Defining success with today’s kids involves the usual triumvirate of grades-sports-extracurricular activities. Using that criteria, I’d say that most of the kids in my city are successful (and usually by age 10).
But are we using the right measuring sticks?
I had the good fortune to sit for a parenting workshop at my kids’ middle school last night. The speaker, Keith Hawkins, talked about success and our role as parents in our kids’ quest for excellence. As I prepared myself for the usual spiel about striving for perfection and working 1% harder than everyone else, something extraordinary happened: Mr. Hawkins completely challenged our definition of success.
Using clever tools like a rousing game of Simon Sez, Mr. Hawkins set out to illustrate how we are involved, but not committed, parents (the exercise forced us to admit that we were not actively listening…hard to illustrate here but it worked). His theory is that while we show up for their games and drive them to and from school every day, we’re just going through the motions. We look at our kids’ success as one-dimensional. If the report cards show A’s and B’s, we call them successful. If they out-score all the other kids on the soccer field, we call them successful. If they tick off all the college entry requirements, we call them successful. The parents sitting in my section (including myself) nodded their agreement as Mr. Hawkins listed these ‘success’ barometers. Then, he dropped the bomb:
These are all important, but who did they help today?
Mr. Hawkins’ theory is that today’s kids lack empathy because they are too busy striving for the goals and objectives their parents advocate. They’ve become inwardly focused, basing their success on their accomplishments alone.
And we support this. In fact, we encourage it.
He proceeded to relate this theory to real life situations, observing that the kids who choose to put their heads down and plow through life are missing the very essence of why they were put here in the first place: to build character. To pay it forward. We place importance on external goals that expire. The fact is, they probably won’t be playing soccer their entire lives, and their school careers will end after college. So how important is getting good grades and scoring goals? Are those things more important than having a positive impact on others? Doesn’t your character come with you and stay with you until the day you die? Should we not, then, be focusing most of our energy on that?
I’ve asked the question many times: what defines success? Is it getting into a good college? Then what? Is it getting a good job? The fact is, human relationships and the love and support we give and receive serve as the foundation for any ‘success’ we might have in life. It’s not much fun being a billionaire if you have no one to share it with. Your kid got into Harvard? Will he use that opportunity to give something back to society or will he simply continue to use his ‘success’ for his own personal gain?
Mr. Hawkins believes that our kids are a product of their environments, which means we have to do some honest-to-goodness soul-searching. What kind of example are we setting with our own behavior? If someone is in distress, do we avert our eyes and keep walking? Do we gossip about the neighbors within earshot of our kids? Are we exhibiting empathy and concern in our daily lives or are we too busy checking our smartphones and complaining about how tired we are? Do we swiftly and decisively put a stop to our kids’ inappropriate behavior?
I’m certainly guilty of parenting while distracted. It takes a lot of effort to stay plugged in and everyone is tired. Maybe you’re on board with this whole concept, but now you’re asking – where do I start? Mr. Hawkins suggests changing up the usual after-school dialogue from ‘how was your day?’ to ‘who did you help today?’ This is a great first step for you and your child to re-direct the focus to others – to helping.
I don’t know about all of you, but I want to raise kids that give a crap about someone other than themselves. I’m a big believer that in life we have Aha! moments (this is literally the only thing I have in common with Oprah). It’s what we do with those moments that counts. Mr. Hawkins’ workshop was an Aha! moment for me. I intend to apply some of what I learned to my parenting strategy.
Pay it forward. Transform your kids into little ambassadors of kindness.The world needs more positive energy.
If you would like more information on Keith Hawkins, visit his website at www.keithhawkins.com. He travels the country speaking to students and parents, spreading his message of kindness and character. I’m a fan – thanks, Keith!