When someone had a baby I used to always write in the card, “congratulations on your future teenager!” It seemed so fitting to me. By my mid teens the studies that emerged from my accident lead me to the conclusion that our personalities were little more than thought patterns, and while they were changeable their direction was fundamentally established quite early in life.
This is not to say we can’t become so conscious that we can’t make course alterations but the paradox is this: once you’re that aware–that conscious–then you don’t want to be anyone else. You accept that enjoying the experience of this universe means you have to choose a point of view. You have to be someone. The trick is to be that person but not take that life’s challenges as failures. Those aren’t failures–they’re just the steps required to live that life.
No matter how you parent your children there will be a yin and yang to their experience. If you’re open-minded and teach them to be, then they’ll struggle more with close-minded people than people who grew up in more combative, competitive or contrary households. If you’re very successful and functioning well above average in many areas of life, then your child may be stressed by their very normal levels of performance. Rather than enjoy their life they may strive for one that appears more impressive. So there is no point in trying to parent the right way. Every way has consequences that go every possible direction.
The most useful thing a parent can do is remember that they only have one job: to teach a child all the things they will need to know to be able to live without the parent. So don’t think about behaviour as being good or bad. Ask yourself what wiring your child’s brain will need to deal with a situation. If every time they struggle you assist them, they will be very weak when they must face any of life’s normal struggles. If their complaints of boredom are always met with offers of distraction then they be distracted, poorly motivated adults.
I liked hanging around the teachers I’ve worked with who were self-aware, who truly cared about the kids and who were always so generous with their wisdom. I learned a lot from them. But everyone had the same sense. That we felt the recent groups of kids had the same potential to be brilliant, but that they were all stifled by a very noticeable discomfort with making their own decisions. They seemed to guess far more than use critical thinking to draw their own conclusions, and they seemed more interested in symbols than principle. So they were more focused on their grade than their own sense of whether or not they grew. This effect increased quite strongly year over year.
The reason for this is very simple. People want to sell you things like guns or alarms or locks or insurance, and the news needs you to stay for the ads, so they show you lots of scary stories, and it’s convinced you that our very safe world is somehow much more dangerous than it really is. This false belief then creates over-protection which leads to the underdevelopment of the fundamental skills of character. What’s missing is the parent’s understanding of how truly incredible their child is.
Parents have been taught by advertising culture to constantly look at their lives for what’s missing. Because of this they live within a zeitgeist of defeat. This transfers to their childrearing and the result is like taking the notion of original sin and putting it on steroids. People feel they’re fundamentally not enough and they worry or stress their lives apart by trying to be someone other than who they are. You don’t need to be anyone else. Just be yourself in a state of mind where you love the world. That’s all the development you need.
When I heard the brilliant interview (below) I was thrilled. Julie Lythcott-Haims was Stanford University’s Dean of Freshman and she too noticed the trend I referred to above. Her new book How to Raise an Adult lead to a recent radio interview that is worth any parent’s time. Parents are stressing themselves too much when in fact what they should be doing is far less.
I really love the world. But if anyone asks me if there’s anything I would change it’s only that I wish a much larger percentage of people would own how incredibly capable and strong and creative and courageous the core of every human being is. We always save our best for when things are at their absolute worst. I would like to see us to look less at some of humanity’s mistakes–those are very well documented. I would like is all to remember the remarkable achievements of humans as individuals and as a species.
We have good reason to believe in ourselves. And we have good reason to believe in the young people of this world. It’s time we unleashed that potential by trading our fearful thoughts of what might go wrong, for thrilling thoughts about what might go right.
Have a wonderful day.
Scott McPherson is a writer, mindfulness instructor, coach and communications facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.