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Community: Teen Habits Takes Off

Eagle resident Maureen O’Toole introduces a new curriculum to the Treasure Valley geared to teach “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Teens” and more

By Laura Wolstenholme
Photography by Nena Earl

During her tenure as an instructor for the military, Maureen O’Toole was puzzled and concerned as she trained her new recruits. Increasingly, she noticed, they seemed to lack the essential abilities needed to succeed in their new positions. They lacked self-management skills, such as prioritizing, planning ahead, and goal setting, as well as the social skills needed for being team players, public speaking, and respecting authority.

Sadly, O’Toole realized that our general culture was no longer working to cultivate these skills. And so, seeing a desperate need, O’Toole left the military and formulated a curriculum that addresses this absence of life skills in adolescence. The curriculum provides a “counterscript,” as O’Toole describes it, to what young people seem to be absorbing from our general culture.

O’Toole believes that instead of hoping our children learn life skills essential to their happiness and success, that we should explicitly teach these skills alongside the academic curriculum. She has based her curriculum, Teen Habits, on the book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Sean Covey, which is based on Frank Covey’s (Sean Covey’s father) famous book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

O’Toole combines the book’s key principles with dynamic learning activities for boot camps and classroom programs. She has successfully taught the curriculum to several schools throughout the Treasure Valley including North Star Charter School, Bishop Kelly High School, Rolling Hills Charter School, and this fall a pilot project for the Boise School District will be launched at Taft Elementary.

After launching Teen Habits in the Treasure Valley in 2011, O’Toole met Dan Long, a Boise businessman who was immediately struck by the material’s powerful potential to change lives. Long, who is now the CEO of Teen Habits, believes his life would have vastly improved had he been exposed to these principles as a young person.

Raised in foster care him self, Long now works hard to assist as many young people in foster care as possible. Long staunchly believes that, “all you need is just one adult to believe in you” to help a young person become positive and focused. To illustrate his point, he states that 98 percent of foster children do not successfully graduate from college, even though their education is paid for by the state, because many do not have that special adult interested in their lives.

In an effort to give adolescents the skills they need for success, Teen Habits not only covers Covey’s “7 Habits,” but also issues of identity, relationship building, and the “soft skills” so important to success, such as good eye contact and a positive attitude. One habit, “begin with the end in mind,” challenges teens to discuss and visualize their future. To answer the question “Where are you going to be in 5 years?” students create “vision boards” that show their goals and dreams through artwork, images, and words. It’s a fun and exciting project and teens are encouraged to hang their finished boards in their bedrooms to remind them of their goals.

Launching Teen Habits has brought O’Toole and Long into the lives of many teens from diverse backgrounds. Recently, O’Toole was impressed with a girl from a foster home who took initiative in class. After class, O’Toole approached her and commented that she displayed leadership potential. The young woman seemed stunned, and after 40 minutes of conversation with O’Toole, confided that no one had ever talked to her about her future, or her personal strengths and weaknesses.

Stories such as this reveal how Teen Habits can help young people choose attitudes and self-management behavior that will set them on a successful path. O’Toole believes that most of us are unconsciously unconscious of how important the “7 Habits” are. The aim of Teen Habits is to move young people toward becoming consciously unconscious, and ultimately consciously conscious, of how self-management can shape our lives.

Without a doubt, many adults could use a brush-up on these skills too. But these boot camps and classes are aimed at adolescents. Teen Habits brings to life in a vivid, impactful style, the key principles that will change and strengthen a young life.