just like this book. If you don't know who you are you are going to be falsely swayed. This is telling us not to listen to our inner voice and come to too great of conclusions. My friends example: "Say your best friend who has been acting resentful towards you lately, tells you that your other friend is spreading rumors about you. You don't voice your opinion or insight that you have noticed your best friend's behavior lately. You are swayed and believe your best friend. You go up to your friend and tell them off. As it turns out it was actually your "best friend" that was spreading the rumors. Because you didn't listen to yourself or voice your opinion this is how the scenario worked out. If you had voiced what your insight was before to your best friend the whole situation would have been avoided". Habit six, impossible. If you have a group of people who all want to be the leader there will be people fighting for the position. This is impossible, look at politics for example. It is so messed up that people fight for power all of the time. They don't take their own beliefs into consideration, they want the power. My teacher argues and says that Covey is trying to promote a democratic leadership and says in this leadership that you give people a chance to speak. This is not true AT ALL. In a democratic leadership there is ONE person in charge. The team can all have a say but they have to work for it and argue their point. No one gives them a chance to say it. They have to work and fight for a chance to say something. If chances were given to say something then the leadership style would be lazze-faire. Lazze-faire doesn't work in any of these situations because of the want for power. I don't see politics working like this at all. Politics in anything. Habit seven we have no problems with. But for this habit to work you have to have the other habits. Those habits are lies. So this habit will not work and is also a lie.

Araya said...

Nowadays, people believe whatever the media tells them. Whether it be a book, T.V., magazine, internet, etc. We have no beliefs of our own. We follow people like Covey and fall for the lies they feed us. If people had any sense of themselves and grew up the pace they are supposed to they wouldn't fall for this. Also, when they grew to be adults they wouldn't fall for media there either. They would form their own opinions. As you can see I totally disagree with this book. I recommend not to make any teen read it. If you want a positive outcome make them do exercises to see what is holding them back and then make them focus on the present. What do they want to get done NOW, not in the future. The present is the only thing you have any effect on.