Especially if your teen is having trouble — spiritually, academically, or even legally — you can easily fall into the trap of comparing his or her failures to other teens’ apparent successes. Be careful, though: that over-achieving athlete or valedictorian might not be the ideal alternative, after all. Not only can comparing our kids to their peers make them feel as if we value them less, it can also send the wrong message about what success in life really means.
Talent Cannot Replace Positive Character
Maybe your kid is talented in some way and failing to live up to his or her potential. Encouraging hard work to maximize natural giftedness is certainly a worthy cause — whether that talent is artistic, musical, athletic, academic, mechanical, organizational, or social. At the same time, though, talent is not everything.
Comparing a kid without talent in a certain area to someone who does isn’t fair. But even encouraging a kid to make the most of his or her potential can lead to ignoring what’s really more important: Character counts so much more than performance. Regardless of the outcome of a game, score on a test, or performance in a concert, it’s important to emphasize what kind of person your teen is becoming. Humility, kindness, perseverance, and self-control are more important than any trophies or other awards.
Pressure To Perform Can Displace Empathy
In our culture of selfies, videos-gone-viral, and Instagram perfection, we’re becoming increasingly narcissistic. Growing up in such a culture is taking its toll on our young people, who feel great pressure to perform and to focus on themselves. Stress mounts, depression results, and we revert to survival mode that leaves little room to consider anyone but ourselves.
According to a study from decades ago, the faster the pace, the less likely we are to demonstrate care for other people: “Our ‘busy’ school culture may be setting our children up to be less caring and compassionate about others as well. No wonder bullying is increasing; we don’t have margins in the day to stop, reflect and care about the needs or feelings of others. Life is pretty much about ‘looking out for number one’ and getting things done.”
This problem is only increasing as our culture continues to evolve; Dr. Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me” and “The Narcissism Epidemic,” comments about the generational changes since the 1970s: “The one thing that keeps coming up over and over again is individualism. There’s been more focus on the self, and less focus on social rules and other people. That’s where the book title came from. So the first studies we did were looking at self-esteem and positive self-views, and then a few years into it, we began to find more extreme forms of individualism, such as narcissism, that had increased over the generations.”
So before we hold up that place on the team or honor roll for our teens, let’s shoot a little higher, a little lower, a little more on encouraging them to become the kind of people we know that our world needs.