“Unless we change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed.”

- Unknown author


In what direction are you headed? Many of us begin January with renewed energy, resolutions, and plans for change. Personally, I’m sorting through old files and making plans for amazing 4-H programs. Adults aren’t the only ones who benefit from starting the year off with new goals. Children and youth can benefit as well. Here are some ideas for helping your children set goals for the future and make changes for healthier living.

Help your teenager choose a path. As Sean Covey states in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” “if you don’t decide your own future, someone else will do it for you.” Covey suggests that teenagers are standing at a crossroads and must choose which paths to take:

• Do you want to go to college or graduate school?

• What will your attitude toward life be?

• What type of friends do you want to have?

• Will you drink, smoke, do drugs?

• What will you stand for?

• How will you contribute to your community?

Discuss these questions and values as a family or individually in the car on the way to school. Help your teenager determine what he or she wants in life and encourage the plans to get it. Get them on the right path and support them on the journey.

Many people cite losing weight and exercising more as a new year’s resolution. Chances are you are figuring out how to do this in your own life – why not involve your child in this healthy plan as well? In North Carolina 15 percent of children ages 2-4 are considered overweight and 30.9 percent of children ages 10-17 are overweight. (www.stateofobesity.org).

“Parents and caregivers play a critical role in establishing children’s lifelong healthy habits. Recent studies have shown that food intake patterns introduced in early childhood have a lasting impact on a child’s eating habits into adulthood.” (Center for Health Improvement, Policy Brief, January 2005) In Jackson County 4-H we serve only healthy snacks and encourage everyone to take the stairs rather than ride the elevator. Little efforts can make a big difference.

Help children establish new patterns of behavior for a healthier life. It’s hard to change a habit. It’s hard to go for a walk instead of plopping down on the couch at the end of the day. It’s hard to fix a healthy meal rather than stop for fast food. But, making changes in these areas can help your children grow into the healthy adults you want them to be. They will model what you do.

In what direction are you and your children headed? 

Heather Gordon is extension agent, 4-H Youth Development, Jackson County Center, N.C. Cooperative Extension.