What are Values and What Do We Do When They Clash?

Okay so first of all, what are values?  Let’s define them first.


Values are things are you see as “good” and “desirable” in your life.parenting, values, child

Something is a value if you think it is “good”, “right” or correct, “important”, “necessary” or in some other way desirable for you or for your child or others.

There are three basic kinds of values:

  1. Ideas:  beliefs, opinions, ways of seeing things (religious, political, moral, etc.)
  2. Things:  materials objects, people, places, possessions (family, friends, money, house, cars, etc.)
  3. Experiences:  activities, events, actions, happenings (playing sports, listening to music, being with friends, seeing beautiful things, etc.)

Values are deeply held and an important part of your identity (“I am a Catholic, musician, parent, etc.”)

You have strong feelings about most of your values, especially when they are questioned or put down.

Difference in values can affect your relationships with others, especially when the differences are great and you or the other person cannot accept the difference.  This brings about a values clash or collision.  These values collisions are normal and unavoidable; how they get handled is the important thing.

Okay, got it.  Now how do we handle those then?

In P.E.T. we have identified seven options that a parent can choose as a way of resolving a values collision with a child.

Two of these are not recommended, yet they are included since their use may be necessary in unusually desperate situations.

While the list is in order of “risk” to the parent-child relationship, those below #6 are generally much less risky with #’s 4-2 being the P.E.T. “Values Influencing Skills”.

Here are the options:

Level 7 – Using power

Parents who use rewards and punishments in an effort to change their child’s values run all the risks of Method I problem-solving: the Fight, Flight, or Submit reactions of the child, and all the problems of a parent who takes on an “enforcer” role (e.g., time, constant vigilance, guilt, loss of enjoyment in relationship, etc.). In rare, desperate situations, as in the case of a severe drug addiction, parents may feel justified in using power (e.g., forced hospitalization) to “save the child’s life” psychologically or even literally. Parents, of course, must decide which of their values might be so important that they would be willing to risk their entire relationship with their child through the use of force and power.

Level 6 – Threatening to use power

Parents who threaten but fail to actually carry out their threats may still get all the negative responses to power (e.g., child may run away before being “thrown out” as threatened). Or the use of threats unfulfilled can lead to the child’s discounting the parent altogether.

Level 5 – Problem-solving

Often a child is willing to modify her acting-out behaviors related to a value so as not to upset the parent without actually giving up the value (e.g., child agrees to go to church only for special religious celebrations important to the parent). Method III can be used to arrive at such mutually acceptable solutions. On the other hand, the child may have problems with leading “two lives” and the parent may simply see the value show up in other forms that are equally unacceptable.

Level 4 – Consulting

Children are often open and responsive to the wisdom and experience of their parents. Parents can influence their children’s values if they follow the basic rules of a “good consultant”:

Rule 1. Get “Hired” as a Consultant.
Share your concern usingI-Language, but don’t impose. Make it a two-way conversation by using your Active Listening. A good consultant talks a little and listens a lot. If your child feels heard and understood she will be much more open to hearing and understanding you.

Rule 2. Be Prepared.
Know the “facts” about the subject you are discussing. Have accurate information about the health risks of drug use, etc. Using scare tactics or inflated information will quickly turn off children and teens and they will stop listening to you (fire you as their consultant). While there may be hard facts, research, etc. about certain behaviors, often there are none about values so your “facts” are the answers to the questions listed under Level 1 – Modifying Yourself.

Rule 3. Leave the Responsibility for Change with the Child;
Do your best and then don’t nag or continue to push thesubject on your child. This can be extremely difficult to do, but remember the risks associated with using power and threats of power. Have patience, adapting and changing values takes time.

Consulting does not always produce immediate, noticeable results; often your “good teaching” doesn’t show up until years later. It’s reassuring to know that when many children get older, they end up with most or many of the very same values and behaviors of their parents. How they raise their own children is often very much like how they were raised.

Level 3 – Confronting and Active Listening

Often a simple, one-time I-Message can influence a child’s value, especially if it’s just emerging or is reflected in relatively superficial behavior. Parental self-disclosures can be especially effective if they describe the possible concrete effects on the child (e.g., “I’m worried that you’ll have to have a lot of fillings if you keep up this candy habit”). After sharing your I-Message, shift gears to Active Listening. This act of acceptance and caring may help the child explore his beliefs at a deeper level, and lead to helpful change. In many cases, it may actually uncover that it is really behavior related to needs and not a values issue at all. This can open the door to Method III problem solving. Also, what you will hear may make you more accepting of the child’s behavior.

Level 2 – Modeling

Children look to their parents as examples of what’s “right,” “successful,” and “satisfying.” If parents demonstrate and live what they value, avoiding hypocrisy as much as possible, the modeling process will take place almost automatically. Modeling can be a very powerful influencing skill with older children as well as with the very young. If teens like the way you talk to them, they will listen to what you have to say. Of course, it’s important to start your modeling at the very beginning. It’s not realistic to expect brand-new modeling to abruptly change a teenager’s habits and tastes developed over many years.

Level 1 – Modifying Yourself

Many parents, upon close examination of their values, often as a result of a values “collision” with their child, decide not to make an issue out of their differences. Instead of setting out to change their child, they change themselves, in some instances by simply accepting the differences that exist (i.e., lowering their line) or by actually modifying their own values, sometimes even by adopting the child’s values.

As part of the process for considering modifying yourself (or not to), there are three important questions to ask yourself.

What Is My Value? Look below any behaviors and identify the belief (“article in your personal constitution) that is your real value.

Where Did It Come From? Did I get it from my parents, church, friends or just pick it up somewhere along the way without much thought?

Why Do I Want To Keep It? How has behaving and acting on this value helped or enriched my life? What experiences and observations have I had that support this as being an important value that I want to keep?

The answers to these questions may lead you to modify your own behaviors and even change a value. Or, you may reaffirm a value once you have clarified it and the answers to these questions become the “facts” that you can use as a consultant with your child (Level 4).

Perhaps the ultimate question that parents should ask themselves before deciding to push for change in a conflict-of-values with their child is this: How important is it that my child be like me and that I be like him? Or, can we be very different, unique people who can still love each other and value our relationship.

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