Alicia Drummond, our In-House Parenting & Mental Health Expert is back with her series on ‘setting up for success’, and in this article she explores the environments we create for our children and how they can affect their mental health and wellbeing
Missed Part 1? Catch up here
Maya Angelou, American civil rights activist, poet and author defines success as:
“Liking who you are. Liking what you do and liking how you do it”
In my last article we considered the nature of success and the role of self-esteem. This time we are going to look at the performance environments we create for our children. The culture in our world today has become results-driven which, in my opinion, is neither healthy nor helpful.
It is not healthy because the drive to achieve stellar results is putting young people into significant win-lose situations before they have the maturity and confidence to believe that their worth is not based on academic achievement.
It is not helpful because it means that too often teaching can be about finding the fastest route to results rather than encouraging debate and inspiring a life-long love of learning.
It is also not fit for purpose – if you look at what all the futurists (what a great job title) predict will be the qualities necessary to thrive in the job markets of the future, there are four things that come up time and time again:
- Social skills
- Critical thinking skills
When success is measured by results we do not create a culture that allows for creative thinking and challenging ideas. When we make it about the rote learning of facts, all of which are available at the tap of a finger anyway, we shut down enquiry and initiative.
My hope is to see a system of education that is going to set our children up for future success, but in the meantime, what can we do as parents to help our children thrive in the system as it is?
Before we start I wonder if you can cast your mind back to the last school report you opened or the last parent’s evening you attended. What did you focus on? Was it the grade they achieved; how they seemed to be doing in comparison to all their friends or was it the comment made by their teacher on their progress or effort?
This might seem like a trivial exercise but it is important. What you focus on will determine the culture of success you create for your sons and daughters and that culture will have an impact on their attitude to learning, their attitude to failure and potentially to their mental health and wellbeing.
If your focus is on the results, prizes, cups and winning i.e. attainment, then the chances are you will create what is known as an ‘end goal culture’. If your focus is on progress, effort and the journey then you will create a ‘process goal culture’.
The terms come from sports coaching but they are applicable to any area in which we are trying to help others fulfil their potential. So let’s have a look at the two cultures and we will start with the end goal culture.
End goal culture
“If success is about winning or being the best then not winning equals failing.”
“If I have to be better than others then they become my benchmark and I will be forever judging myself in comparison to them.”
This in itself is a no win activity because when we feel ahead we are under pressure to stay there, and when we feel behind we feel inferior.
The subliminal message of the end goal culture is that parental approval (AKA love) is not unconditional; it has to be earned through achievement and may therefore be lost through failure.
Why would it be fun to learn a musical instrument if the sole purpose is to achieve grades? If something isn’t enjoyable – if it doesn’t give you intrinsic reward i.e. it makes you feel good, the only reason to continue is because of the extrinsic reward i.e. certificates, prizes, social status and our approval. Of course it is nice to get external recognition, but to be truly great at anything the motivation must come from within.
The other thing about the end goal culture is that ‘if I can only feel successful when I achieve the end goal, I can feel like I have failed on a fairly spectacular scale if I don’t reach it.’ So the end goal culture also develops a high fear of failure. The fear of failure kills creativity and creativity is vital for it not only lies at the heart of all great art, literature and drama but it is essential for science, technology and innovation.
Look at these statistics from a study into the decline of creativity with age conducted by American systems scientist, George Land:
- At 5 years old 98% of children can be considered to be highly creative
- This drops to 30% by 10 years old
- It drops again to 12% by 15 years old
- Only 2% of all adults can be considered to be highly creative
Not great if creativity is going to be as important as predicted.
So, in summary, the end goal culture fuels compare and despair and feelings of inferiority, it kills enjoyment, puts young people under huge pressure to perform, develops extrinsic motivation and kills creativity none of which sound ideal to me.
The process goal culture by comparison, seems rather more helpful so we will look at this in my next article. In the meantime I would invite you to notice what you pay attention to – is it the effort or the outcome?
Read Setting up for Success Part 1 here
Alicia is a therapist accredited with the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy; she is also a pastoral care consultant working with over 100 schools internationally and, perhaps most importantly, is a parent.
Alicia set up Teen Tips when she noticed that as a therapist working with teenagers it became obvious that the number of young people needing mental health care had grown exponentially.
An advocate for being proactive in creating an environment for teenagers that promotes positive mental health, well being and resilience, Alicia believes that if schools and parents can work together to create such an environment, great things can be achieved.
Teen Tips Courses, Talks and Workshops are designed to give you information, advice and perhaps, most importantly, practical tips and tools to help you to help teenagers fulfil their potential.
Visit her website for more information here www.teentips.co.uk/