As human beings, we are hardwired with a deep need to matter to someone. Even those of us who are extreme introverts want to be in relationship with others who care if we show up, who depend on us. This is part of the reason that the empty nest hits so hard. Suddenly children don’t need mom as much and she finds herself abruptly cast adrift. I think we adults understand our need to be responsible and depended upon for the happiness of others as well as ourselves. However, I believe we often miss this fundamental requirement in our children.
If anything, teens are more passionate and idealistic than adults. If given a chance, they care deeply, work ferociously, and give freely. We totally ignore their nature if we insist they spend all their time in academics so they can achieve perfect scores or funnel them into traditional teenage extracurriculars because we think that’s what kids do. We tend to protect them, agree with everything they say, and attempt to save the real world for later. Trust me, being secretary of French club at school doesn’t challenge the student and certainly doesn’t interest a selective college.
If you want a child that is healthy, happy, and well adjusted, I would invite you to ignore conventional wisdom. All kids need to matter, to be depended upon, to be stretched full out by something they could fail at. Real world living and serving and working and achieving can turn a listless kid into a dynamo. Here are some things that can change a teen’s life:
- the worshipful gaze of a peewee basketball player looking up into the face of their adolescent coach
- the business startup that is waiting for some crucial coding from their youngest employee
- the election night results from the important legislative race orchestrated by someone barely old enough to drive
- negotiating a book contract with a major publisher
- applying for a patent for the latest invention
- showing up on time every day for their job at a local business
- seeing all the elderly patients at a living center waiting by the door for their favorite pianist to come play for them
Mattering to others can profoundly impact a child’s view of themselves, give them a reason to get up in the morning, clarify a life’s work, and consequently change the course of their future. It is not an easy parenting style, but an intensely rewarding one!
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