Building “Tough-Minded Teens” starts with the Parent

Vital LeadershipResilience

I can recall walking down a fairway in about 1980, going to look for the golf ball I had hit somewhere into oblivion and looking over at my dad, who had just walked up and watched me hit. He wasn’t playing with me, he had just appeared on his way to the club.
I was angry at my shot and embarrassed and I implied, with a snippy comment, that his presence distracted me from my “usual good play.” In my mind, I was capable of much more than the shot I had just hit.
I was a finely-tuned nationally ranked tennis player with a decent game of recreational golf, but the drive I had just hit was embarrassingly bad. Instead of rolling with it, finding the ball and looking toward making a better second shot, I was embarrassed. By the age of 17, I had directly connected ALL sports outcomes to my VERY FRAGILE EGO. Not only just in tennis, but, OVERALL. I needed to play well, score well, or hit well to feel good about myself. And, if I didn’t feel good about myself, I certainly didn’t want to take responsibility. I wanted to blame someone. In this case, it was Dad.
I told my dad that his presence distracted me. His response: “So you are blaming me?”
I said, simply, “YES.”
Then, I felt better. I had NO responsibility for the bad shot. It was HIS fault. My fragile ego was intact. I felt better – sadly.
I only wish now, that my father had pursued the sadness in that situation. He saw that I had blamed him but, by walking away, he LET me blame him. He LET me build my fragile ego through placing blame on others. He LET me live my life by the tenuous building blocks of sports accomplishment.
This was golf and I wasn’t even a golfer. But I did it in table tennis. I did it in basketball. I did it in every other game I picked up – probably Monopoly, too. I fed my ego on accomplishment and, if I wasn’t able to win or make my shots or wow the crowd, I was, in my mind, slightly less, and my ego was deeply bruised.
So, I spent the better part of my teen years and into college and beyond feeling that my accomplishments meant EVERYTHING. I was FAR from “resilient.”
Today, I run a business that teaches resilience. I focus on teens because kids need to learn early that adversity and difficulty and bad golf or tennis shots are NOT the burden I thought they were. They are, actually, the quintessential most important, life changing, to-be-sought-out, best elements of success.
And it starts with how the parent responds when we hit our first bump in the road.
“A parent’s resilience serves as a template for a child to see how to deal with challenges, how to understand their own emotions,” said Dr. Dan Siegel, author of “The Yes Brain.”
Failure and difficulty create anger, sadness and outbursts in kids. My feelings on the golf course that day were embarrassment and anger. My dad probably felt angry about being accused instead of appreciated for showing up. His anger caused him to walk away, which didn’t address my immature reaction at all and, certainly, didn’t make me aware enough to change it.
Challenges are life changing – and not to be avoided. Every person, by grade school, can look back and reference a situation was that bad or hard in the moment and find perspective in how it positively affected them. But somewhere, in my childhood, I learned the lesson that only positives and accomplishments meant validation, and I began to feed on and, therefore, crave both.
As a parent, we are often challenged to become better people by the process of raising our children. Ask yourself if you are protecting yourself from the emotions of your child and placating them to keep them happy. Or, are you realizing that dishing out a few “no’s” instead of all “yes’s” can help your child? Kids need to learn to feel emotions and handle them and not to be told to go to their room or avoid them.
Can you start a few confrontational conversations to help your children recognize what they are feeling and to confront it vs. stuff it or blame others? Those conversations, though time-consuming and challenging, would help them to process what they are feeling.
Resilience is taught. When difficulties happen, children are taught, by their parents, to panic and worry or to stay calm and problem solve. Perspective is key. I needed, earlier than age 17, to be told that I was okay even if I didn’t win the match or hit the fairway. And I needed to be shown skills and to develop habits to survive and, even thrive, when my emotions started to well up.
So, Vital Leadership has been built to teach those very skills and to help develop Tough-Minded Teens. Stay tuned for more details. There will be more on the blog and more information available every week in 2018.