- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2010

Culture Challenge of the Week: Misplaced Priorities

He was only 9, but he knew the answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be a famous football player, like Brett Favre.” Spoken like a typical fourth-grade boy, whose high point each day is the 20-minute football game with his friends during recess. At 9, anything seems possible, and fame and fortune are his imaginary future. It’s to be expected.

But we also expect that as he matures into a teenager and young adult, he’ll be grounded in priorities both deeper and more realistic. He also will learn that even football stars can have feet of clay, as can be seen by the NFL’s investigation of whether Mr. Favre sexually harassed a then-fellow New York Jets employee last year. And it’s our task as parents, teachers, and family friends to help him get there.

Recent survey data suggests, however, that it’s not happening. The top two goals for today’s 18- to 25-year-olds are “to get rich” and “to be famous.” We can smile indulgently when a 9-year old wants to be rich and famous, but we should be deeply worried when we hear the same refrain from an 18-, 21-, or 25-year-old.

Something’s missing during those crucial years of character formation, from nine to 18 — we’re simply not communicating the right priorities to our children. Our media culture, unfortunately, reinforces the wrong idea: celebrities, pop singers, sports stars, and even Internet wizards garner the headlines for their “success,” measured in dollars and YouTube popularity.

The reality is that our children will be less happy in life if fame and fortune are their goals. And it’s up to us, the adults who love them and care for them, to tell them that and teach the priorities that do lead to lifelong happiness.

How to save your family by prioritizing the “happiness factors”

Compelling new research shows that the choices we make have “substantial effects” on our happiness, especially over the long haul. So what makes for a happy life?

Prioritizing our relationships, for one. God created us to find our deepest joy in Him and our relationships with others, rather than money, self-absorption and fame. And the research bears this out: the happiest people in life are those who prioritize family relationships and “altruistic” goals (e.g., doing good for others, volunteering, being kind). Those who are driven by money and individual career success are simply less happy.

What other factors matter? The same ones that sustained past generations: We are more likely to find happiness when we choose a good spouse, worship God regularly and cultivate enduring friendships.

Pursuing a healthy lifestyle and finding the right balance between work and leisure time round out the happiness factors.

Fame? Fortune? Not on the list.

Helping our children recognize the right priorities is the first step. But we’ve also got to teach them to live those priorities. That means spending their time in ways that reflect mature priorities rather than the “rich and famous” mindset. As a parent, try to be a wise steward of your children’s time, providing the structure that supports the immediate goals they set, in line with their longer-term priorities.

Evaluate where your child’s time goes. For example, how many hours are spent on Facebook and texting? While those are key tools in a teen’s social life, they can’t substitute for face-to-face friendship or time spent with family or in worship. And be aware that they easily become self-promotion vehicles — frequent status alerts offer the temporary “fame” that the immature heart craves.

If we channel our child’s time towards concrete activities that build relationships and provide a balanced life, we’ll set them on the path to lifelong happiness.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosaveyourfamily.com

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