Photo by 1shoe1.
This guest post is from Scott Schimmel, a former InterVarsity staff member and now the President and Chief Guide of the YouSchool, a small group curriculum program to help high school and college students explore their vocational paths through self-discovery in the context of community.
“Kids usually live up to the expectations of those around them, don’t they?” —Dr. Tim Elmore, Growing Leaders
Stated or perceived, expectations can inspire you or crush you. Sadly, for many of today’s young people, expectations often destroy any chance they have to live their unique, best lives.
Sometimes kids have expectations placed on them that are really lofty and aspirational. Parents might say, “You should become a doctor, because you’re good at science.” Or, “You know, engineering is where all the jobs are, and you’re good at math.” Parents generally mean well and want the best for their kids. At their worst, though, parents can attempt to work their own issues out through their kids, hoping to live vicariously and get their own needs met through their kids’ successes. Parents might even say shaming things like, “Don’t disappoint us.”
Other times, the expectations are way too low. Recently a sophomore in high school showed me her report card. It had five ‘F’s’ and one ‘C-’. I asked her what she thought about when she saw her report card, assuming she might feel embarrassed, sad, or angry. Instead, with a glimmer in her eye, she said, “I’m really excited about the ‘C-’, actually. Everyone in my family has always called me stupid and a failure, and the ‘C-’ proves them otherwise.” Far too many young people know that there is very little expected of them, except perhaps for barely graduating high school. If you ask them, they’ll tell you that they aren’t going anywhere in life, they’re going to be just like their dad, or their older sister, or their cousins. They expect failure, disappointment, and poverty.
At a new adventure we’ve started called YouSchool, we’re diving into these conversations headfirst. In the high-achieving, Ivy-Leage-bound world, it’s powerful to tell young people not to let anybody else write their story for them. Discover who YOU are, what makes YOU tick, what ticks YOU off, and what YOUR future looks like at its best. We encourage teenagers to dream soberly, with an honest and clear look at who they really are—their strengths, weaknesses, hopes, values, challenges, and all.
In the inner city, often the world of under-performing and under-resourced communities and schools, it’s the same message: DON’T LET ANYBODY ELSE WRITE YOUR STORY. It’s not true that you have to repeat your parents’ story. It’s not true that you’re stuck. There are tremendous challenges in front of you, but you have a chance. There’s something powerful when a person gains self-awareness. That usually turns into confidence, which breeds direction. At that point you see a fully self-motivated person engaged with life.
It’s not about giving kids false hope, or about teaching them to disobey their parents. Young people deserve the opportunity to explore themselves in a safe environment of trust, where anything goes because everything is already impacting them. Since we launched last year, we’ve seen hundreds of students be changed by going through a self-discovery process with their peers, equipped with common-sense questions and a chance to have real conversations with the people who matter the most to them. As they honestly dive into their lives, something sacred happens. They shed other people’s expectations and start seeing what their lives could be at their best.
They pick up the pen to start authoring their own story.
How have you helped teenagers begin to write their own stories?
What ideas do you have for preparing high school seniors to write a new story beyond graduation?
How do you help parents who want to write their kids’ futures for them?
Here’s another idea about teenagers writing their own “stories of future hope.”
Learn more about YouSchool