I have been reading a book called “Teach your Kids Well” by Madeline Levine.
It ties into my previous two blogs nicely in that it is about parenting for success. Where I examined ways in which we can implement good parenting strategies into our homes on our quest to become more successful parents, Levine takes a look at how society now defines success and how it is influencing us, in her opinion, negatively, with disastrous results.
In her book she makes it abundantly clear that she believes success today is often defined by very narrow and restrictive parameters largely based on academic performance.
Success is much much more than that, it is all about developing values and coping skills. These are the platform for what will really determine and drive true success. If a child does not have a good set of values and coping skills, in the long term, they will not do well no matter what their current status quo might suggest. For example, a child might have got an A, but achieved it from being pushed from the wrong platform, one perhaps by pressure, bribes and rewards over the development of intrinsic motivation and core values.
Today, many of the factors that contribute to the development of intrinsic motivation, namely effort and improvement, are over-looked and the prime focus becomes merely the end result. All too often, success is measured by the end result, not the journey and this, I believe, is in keeping with a society obsessed with the over-indulgence of praise. In some of my previous blogs, I have looked at what happens when encouragement is confused with praise.
So where does this leave our children?
With A’s, maybe, but more importantly, with this skewed belief of ‘success’, children can be left feeling empty with a diminished sense of self. Take away the A and what is left? Take away the trophy and what do they have? These are external measures of success which, when in excess, can result in value impaired, externally motivated children who are only motivated to achieve what society defines successful outcomes and who believe they are only as good as their last performance.
When we set our children up for who we want them to be, grades we want them to get, sports we want them to play and excel at, we can inadvertently set them up for potential failure because we fail to recognize them for who they really are. On page 20 of her book, Levine lists some of the things that are becoming normal beliefs and values in our society:
- College begins with our preschool choice
- Athletic training can never start too early
- Summers are for advancing talent at specialized camps
- Kids need to take every rigorous course offered
- Tutoring is to be expected
- Every grade, interest, activity and pursuit is a step toward academic success
Even if these are not our beliefs, the fear that our child might miss out or fall behind makes it very difficult not to join in the bandwagon.
We have to ask ourselves how a child can be expected to figure out who they are, what they like and value or what kind of a life is authentic when this pressured, one-size-fits-all recipe for success is thrust upon so many of them? When the majority are being thrown into the same boat, what chance does it give them to be unique and true to themselves and not succumb to all the external pressure.
What can we do?
We need to help our children develop internal measures of success because as Levine clearly states in her book, success is an inside job. Success is measured not purely by today’s report card or how many trophies we have in the cabinet but by the people our children will become in fifteen to twenty years from now. We need to teach our children well and parent for authentic success, success that comes from deep within and not just on the surface.
As parents, we need to clarify and prioritize our values so that they are in alignment with what we believe to be important and take a look at what is emphasized in our homes and schools and being communicated to our children.
According to Levine, “we need to shift our focus from the excesses of hyper-parenting and the narrow visions of success and our unhealthy reliance on our children that perhaps provides status to ourselves and return to the essentials of good parenting”.
This will allow our children to be themselves, be authentic genuine versions of themselves, able to develop their own sense of values, beliefs and coping skills. Levine lists her top 7 coping skills that she believes will go a long way to helping develop resilience in our children. These are:
- A good work ethic
In each carefully laid out section, she gives parents valuable tips and suggestions as to how this can be achieved.
It takes courage by parents and children alike to buck the tide and not look to grades, trophies and other means of external accolades as the sole measures of success. We need to let our children blossom for who they really are and not for who and what we think they should be.
If what I have been discussing resonates with you, I would highly recommend that you read this book. It offers great insight into parenting for authentic success and helping families return to a more sane and healthier version of themselves.