The 6 Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make: A Guide for Teens
by Sean Covey
Fireside | 2006 | 336 pages | ISBN 0743265041 | US$15.95
“I’ve been with friends that have dropped out of high school. One of them who I work with at McDonalds was held back three years. He was 20 years old and a junior. I look at him and I just realized, I can’t be like that. I can’t be working at Wendy’s or McDonald’s for the rest of my life. I don’t want to be like my father and my step-dad. I don’t want to be looking back saying, ‘Oh, I wish I would have done this. I wish I would have done that.’”
“I’ve had a problem with being ‘boyfriend centered’. My ex-boyfriend was my world, my 100% center—nothing else existed. I did not realize it because I wanted to be with him 24/7. The more I wanted to be with him, the less he wanted to see me. The closer I got to him, the more he pushed me away. Looking back, I realize how unattractive that made me. There was no chase, no fun, no wondering about anything because it was already there, in his face, all the time. Relationships are more fun when they’re surprising and spontaneous, not preplanned and obsessive. I was the one who always felt like I needed to have those sickening ‘where do we stand’ talks. We finally broke up; he couldn’t take it any more.”
These are a couple of the many stories from teenagers all over the world that Sean Covey brings into his book. Sean is the author of the international bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, and a popular motivational speaker. He is a graduate in English from Brigham Young University and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. This book is the outcome of three years of research in which Covey gathered stories from teens, teachers, youth workers and parents.
What are these crucial decisions? Covey has selected half a dozen: school, friends, parents, dating and sex, addictions and self-worth. Each chapter contains multitude of real-life situations which illustrate the points that Covey is trying to get across. This is one of the key selling points of the book. In the words of an Australian 15-year-old: “This is brilliant! Having teenagers put their input into this book has a great effect. I was thinking, wow! These are people I can relate to, teenagers like me with the same problems. Maybe I’m not so alone.“
Each chapter highlights typical teen problems: too many demands at school, finding one’s parents embarrassing, wanting to be popular with friends, media pressure to hook up and engage in sexual activity, peer pressure to start taking drugs or get drunk regularly, basing one’s self-worth on the opinion of others, etc. Covey then provides positive and practical steps to combat them and to come out a winner.
Central to the book is the notion that life presents one struggle after another and that to win we need the right attitude and frame of mind. Preparing teens for these battles by making the right choices is Covey’s primary objective. That’s why 6 Decisions will appeal mostly to optimistic teenagers who are already prepared to make the most out of their lives. However, he does try to encourage kids with low self-esteem (or who can’t see the point of trying to improve their lot) to give life a go. Teenagers have to choose, he contends, between the high road of commitment and happiness and the low road of fickleness and misery.
6 Decisions book is a clear improvement on Covey’s excellent The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. It is written in a non-prescriptive way to avoid sounding preachy or nagging and is full of clever cartoons, symbols and sketches to make it more palatable for a young audience. It is also less specifically American in its content as it brings in examples and stories from several other countries. However, some of the suggestions he makes are a tad naïve and simplistic and they could sound a bit off-putting to youths from other cultures and backgrounds.
Although the six areas covered by the book take into account most challenges teenagers face today, a significant omission is the area of faith and religion. It is precisely during the teenage years that many youngster face the decision of whether to continue with the faith they received from childhood, to change it or to drop it altogether. To be fair, Covey, who is a Mormon, does dedicate two pages to the topic of faith and belief. He says that religion provides an anchor and a sense of self-worth. However, whether or not to practise one’s religion is a decision with such far-reaching consequences that it should have been treated at greater length.
The book ends with the chapter “Stick to the Code – It is worth fighting for”. It is a call to hope, to continue struggling and to make the right choices even if we slack off and go slumming on the low road from time to time. In general, this is a wonderful book that can be recommended both to teenagers who are keen to excel and to those who have difficulties coping.
Luison Lassala is chairman of Anchor Youth Centre in Dublin and a freelance IT consultant.