Imitation as a Form of Habit-Creation

Imitation as a Form of Habit-Creation

As a Teen Life team, we have been reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits. It has been eye-opening not just for forming personal habits, but it has also given me a lot to think about it when it comes to how teenagers form habits and even key beliefs.

It will come as no surprise, but one thing that makes a huge impact on our habits is our environment and the culture we are raised in. We tend to imitate the habits and beliefs around us. Where this becomes an issue for our kids and teenagers is that they don’t get much choice in the home or environment they are raised in.

As adults, we pass on our expectations and rules to the kids in our sphere of influence. We set the habits that they will imitate. We pass on the script of what is important, where they should focus their attention, and how they should behave on a day-to-day basis.

In his book, James Clear talks about several reasons we imitate those around us, but the simple truth is that the most attractive behaviors are those that help us fit in and feel like we are part of the group. He talks about three groups that we tend to imitate: the close, the many, and the powerful. However, when it comes to teenagers, I want to focus on the first two and how we can help our kids imitate the right behaviors at the right time.

Imitating the Close

We all know the couples that start to look like each other the longer they are married. Or the families who have the same mannerisms. The closer we are to someone, the more we are going to take on their habits as our own. This is a great concept when you are surrounded by people who love you and have healthy habits themselves.

We talk a lot about peer pressure for adolescents. But peer pressure is usually only a bad thing when they are surrounded by negative influences. Teenagers might not be able to choose who they live with or how their family acts, but they can choose which friends they spend time with. Who they choose hang out with matters!

It is important that we encourage teenagers to join a culture and group that has positive habits. If they want to be successful in the classroom, they need to find friends who make good grades. If a sport or extracurricular activity is important to them, they should hang out with people who are motivated in the same way. As James says, “Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself. You’ll rise together.”

Imitating the Many

In addition to imitating those we are closest too, we also tend to follow the crowd in order to fit in. Think about it – if you are in a situation where you don’t know what to do or where to go, what is your first instinct? You will probably look around and do what the people around you are doing. It is often easier to go with the flow than try to stand out.

This is especially important for teens who live in a world where fitting in impacts social status, friendships, and self-esteem. However, as James Clear points out, “The reward of being accepted is often greater than the reward of winning an argument, looking smart, or finding the truth. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.”

While we can all admit that there is a pull to get along with others and not rock the boat, it is concerning that we would rather be wrong or change our beliefs than go against the environment we find ourselves in. For teens, going against their culture, school, friends, family, etc. requires more effort than following the habits around them. Which is why sometimes they have to change their environment before they can change a particular habit.

We all have habits we wish to break or create to make us better. Habit-forming is especially important for our teenagers. Some of the habits they create now will stick around for the rest of their lives. While we can’t do the hard work of habit creation for them, here are a few ways you can help make their environment more conducive for positive habits.

  • Create and model healthy habits yourself – have the habits you want your kids or students to imitate.
  • Encourage teens to join groups that share similar passions and goals.
  • Foster a safe environment where teens want to gather – it could be your home, your classroom, or your youth ministry. Let’s help them find positive influences in a safe place!
  • Be intentional about what adults are in your teen’s life. Ask who they would want talk to. Surround them with consistent, caring influences.

Let’s be advocates for teenagers, the environments they are living in, and the habits they are forming!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Teen Lifeline Summer Reading List

Teen Lifeline Summer Reading List

Summer is the perfect time to slow down and read a good book. Maybe you want to learn about something new, gain a new perspective or just need to laugh. As we get closer to the new school year, we hope that you’ll take advantage of the time you have left and stretch your mind! Below are a few of our book recommendations if you need a starting point.

For teenagers:

For Young Men Only by Jeff Feldhahn or For Young Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn

I actually read this book (the one for girls, obviously) when I was in High School. It is a light read but packed full of awesome and interesting information. Both of these books are written specifically for teenagers! Backed up with research and stories, this is a great resource for teens, especially as they begin to enter the dating world. They tackle questions like Why are boys so weird? Why can girls be so crazy sometimes? Why do boys want your respect more than your love? Why are good girls attracted to bad boys?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

Disclaimer, this book releases on July 31, 2016 so I haven’t read this yet. However, it is a follow-up on the Harry Potter series, so it has to be good, right?! This “Script Book” follows Harry and his youngest son, Albus, as they try to overcome the past and the pressure of family legacy.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey

What if there was a roadmap for how to not only survive adolescence but to thrive? This book by Sean Covey offers tools and tricks specifically for teenagers. He covers topics like responsibility, prioritizing, peer pressure and how to handle parental relationships. It is crucial for teenagers to develop healthy habits now – don’t wait and check out this book!


For parents:

The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively by Gary Chapman

Do you feel like you just aren’t communicating well with your teenager? This adaptation of Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, gives you the tools and resources to show love to your teenager in a way that best communicates to them! This book describes development, explains the teenage world and covers the 5 different love languages. Let’s learn to love teenagers more effectively!

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker

Hands down, this is the best book I read this year. While I’m sure men would find this book witty and charming, this one is mainly for the ladies. Jen Hatmaker will make you laugh until you cry as she covers marriage, parenting and important topics like yoga pants and coffee. In a world full of Pinterest and Instagram parents, Jen encourages women to break free of shame and impossible standards.

For Parents Only: Getting Inside the Head of Your Kid  by Shaunti Feldhahn

Written by the same person who wrote For Young Men/Women Only, this book uses a survey and interviews with teens and tweens to discuss things that parents don’t always understand about their children. This short book will cover topics such as their need for freedom, how the boundaries parents set impact teens, how to get teens to open up and talk to you, and ways to help them feel more secure and confident.


For youth ministers:

Lead Small: Five Big Ideas Every Small Group Leader Need to Know by Reggie Joiner

I read this book last fall and absolutely loved it! This book is great for small group (or Teen Lifeline Support Group) principles. By leading small, youth ministers, volunteers and small group leaders can have a tangible impact on teenagers’ lives. By investing, you can have a greater and more long-term relationship. This small books is a quick-read and will equip you to lead great small groups in your youth ministry.

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill

It is not a secret, homosexuality is a no longer a topic that can be ignored by the church. Wesley Hill uses personal experience and scripture to discuss the question, Is there a place for “celibate, gay christians in the church?” I have loved the perspective and heart behind this book. It is not a book of judgement or condemnation but offers a message of hope and grace.


Have you read any other books lately that you would like to recommend? Please let us know your book suggestions and thoughts after you read some from our list! 

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Lifeline’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.