Courageous Conversations

Begin with the end in mind

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In Stephen Covey’s best-selling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” he writes that the people should acquire the habit of starting activities with the end in mind. Many artists begin their projects having a very distinct picture of what they want the project to look like at the end. Having an end goal can save a lot of time. When traveling, if you know your destination is north, traveling north is the way to go.

The journey of parenting also has a specific destination. Parents want their children to arrive at adulthood fully capable of taking care of themselves. In addition to autonomy, a few desirable adult traits are integrity, confidence and high self-esteem.

According to the Center for Parenting Education, there are some traits that children are more likely to pick up from their parents even without establishing a plan. For the worse, parents who abuse drugs or alcohol have children who are more likely to do the same. On a positive note, multiple generations of some families go into the same profession, such as law enforcement, fire science, medicine, law and teaching. However, notwithstanding taking the chance that children will be “chips off the old block” or that “the apple won’t fall too far from the tree,” parents must raise their children with a desired end in mind.

Lisa Hill

Lisa Hill

Although culture, religion and family values are just a few of the things that impact the goals parents have for their children, most parents, unequivocally, do not want their children to ultimately enter the criminal justice system. But I must caution that it is not enough to plan to have crime-free children; parents must have a plan for their children to avoid the system.

I was once in a local grocery store and witnessed a child, who looked about 7 years old, exit the store with a grocery cart full of groceries. The cart was so full that items were spilling over the rim. The little girl had to fully extend her arms to maneuver the heavy cart. I took note of the little girl because, not only am I a parent-child educator, I am nosy.

The little girl exited the store near the produce department and she passed by several cash registers and did not stop to pay for the groceries. My previous probation officer training recognized the little girl’s behavior as meeting the criteria for theft or larceny, a violation of 484 of the California Penal Code. The little girl pushed the shopping cart to the end of the parking lot to a waiting car.

When store employees approached the little girl, she said her mother had told her to leave the store with the cart. With that statement, the little girl was now guilty of a more serious offense called burglary, a violation of California Penal Code 459, as she appeared to have entered the store with the intent to commit larceny. In this case, the mother may have inadvertently taught her young daughter that burglary was an option under certain circumstances.

I am confident that the mother did not plan to have her daughter end up in the criminal justice system at 7 years old; however, because she was not aware of the strength of role modeling, she might have inadvertently put a plan in place for her daughter to ultimately get arrested in the future.

Parents are in a position to provide age-appropriate “end goal” training with their children. Parents should consistently ask the question, “What do you think will happen in the end?” The question must be posed in a way that the child can understand and respond.

At the beginning of each semester, I ask my college students to raise their hands if they plan on passing the course. Of course, the majority of them will raise their hands. I inform my young scholars that each of them is starting the semester with an A in the course and that the only way to maintain the A grade is to study, turn in assignments or attend lectures. Accordingly, I give them a specific plan for how to maintain the high standard. Of course, by the end of each semester, I have a few students who did not follow the plan, and as a result, they were not able to maintain the A.

If parents consistently pose the end-goal question to their children, the children will internalize this skill and mature into adults who will practice beginning with the end in mind, a desirable habit for effective adults.

Lisa Hill, Ph.D., is an associate professor in criminal justice at California State University, East Bay and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She worked for county and federal probation departments for three decades and in 2018 published a book inspired by her career, “Keeping Kids In the Home and Out of the System.” She and her husband have lived in Tracy for 31 years and have four children. Contact her at

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