April 13, 2010
Michael is a sweet 9-year-old boy, pretty funny with average grades. His mom and dad love him, but a growing concern has been nagging them for a few months now. You see, Michael is lazy. He would rather play tennis on the Wii than play tennis outdoors. Chores are an arm-twisting scenario every day. His interests are limited to Pokemon and watching baseball. His parents know he could do many things, but he lacks basic motivation. He basically sits around and waits for life to come to him.
His parents are worried that Michael is going to become a young man who never really leaves childhood. They look to the future and are haunted by the image of a 24-year-old who hasn't yet left home, a 30-year-old still playing video games, or a 40-year-old who centers entire seasons around sporting events at the expense of his family.
Some readers are thinking, "But, he's only nine years old! What more do you expect?!"
What do we expect? I suspect if we were to poll parents, we would see that many do not have a whole lot of expectations of their children. The reason? Why, they are only kids, of course! When they get to high school THEN they need to start thinking about more responsibility, about the bigger issues of life. Maybe even college. Aw, heck, college should be fun. They have years before they need to really knuckle down and do something meaningful.
I say that's garbage. It's a copout. It shows selfish and faulty thinking on the part of parents. Laziness does not begin in high school or in college. Early childhood habits, beliefs, and philosophies determine future behavior. Homeschoolers are in danger of this just as much as everyone else. Our entire culture is built around the idea that somehow kids need a break. From what? Almost every parent I know has mentioned at least once that their child is an endless source of almost limitless energy. Why are we so conditioned to waste that?
One little word speaks volumes here. Expectations. Children live in a world where we expect absolutely nothing of them with the exception of bad behavior. They are willing to give us what we expect.
If you have come this far with me today, I imagine you are now at the point where you are nodding your head, but wondering what in the world you can do about it. How can you unlock the door that keeps our children slaves to low expectations? Is there a key to freeing them to a life of joy and meaning?
Good news! One key unlocks this door, and that key has a label… PURPOSE. We are all wired to seek purpose in our lives. God made us to fight for something worthy. If you don't give your children something worthy to fight for, they will often resort to fighting for meaningless tokens. A large group of young adults now fight for their right to veg in front of the TV, to smoke if they want to smoke, to tell anyone what they think regardless of their message. They are drifting in a society that expects them to be belligerent, lazy, and self-centered. In a nutshell, they are unpurposed.
Instead of drifting with them, parents, anchor your children early in purposeful work. Help them find interesting, meaningful work that gives them responsibility, delight, and the invaluable opportunity to succeed OR fail. Our generation never experienced the gift of high expectations. No excuses though, it is our responsibility to give it to our kids.
But what about 'challenging kids'?
I'd suggest that purpose is especially important for challenging kids. Those kids that stretch you and make you crazy are top candidates for meaningful work. They have high levels of energy and gifts that may be less obvious that their less 'challenging' counterparts. However, the psychologists and others who analyze these kids often overlook one critical piece of information. The energy and unlikely gifts of these kids are more powerful than you can imagine. Your job is to teach them to use those powers for good.
And guess what? Your dedication in that mission will not only benefit your child, but you, your family, and your community as well. Peace in the home is derived from each family member enjoying a purpose, really contributing to something. Young people are not magically exempt from this timeless truth, no matter what the latest cable TV show tells you.
Young people are not given nearly enough credit for what they bring to the table of life. Expect great things from your kids. They may fall short, but they will always reach higher than they would have had they been given mediocre expectations. Purpose challenges them. They will stretch themselves, and stretching creates growth.
Now we know why we want to help our kids to a life of purpose. How, then, do we create this purpose? The first step is realizing that your role is not that of a creator, but rather that of a guide and sometimes facilitator. Your child's heart already holds dreams and interests. Your job is to guide them to the dreams and interests that are meaningful, worthy and within appropriate boundaries for their age and abilities. They have the spark; you provide the wisdom.
Since this post is growing a mind of its own, I am going to split these ideas up a bit. In my next post, I am going to share 3 scenarious, based on different ages, of what this looks like in real life.
Image by Kim Hattaway