I met PJ in one of my classes a number of years ago. He was a 7th grader at the time. As he was going through the All Stars program, his vision of a future for himself became more obvious and clear.
In one of the All Stars activities PJ was asked to choose four words he most wanted to see or have in an ideal future for himself. The four words he choose were education, achievement, strength and health.
In a later activity, PJ had to draw a symbol or a picture for each word he wanted that would visually tell him and others what he wanted those four words to look like or mean in his future.
Here’s the picture that PJ drew…
When you look at the symbols or pictures PJ drew for each word it’s easy to see what PJ wants from those words in his future.
The word education in his future means going to college. He identified a specific college he want to go to – Southeast Community College. He wants achievement in his future to be in football. Strength for PJ means being physically strong. And, health for PJ is eating the right foods (even if it is milk right from the carton!).
The overall vision for PJ and his future is quite clear. But, it’s when PJ spoke about his vision to me and the class that I knew PJ was going to very likely get what he wants in his future. Why? Because when PJ spoke about his vision for the future this is what he said:
“These four things are like four puzzle pieces that fit together to create the vision of my future. If I have good health in my future, then I will have the physical strength I need and want to achieve in football that will, hopefully, then lead to scholarships for me to go to college.”
Wow! All four pictures or pieces of the puzzle did all fit together! But, then I asked PJ…
“But, what happens to your vision and these four things if you drink alcohol someday or use tobacco?”
Of which he quickly replied, “It won’t happen.”
I followed up by asking, “What won’t happen?”, and he said, “My future.”
Of course, I asked him, “How?”
And again, he was quick to say, “Because if I drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, then I won’t have good health, which will hurt my physical strength, which could keep me from achieving in football and that could keep me from going to college.”
I asked one final question of PJ. “Then, PJ, will drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes help you or hurt you in your future?”
And he looked at me like I was one dumb teacher and emphatically said, “It’ll hurt my future!”
I had a good sense of PJ, but he certainly confirmed it for me with his answers. He is a person with idealism!
Research shows that young people who have a vision for their future and see risky behaviors as getting in the way of what they want are less likely to participate in the behaviors. This is what idealism is as a prevention strategy. Kids who have idealism have something important to lose if they drink, smoke, fight or have sex. What do they have to lose? Whatever it is they want in their future!
Young people who have lost sight of what they want to have or be in their future are more likely to participate in risky behaviors. From their perspective, there’s nothing on the line for them to lose.
Middle school students are developmentally more likely to think and act “in the moment”. Thinking and planning ahead isn’t something they can or will naturally do on their own. You play an important role in keeping middle school students focused on their future.
Here are a few ideas for you to consider:
- Talk with each of them about personal qualities they want to best be known for in their future. Ask, “What words would you want others to use to describe you?” Help them identify a reputation they most want to earn and what they need to do to get it.
- Encourage them in the things they do well. Visit with them about how their talents and skills can turn into personal achievements or a specific career someday.
- Make a list of what they need to do to get what they want in their future. Set short and long-term goals with them so they can see the progress they are making towards their future.
- Offer praise, encouragement and rewards when you see them doing something to support their future.
- Talk with them about how risky behaviors can get in the way of their future goals.
If you want to learn more about Idealism as a prevention strategy, watch my masterclass on idealism! It offers an in-depth understanding of it and tips for implementing it with your kids.
Each child’s future is an incomplete puzzle. Assist them in putting the pieces together to complete the picture. When a piece doesn’t fit, let them know or see it. When there’s a missing piece, help them find it. Most importantly, always remind them of what the puzzle picture will look like when it is complete.