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Think About how you Define Success for Your Teenager

Sue Blaney

This is a guest post by Sue Blaney, a nationally recognized award-winning author, speaker, and publisher dedicated to supporting parents in successfully raising teenagers. Sue specializes in communication and works with parents and professionals at many levels to educate, empower and connect parents of teens. Visit her website at www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com

In my morning inspirational reading I reopened a favorite book The Art of Possibility by Ben and Roz Zander. In it, Ben Zander notes

    “The drive to be successful and the fear of failure are, like the head and tail of a coin, inseparably linked. They goaded me on to unusual efforts and caused me, and those around me, considerable suffering. Of course, the surprising thing was that my increasing success did little to lessen the tension…. {Eventually} I settled on a game called I am a contribution. Unlike success and failure, ‘contribution’ has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison. All at once I found that the fearful question, ‘Am I loved for who I am, or for what I have accomplished?’ could be replaced by the joyful question, ‘How will I be a contribution today?’

When we measure our success by external measurements – our accomplishment, awards, money, fame, material acquisitions – we are playing in a “measurement model.” A measurement model is usually based upon a sense of scarcity… “better get yours before someone else does.” Zander suggests this is not only unhealthy, it is unnecessary. By reframing our definition of success we open up a world of possibilities – and joy. Rather than live in a stress-inducing scarcity model, we can live in a “widespread array of abundance.”

Let’s consider the high-stress world our teenagers inhabit in the context of the Zanders’ philosophy.

There is an epidemic of stress disorders among our young people. According to a new study, five times as many high school and college students are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues as youth of the same age who grew up during the Great Depression. Comments I hear from parents reflect this; like “My daughter is obsessed with doing everything perfectly. She doesn’t seem to be able to tolerate anything less than perfection, whether it’s grades, friends, her looks, or anything else. And yet she is fragile and on the edge.” “The competition to get into the college of his choice is so intense it is impacting his relationship with his friends because they are competing for the limited slots.” “My child isn’t in bed before 2am on a typical school night.” Parents know this is unhealthy and you ask: “What can I do?”

Maybe you need to redefine “success.”

Many mental health professionals, educators, parenting experts, and cultural observers note that today’s teens put a high value on the external and visible measures of success. It seems today’s teens have different values to some degree, and we wonder if these values are linked to this rise in anxiety. While a valid cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven, it must be considered. Professionals speculate that the sources of the increased stress come from “a popular culture that focuses on the external – wealth, looks, status” to “over-protective parents who have left their children with few real-world coping skills.” And the students? “Students themselves point to everything from pressure to succeed – self imposed and otherwise – to a fast paced world that’s only sped up by the technology they love so much.”

One 21 year old in the study is quoted:

    “The unrealistic feelings that are ingrained in us from a young age – that we need to have massive amounts of money to be considered a success – not only lead us to a higher likelihood of feeling inadequate, anxious or depressed, but also make us think that the only value in getting an education is to make a lot of money…”

How do you frame and define “success?” The way you define success, the way you express goals and reward your teens are how you teach them values.

The Zanders raise a good point: How would your teenager’s experience be different if rather than focusing on achieving a certain gpa, accolade or reward, he were to consider how he could “be a contribution?” How would you communicate and teach this change in attitude? How would you provide rewards?

While parents tend to blame a materialistic culture and images and experiences that influence teens toward this externally based focus, we must take responsibility for being the primary teachers of values. While parents are worried about the high rates of anxiety and depression we must realize we may be part of the problem and we most certainly can be part of the solution.

How can you be a contribution to your teen’s well being today?

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#1 KennyB 2010-07-29 17:16
A great book for teens is Success for Teens. Please go to the successfoundati on.org and check out the information. they have a goal of getting ten million books into the hands of teens. The books are free to schools. They have 8 great habits for teens to follow and real life stories. I am a principal and run a thirty five minute breakfast club meeting on Mondays with my high school students. The year has been very successful. Contact me at amelascharles@yahoo.com for more information. I love to share.

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