Following their dreams
I've written about this before, so forgive the repetition, but we need to stop telling children that they can be anything they want to be. It's a lie, pure and simple, and it prevents them from having a realistic understanding of the world.
The truth is that some people have the physical attributes to be professional basketball players or the intellectual attributes to be theoretical physicists, and some do not, no matter how much they practise, no matter how much they dream, no matter how much they put their minds to it. And even if kids do have these attributes, an injury can end their sports career, a mental illness can force them to drop out of school, and poverty can keep them from pursuing an interest in music or art. Countless things can prevent them from reaching their goals.
Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't encourage kids to follow their dreams. Quite the opposite. Kids need to have dreams, but parents need to recognize that lying to children doesn't actually help them achieve their goals. What will help is truthful conversation about the challenges they might face, about the sacrifices they might have to make, about the strengths and weaknesses that they might have, about the alternative plans they might have to make.
When my son says, “I want to be an astronaut,” I don't tell him, “Yes, you can be anything you want to be.” I also don't tell him, “No, that's way too hard.” Instead, I tell him, “That's a great goal. In order to pursue it, you'll need to work really hard on your science, and you'll need to go to a special program after you're done university, and you'll need to dedicate a lot of your time for many years. Only a very few people get to be astronauts, but even if you don't get to be one of those few, the stuff you learn will be really useful for other jobs.”
When I talk with him like this, I value his dreams, and I encourage him to pursue them, but I help him do so realistically. This isn't squashing his goals. This is giving him the tools to go after them.
Luke Hill is a stay-at-home father of three boys, aged nine, seven, and three. He has fathered, fostered, adopted, or provided a temporary home for kids anywhere between birth and university. He has taught college courses, adoption seminars, camp groups, Sunday School classes, rugby teams, not to mention his own homeschooled kids.