Of Presidents and Teens and Dreams


What has happened to your teenager's dreams?

A generation ago, parents often encouraged their children with, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up, even the President!”

Things have changed.

Today, you may encourage your teen with, “You’ll need to work hard and have some luck just to make ends meet!”; “Make sure you learn a job skill that will be marketable!”; and “Whatever you do, don’t go into politics!”

Teenagers dreams have changed too. According to one study last year, nearly a quarter of today’s teens aspire to work in healthcare whether or not they have particular talent in the sciences, simply as a job security factor. Yesterday’s teen girls, for instance, dreamed of creating a family with a successful husband; today’s girls are thinking education and career first, then maybe family later. Yesterday’s teen boys often dreamed of being a sports star, driving a fancy car, and making boatloads of money as an engineer or architect. Today’s boys more often simply hope they can get enough financial aid to get through college and hope not to join the lines of the unemployed.

What has happened to your teenager’s dreams?

One factor affecting teen’s dreams is that they’re simply taking longer to reach maturity, while struggling with some degree of “growing up too fast”. According to a marvelous article by Po Bronson at Newsweek, society has created an entire generation of protected young people – they’ve been protected from life, sheltered within their own age group, rarely permitted to experience ‘real life’ as in apprenticeships or actual jobs. Then we wonder why teenagers are bored and apathetic and satisfied to endlessly play computer games and hang out with their friends.

What has happened to your teenager’s dreams?

A second factor affecting teen’s dreams is the prevalence of an entitlement attitude. As a direct result of a lifetime of hearing the message, “You deserve more/better” without being tied to their actual performance or maturity level, teenagers today are awash in an attitude of entitlement. Have a hard time studying? You must have a disability – you now get special allowances and extra time for assignments and tests. Have a bad attitude, depressed or angry? Your hormones must be out of whack – lets get you on some medication to balance things out. Have nothing better to do than party, experiment with alcohol and marijuana, or play endless computer games? Thats okay – you’ll grow up some day. This entitlement attitude has at its base a great self-centered focus: “What can you do / give to ME? I deserve it just because I’m alive.”

What has happened to your teenager’s dreams?

A third factor affecting teen’s dreams is the sense of crisis and discouragement of the adults they’re following. No longer is it a given that teens will be able to “grow up, finish school, get a job, be successful.” Adults are afraid, unemployed, scrambling to redefine their careers, adding second and even third jobs just to make ends meet. News of political corruption, financial meltdowns, and homelessness is constantly in the news. Its no wonder teenagers are often unwilling to embrace the old ‘dream’ of the adults who appear so unsuccessful at their own.

What has happened to your teenager’s dreams?

If you’re parent (or teacher or mentor or grandparent or friend) to a teenager, you’ve seen these three factors played out in the lives of the teenagers you interact with. It would be easy to simply throw up your hands and say, “There’s nothing to be done until society changes!” But that won’t help your teenager find their way successfully.

Beneath your teen’s angst and desire to “just be happy”, there is a person who is moving forward and needs your help. And even for those who struggle with being sheltered, having an entitlement attitude, and society’s discouragement and crises, there is HOPE! Guiding your teen’s dreams won’t happen by accident, and won’t happen by itself. YOU have a pivotal role to play in helping your teenager navigate the treacherous ground of preparing for an adult life of success.

Here are some ways to help guide your teenager’s dreams. It is never too early – or too late – to begin incorporating these ideas into your daily life with your teenager!

  1. Stop giving your teen everything. Stop buying them the latest fashions or computer gadgets. Stop insisting that their wants are actually needs. START involving them in open conversations about budgeting and economic changes affecting the family. START giving them real, tangible, important roles to play within your family, and then listen to their input.
  2. Stop putting up with your teen’s selfishness. You aren’t in a popularity contest, and your teen won’t fold if you refuse to ‘co-sign’ their entitlement attitude. Selfishness is a normal part of development that needs parental help to grow out of. STOP insisting that they get special services unless they actually need them. Stop giving them the message that their needs/wants come first. START with clearly defined and communicated expectations for behavior and attitudes. START giving them reality checks and helping them see the results of their choices, then encouraging them to learn from their mistakes.
  3. Stop your own defeatist attitude right now! Sure, the economy stinks. Jobs are scarce, you may have lost your lifetime career, lost your home, and be riding the bus. However, YOU are the adult. START acting like one! The ONLY way your teenager will learn how to grow through difficult situations with a healthy attitude is if you show them how. Cut up your credit cards, re-learn how to cook every night instead of going out to eat because its convenient, and put into practice the life changes you’ve been telling yourself you really need to implement but have been too discouraged or overwhelmed to get started with.
  4. Become a powerful advocate for your teen’s active involvement in rehearsing for adulthood. Don’t expect your teenager to be excited about getting a “McJob” if you’re already providing all they need. Advocate for them to explore their interests by volunteering. Use your adult connections to give them an opportunity to shadow various career options. Have sit-down conversations about their interests, then ACT on those interests. Don’t put up with a lousy school situation, but don’t fix it by giving up. Explore together different ways your teen can become involved in causes they care about, then don’t let them give up when it requires work or sacrifice.

What has happened to your teenager’s dreams?

Their dreams are still there, just hidden beneath piles of self-doubt, selfishness and apathy. Clear it away!

Their dreams are still there, just hidden behind a facade of “it doesn’t matter” and “I don’t care”. Become an activist in your teen’s life!

Their dreams are still there, just hidden from the view of adults who so often seem unable to manage their own lives and therefore are not a safe place. Changing this one is completely up to you!

From working with hundreds of families I have become convinced that teenagers today are positively screaming for guidance and tangible support from the adults in their lives. Need a little help providing the help your teenager is craving? Send me a message today and lets get started!

Your turn:

Now is the time to ACT! What do you need to change in order to actively encourage your teenager to find and pursue their dreams? What are some creative ways you’ve found to help your teenager reduce apathy and successfully rehearse for life?



About RJ

I'm passionate about HOPE! As a first year medical student, I spend most of my time studying like mad. Somehow I still find time to build a successful entrepreneurial venture that is helping to change lives. I also keep up with writing, make a few videos here and there, and hold as extra precious the time spent with friends and family. I'm thrilled to work with you as you create your own abundant health, wealth, and happiness.
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10 Responses to Of Presidents and Teens and Dreams

  1. I must say that I dont agree with much of this article. It’s not a sense of entitlement that we give or teens; it’s a sense of self worth despite a bad economy, a poor grade on a test, or a failure at a job. Preparing teens for real life or having expectations of their behavior or actions is setting them to live a life that pleases other people. The very best we do for our children – or anyone in our lives – is to see them as whole and capable of fulfilling their dreams, and letting them know that while we don’t know their way in life, we are sure they are completely able to find it.

    • RJ says:

      Rhonda, I very much agree with you! I especially resonate with your statement that we hope to give our teens “a sense of self worth despite a bad economy, a poor grade on a test, or a failure at a job.” It is a sad reality that the vast majority of teenagers today struggle with the attitudes and behaviors mentioned in this article, and their parents struggle just as much to adjust to the economic challenges and parenting in a new landscape. I believe it is very possible to help our children grow from our belief in them into a strong and healthy belief in themselves so long as we do it with mindful attention to the potential pitfalls along the way.

  2. AW says:

    One of the gifts of this challenging economy is the opportunity for all of us to think of ways to live on less. There’s no easy money so we get to enjoy the free/beautiful things of life and appreciate any job no matter how difficult. As we, as the adults in the family, take on that mentality hopefully we can pass on a different perspective from the easy life we used to all look for.

    • RJ says:

      Thank you for the great reminder of that switch in perspective parents are sometimes struggling with. Moving away from the dream of helping today’s teens have a better life than we had is becoming essential. Courage to you – and all parents / grandparents / teachers – who are working to find a way to help teens appreciate a more simple life while still reaching for the stars!

  3. Triston says:

    Nice to read your blog

  4. Karen says:

    RJ, I love what you have to say here. It really applies to my 16 year-old with Aspergers. We are working on reshaping that thinking. I shared this on my Confessions of an Aspergers Mom FB community wall. I hope you don’t mind, I also quote you and also reference this post on my blog. http://confessionsofanaspergersmom.blogspot.com/2012/02/boredom-is-for-boring.html

    • RJ says:

      Karen, I’m so glad that you found this information helpful! I love your blog post – tried to leave you an encouraging comment but for some reason it wouldn’t ‘take’.

      Your post is a fantastic snapshot of something that most parents of teenagers struggle with almost constantly: that self-centered entitlement attitude. Courage to you as you continue trying to teach your son unselfish gratitude for what he has, and a willingness to actually work for more of what he wants!

  5. This is a great article. I admittedly have allowed myself to fall into a couple of categories. I was wondering why I wasn’t getting ‘results’ from my teens. (I am the mother of 5. Three are living with two out of the house). After separating from my husband, I went back to school. My priorities changed. I noticed I wasn’t as forgiving with behaviors as before. I was tested, but had no choice but to be consistent because my circumstances had changed. I’ve slowly seen the apathy in my daughter change and her becoming more independently responsible. To my amazement, she’s actually practicing things I’ve tried to teach her for years. Reading your article, I still have some things to work on. I’m encouraged and enlightened. Thank you.

    • RJ says:

      Monica, Kudos to you for noticing what worked to help your daughter make progress, and being willing to keep right on making positive changes. As a single mom for nearly 30 years, I know what a struggle it can be, and how thrilling it is to better yourself through education. Courage and HOPE for both you and your daughter!

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