I had an interesting conversation recently with a young woman who counsels teenagers. It was about how parents, teachers, and society tell kids to dream big. It really got me thinking, and I want to share those thoughts with you. It’s a good gut check, and one that carries a couple of warnings.
It All Starts Off Innocently Enough
When our kids are little and playing pretend, we like to encourage their dreams. Why not? They’re little, and it’s fun. To them, it’s a playground of imagination. What would it be like to be an astronaut? What dinosaur would I discover if I was a world-famous paleontologist? I love performing in the living room, so I want to pretend it’s a giant auditorium! All of that is fun, and there is nothing wrong with it. But there’s a line we cross somewhere along the way between having a great time with imagination, and thinking about those things as real goals. Goals with focus and preparation. Goals that become purpose.
There’s a line we cross somewhere along the way between having a great time with imagination, and thinking about those things as real goals.
There are two fundamental problems with Big Dream Syndrome.
1. Frustration, Boredom, Anxiety
They’re all whipped up for something they can’t have. At least not for a while longer.
The first problem is that it frustrates our teenagers and robs them of joy. They have been programmed to have big dreams, and they’ve been told they can be anything they want to be (which isn’t true, but that’s another post!), so they internalize all of that. Yes, we want our kids to believe in themselves, but when the object of that belief is a big, lofty dream, it’s out of reach for teenagers. As my friend told me, “They’re told, ‘You can do all these big things… but not right now. Right now, you have to go to class and do your chores.’ Well, that’s a hard place to be in.” They’re all whipped up for something they can’t have. At least not for a while longer. The result is that they don’t enjoy what they’re doing now. Everything “important” is bigger than life, so what do you do when you’re living a normal life? You might be bored, anxious, doubtful.
Instead of focusing on big dreams as big goals, just have fun with your kids when they’re little and playing pretend. Even if your kid goes through a doctor phase where they put on scrubs and heal dolls for a year, that doesn’t mean he’s destined to be a doctor. So, just let him be a kid and have fun. Figure the rest out later.
As they get older, make dreams ones that are within reach. What if, instead of winning American Idol, your kid’s dream was to get a part in the school musical at some point in high school? Or sing in church? Those are within reach. Which means they can be enjoyed now. There’s a lot to enjoy now, so make those the dreams. Heck, the dream might be to go to high school and have a great time being a teenager. That’s not a bad dream. Do you see how making the small things the important things, your teenager will be better off?
2. Misguided Purpose
Your child was not put on this earth to go to the Olympics.
The second problem is how easy it is for those big dreams to become the kid’s purpose in life, and that’s a problem. If your daughter loves gymnastics when she’s six, and she’s good at it, it’s the easiest thing in the world to start dreaming of the Olympics. And then the Olympics becomes the goal in life, and everything else is held against that goal. That leads to pressure. And if your daughter believes in herself, and what that means is that she believes she can make it to the Olympics, everything else becomes very small. And the biggest problem with all of that is this: Your child was not put on this earth to go to the Olympics. That is not her purpose, and that’s not where her value is found.
Piggy-backing off the last Instead, don’t discourage your daughter’s Olympic dreams, but don’t put them in the forefront. What if she was focused on an upcoming local tournament, or perfecting that landing? There’s way more satisfaction in reaching those smaller, meaningful goals along the way.
But, on to purpose. Let’s be clear. Your child’s purpose is the same as yours, and mine, and all of ours. We are here to be in relationship with God and glorify Him. What that looks like is different for every person because God is endlessly wise and creative. So, this kid might fulfill that purpose as an Olympian, that one might do it as a missionary, and that other one may do it as a cashier. That should be a relief because no matter what job you have, what college you go to, or what internship you get, you can always fulfill your purpose along the way. AND you have everything you need to do it!
We are here to be in relationship with God and glorify Him. What that looks like is different for every person because God is endlessly wise and creative….That should be a relief because no matter what job you have, what college you go to, or what internship you get, you can always fulfill your purpose along the way.
If you can teach your child the truth about his purpose, he will be able to weather more disappointments. So, for example, if your Olympic-bound gymnast doesn’t make the Olympics, or sustains a career-ending injury, or just changes her mind, her life has the exact same purpose as before. It can’t change. She can glorify God in a small gymnastics studio, or in physical therapy, or down another road altogether.
I’m not trying to be a dream-killer here! It’s great to have dreams, even big ones. It’s inspiring. But keep them in check, and keep your kid’s feet on rock instead of sand.
Have you ever seen Big Dream Syndrome backfire? Or seen it pay off? Maybe you think I’m way off, and if so, I want to hear another perspective. Chime in below!