Developing Values Throughout Life


-What Makes New Haven Residential Treatment Center Different: Identity Work and Values

One of the very first assignments we ask each of our families to complete is about values.  Each student and parent is asked to identify their top ten values.  It is remarkable how many of them have never thought about or identified their values.  Our personal values are at the core of who we are and play a critical role in the development of our identity.  Where do our values come from?

Sociologist Morris Massey has described three major periods during which values are developed:

The Imprint Period

Up to the age of seven, we are like sponges, absorbing everything around us and accepting much of it as true, especially when it comes from our parents. The confusion and blind belief of this period can also lead to the early formation of trauma and other deep problems.

The critical thing here is to learn a sense of right and wrong, good and bad. This is a human construction which we nevertheless often assume would exist even if we were not here (which is an indication of how deeply imprinted it has become).

The Modeling Period

Between the ages of eight and thirteen, we copy people, often our parents, but also others. Rather than blind acceptance of their values, we are trying them on like a suit of clothes, to see how they feel.

At this age we may be much impressed with religion or our teachers. You may remember being particularly influenced by junior high school teachers who seemed so knowledgeable–maybe even more so than your parents.

The Socialization Period

Between 13 and 21, we are very largely influenced by our peers. As we develop as individuals and look for ways to get away from the earlier programming, we naturally turn to people who seem more like us.

Other influences at these ages include the media, especially those parts which seem to resonate with our the values of our peer groups.

At New Haven our families have the opportunity to assess how their values were developed through each of these periods and in turn how those values have influenced their identities.  As stated earlier it is not uncommon for our students or parents to be unsure of what their most significant values are.  Through our extensive values program students are able to experience values by completing value beads, such as love or service, through a variety of experiences chosen by themselves, their therapist, and their values coach.  Families also have the opportunity to complete family value beads.

As our families more towards completion of the program they are again asked to identify their top ten values – without referencing their first list.  We then have each member of the family compare and contract each of their lists.  It is fascinating to see how the lists have changed, or haven’t, and what are families believe contributed to these changes or lack thereof.  When we are aware of our values and where they come from, we understand a critical part of our identity.  At New Haven we see this increased understanding bring peace and joy to our families.

-Sarah Engler, LCSW