Parents, Are you stifling your teens potential?
I was watching an old episode of Fresh Prince in which Hilary, the “rich daughter” wanted to quit her catering job because she didn’t want her friends to see her “working.” Geoffrey the butler then recounted all the different activities and jobs she had quit, because it was too hard or boring etc. Of course, her parents had allowed her to quit because they wanted her to be happy.
As our teens return to school, I wonder how many parents inadvertently and unconsciously stifle their teens potential and creativity by making life too easy for them, for various reasons. I know I was guilty of wanting my children to have everything I didn’t have when I was growing up. The danger with this is that sometimes our teens then become so comfortable that they lose the desire to strive and achieve for themselves. Even Donald Trump, did not give his children all they wanted simply because they wanted it. He taught them to strive and earn their way in life, and I truly admire him for that.
How do parents unconsciously sabotage their children, and how can they overcome this?
1. Allow your teens to make and learn from their mistakes.
I know this sounds counter-intuitive. Every parent wants their teens to succeed no matter what it takes. Isn’t it better for the teen to learn from his mistakes, before it really counts at the major exam or in real life? Teens must learn how to rise from failure and how to seek the help they need. Failure teaches coping skills. If we do everything for them, teens will be ill equipped to deal with failure which is a real and important part of life and growing up. The most successful people in life have failed often, but have also learned to rise from failure. As Henry Ford said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.”
2. Give honest and genuine praise.
These days it seems, everyone on a school’s basketball team is given a trophy, whether they deserve it or not? What are we saying to these teens? “You don’t really have to excel to get a reward.” Are we teaching teens it’s okay to keep up with the Joneses, whether they can afford to or not? After all, everyone gets a shiny trophy whether they deserve one or not? It gives teens a sense of entitlement. Instead be honest, you can tell your teen you are playing so much better than you did last year and with consistent practice, you will get better. Catch your teen doing something good, and commend them on it. Be honest and genuine. Teens are very perceptive. They sense when we give unwarranted praise and this erodes our integrity. Eventually, they will learn to distrust us.
3. Encourage teens to solve their own problems by themselves.
Parents these days want to swoop in and help, each time their teens get in trouble. They pay for the speeding tickets, fight with coaches when they discipline their teens and even want to intervene when their teens have minor arguments with other teens. I know I had to stand and watch sometimes, when all I wanted to do was to make things right for my teens. And then I realized that teens could come up with the right solutions and felt better about themselves for doing so. Take the time to parent them and teach them survival skills and then let them exercise those “skill muscles” at the appropriate time. I’m not talking about when your teen is being bullied and he has done all he can yet the bullying persists. In that instance you need to get involved as a parent. But for the most part, teens learn about innovation, leadership, forgiveness, empathy and love when they are allowed to solve their own problems. They realize they possess the skills to prevail, and it gives them strength for the next time. Ultimately, success in life is less about resources and more about resourcefulness. Let them learn to be resourceful.
4. Encourage perseverance.
It’s easy for teens to want to join several different activities. Many times they want to quit like Hilary from Fresh Prince, when they realize basketball practice is at 6 AM and that means they miss an extra thirty minutes of sleep. First of all, discourage involvement in too many activities. If you must, set limits. The time demands alone can be hard on teens and hard on you as a parent. Many times a teen will not excel in any activity due to a lock of focus. Let your child choose wisely, and then let them stick to it, no matter how tough it gets. One mom told me about how painful it was to watch her daughter on the bench, game after game because she was told “she wasn’t playing at the same level” as the other girls on the team. Her daughter persisted and eventually played the last and most important game of the season. Can you imagine how proud the teen felt? If we don’t teach our children to persevere, they will never discover their true potential. You never realize how strong you are, until you persist through adversity and win. That is how great men and women are born.
5. Encourage your teens to challenge themselves.
When my twins were in high school and it was time to choose their courses, they had the choice to do the IB program. In my selfish but motherly way, I thought of all the stress it would put on them. What if they didn’t excel? I encouraged them to do a less rigorous program. Thank God, their wise school counsellors encouraged them to sign up. They did and it was a challenge, but they rose to the occasion and both excelled, both making it to excellent colleges. In every area of life, encourage teens to challenge themselves and enjoy the pride, happiness and sense of self-worth that comes with victory. Even if they are ultimately unsuccessful they know they gave it their best shot. That strength will carry them on to the next great adventure and challenge.
As our teens go back to school, be present and give them your support. Encourage them to challenge themselves to become the best they can be, and to persevere when the going gets tough. Equip them with skills to overcome the problems they face along the way and to become strong, accomplished, self -motivated members of society. And always, give genuine and honest praise, when deserved.
Let’s teach our teens to adopt this attitude, from Les Brown, “Accept responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get you where your want to go, no one else.”