The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey

I first ran this review on my old blog back in 2008.  Because I was teaching the leadership class at the middle school where I was working, I was looking for a book we could read as a class. This one came heavily reccomended, so I checked it out.  While I didn’t end up using it, for reasons you’ll see in the post below, should you care to read it, this review got a huge number of hits.  It also got a couple of borderline angry comments. 

Since I’m migrating most of my old posts from Ready When You Are, C.B., I decided to run it here and hope for lots of hits and not so many angry comments this time around.


The 7 Habits of Highly Effect Teens by Sean Covey was all the rage at the activities directors conference I just attended. At least four workshops I went to mentioned it in some context. Since I’m looking to improve my program for next year and have been thinking about adding a book to it, I bought a copy.

In case you’re wondering or are not one of the two million plus people who have already bought a copy, the seven habits are:

  • Be Proactive: Take responsibility for your life.
  • Begin with the End in Mind: Define your mission and goals in life.
  • Put First Things First: Prioritize, and do the most important things first.
  • Think Win-Win: Have an everyone-can-win attitude.
  • Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood: Listen to people sincerely.
  • Synergize: Work together to achieve more.
  • Sharpen the Saw: Renew yourself regularly.

You may recognize these ideas from Mr. Covey’s father’s book which shares almost the same title. It’s all good advice, though I’m a little nervous about 13 and 14 year-olds with their own mission statements. Mr. Covey keeps things brief, informative and entertaining. There are many cartoons, interesting lists and lots of bullet points. He quotes from many student interviews as well as from assorted celebrities. Each chapter ends with suggested activities to help the reader become an effective teen. (These are also great lesson plan shortcuts for teachers. That’s probably one reason why they were included. Teachers are a really big market, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.)

What I found missing was a solid foundation of research. Mr. Covey brings lots of anecdotes to the table to prove his points, but not a single hard and fast statistic or study to back up what he’s saying. His father’s ideas have been around for a while, surely there must be some data about their actual effectiveness. How did he find out what effective teens do? What is his definition of an effective teen? Just where did this information come from? It appears to be the typical stuff motivational speakers always tell us at assemblies and conferences like the one I just went to, but they’ll usually throw a number or two at us. That’s my major issue with the book.

See if you can guess my other issue with it. He has a section on diversity, of course, and does push beyond the tolerance idea to promote the celebration of diversity. At the end of that particular chapter there is an activity for students to rate themselves as either shunners, tolerators, or celebrators of diversity when it comes to the following list of categories: Race, Gender, Religion, Age, Dress. Have you guessed what my issue is? Look at the list, it’s a good list–all of these issues are real on my campus. Kids do pick on other kids for all of those reasons. But who’s been left off? Which category is missing? I’ll give you a hint–it’s the one that is still most often referred to in derogatory terms on probably every campus in America. I’d bet you dollars to donuts that it’s mentioned in a derogatory fashion on every campus in America at a rate five times greater than any other term in any other category listed. Have you guess it yet?

Mr. Covey makes the same omission in his list of help lines at the back of his book. There’s a number to call for just about every issue teens face that you can name but one. Mr. Covey does not disclose his religion, but he is from Utah and his book is endorsed by Laura Schlessinger and Robert Schuller. It’s true that a book promoting tolerance of everyone would probably not sell two million copies; not to people who read books endorsed by Laura Schlessinger and Robert Schuller anyway. But I think kids are clever enough to figure it all out. The message here is that you should be nice to everybody listed because they are all good people and are basically just like us. However, there are some people that are still beyond the pale, and you can be mean to them.

The odd thing is, I find that most of my life, I’ve followed the habits Mr. Covey describes. I’ve never read this book before today, but if you looked back at my life, you might conclude that I read it in high school and decided to follow its advice. So, will I use it in my class next year? I’m not sure. I’ll have to add a few things to the worksheets. I’m going to ask my students to read it and tell me what they think. I’ll let you know when I hear from them.

Until then, I’m giving The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey four out of five stars. He’s sure to have another edition; maybe that one will get five.
Update: 4/20/08

I’ve loaned the book to three student reviewers so far. All three were girls in my leadership class. (The leadership class runs all of the student activities programs at the middle school where I work.) Two were eigth graders and one was a seventh grader.

Their reviews were mixed. The seventh grader loved the book. She was the only one to read it cover to cover and come away 100% enthused. She agreed that it would make an excellent addition to our class, that it has lots of useful information, that it is an enjoyable read. The first 8th grader is probably 90% enthused about it. She felt it has lots of good things to say, that it could really help people, but she did not get all the way to the end. The 2nd 8th grader gave up after about 40 pages. She found the book dull and hard to follow. She said that reading an entire book written like this is very difficult, but that we might be able to use it next year if we do only one or two chapters a month. She was not interested in doing the activities that are in the book.

So there you are. I’m still not sure about using the book; I’m actually leaning a little more into the “not use it” column. If anyone out there has any experience with using the book in a middle school class, I’d appreciate hearing from you.