Every day I work with children on reaching goals.
We address goals for better focus, improved grades. increased organization, chores getting done, more appropriate social skills, etc.
And sometimes I wonder, “What is the REAL goal?” What is it that we adults really want from our kids? Why are we so focused on focus? Why do we care so much about an organized binder, a room that is neat?
I think if you ask parents in their 30s, 40s and 50s about their own childhoods, they would probably agree that how we were raised in the “old days” is very different than how we are raising our own children. While it was no utopia, kids in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s had more free time, less intensive academic demands and, of course, no real technology to worry about.
So while the world has changed, so too has our parenting. But is it for the better?
Teenagers see the big picture
I work with many teens every week. In many ways they teach me more than I teach them. A theme of late has been “What’s the point of all this anxiety about my education?”
My clients who are juniors and seniors and attend “high achieving” high schools are feeling burned out. They talk about friends who are depressed and anxious, high rates of substance use in the community and weakening friendships as everyone pursues “success.” In our quiet time together they ask, “What’s the point? What happens after I get into a ‘good’ college? What is a ‘good’ job anyway? What if I do all this work and don’t enjoy my young life and things don’t turn out the way everyone tells me it will?”
These are excellent questions. And so I ask we adults again, what are our parenting goals?
Are we in this important role as parent, teacher, mentor to manage our kids into compliance? Or are we in a roll to give our kids a chance to grow into their true selves?
What does “success” mean for us in the long run?
Are we really going to power struggle with our kids for t-shirts off the floor and a color-coded notebook?
Or do we want to use the power we have (and we do have power in our child’s life) to nudge them toward something bigger, take a risk, try something new, pursue a passion, chase a dream?
Is school compliance our goal?
Schools have changed a lot over the years. The biggest shift has been increased academic and executive functioning demands on children at younger and younger ages. The other day I was in a first grade classroom and the teacher had geometry concepts on the white board. FIRST GRADE GEOMETRY. And it wasn’t just shapes it was “attributes of a triangle” kind of stuff. Our kids brains are not ready to do this theoretical work at 6 years old. And yet we push the curriculum on our kids so hard and so fast, most can’t succeed because their brains aren’t ready to do that kind of work yet. And the children in this class were stressed out. They were unable to sit for story time and hanging in the hallways like 8th graders in middle school. Why? Because they are being asked to think like 8th graders and they just aren’t ready. They feel incapable and the hallway feels better than being in that classroom. In first grade…..
In this educational environment, it’s hard for parents to know how to be helpful to their children. While we have an awareness that they are being pushed, we also worry about their grades and “success.” We can get swept up in joining the school in pushing our kids to do more than they are ready for. And, in the short run, our kid may pass the test, but what happens in the long run? What are they learning about themselves, about their skills? How are we nurturing their self-esteem and sense of self?
If we’re being honest, they’ll forget the capitals of every state (quick, give me the capital of Tennessee!) but their self-esteem, and perception of self as a competent learner will go with them on a lifelong journey.
Back to our goals: Think of the long term
When we parent we have goals. We ask our kids every day to do something new in the hopes they “own it” as they grow toward adulthood. Our goals are self-sufficiency, academic, social and career oriented.
As a parent, I try to be mindful of the bigger picture than just “get a good grade on this test.” I look even beyond college toward how I want my son to be in the adult world. Of course I have goals for organization, social skills and academic performance, but they are never absolute or discrete in and of themselves. Sometimes I lose the forest for the trees and have to regroup on the broader perspective.
In my work, it hurts my heart to see teens trying so hard to please adults and do well only to feel overwhelmed, overburdened and missing out on all the fun. Again, in the short term these kids may go to that “good” college, but will they really ever feel good about the process or themselves in the process?
How can we examine our goals for our kids so they can learn, grow up and feel good, too?