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Filtering by Tag: Fear

Parenting: Hope or Fear?

Phil Meehan

Singapore American Newspaper, May 2015

The moment I first held my son I was filled with joy and hope for the possibilities ahead. That was quickly followed by a moment of fear – both “what now?” and “I hope I don’t screw this up.” Parenting is a balance between hope and fear; we wish the best for our kids and want them to enjoy safe passage through life, but fear creeps in as we encounter real and perceived danger all around.

Fear can be the driving force behind our parenting decisions. We constantly hear about things to be fearful of – strangers, cars, foods, too much screen-time, too little nature --the list is endless. When we parent from fear, we build walls between our child and the outside world, developing a parenting style where risk avoidance rather than learning is the goal. The fear of physical danger might mean that a young person may never leave his parents’ sight.  Another fear focuses on opportunities, such as academics; parents, swept up in a wave of activities and tuition, fearful that without them, their child won’t “succeed”. Finally there’s a fear of making mistakes, of not being the perfect parent. Of course he threw a tantrum; I knew better than to let my son play too much Minecraft!

How do we parent with hope? To manage risk around physical danger, rather than building walls, we build supports that allow kids to learn to manage risk age-appropriately. Kids learn when they fail or make a mistake but we are there to help them up and problem solve for the next time. The child who is always caught when they fall at the park, never experiencing pain, is more likely to take greater risks without the necessary skills than a child who learns through small falls and natural consequences.  As a child shows she can navigate her environment safely, she earns trust and further freedoms, and we feel hopeful because of her resilience.

Similarly, when we fear that a lack of academic tuition or extra-curriculars will keep our child from being successful - we also need to lean on hope.  Instead of choosing activities that we think will help our children gain a leg-up on peers, we can encourage children to follow their own interests and explore possibilities, even if it’s a different path than the one we envision.  When children find a fit and invest the time, whether it’s bugs, bass guitar or basketball, they will be more likely to stick to it when the going gets tough. This “stick-to-it-ness”, or grit, is what parenting out of hope encourages.

Finally, when it comes to parenting perfectly, we all have times where we actually do just that. Too often we get bogged down with the negative, admonishing ourselves for mistakes without celebrating successes. When you find something that works, keep doing it! And when you repeat the same thing over again with negative results, try something different. Rather than aspiring to perfection, it’s hopeful to recognize we’re doing our best with the resources, time and energy we have.

The Right Fit - Taking Fear Out Of The College Application Equation

Phil Meehan

"If I just get into the XYZ College or ABC University, my life will be great." Ever heard this or felt this way? Underneath this statement lurks the thought process that “If I don’t get into XYZ, life will be bad.”  Fear has always been one of the most powerful motivating forces: Think “fight or flight” when a large predator provided the motivation to not become dinner. When you stop to consider it, you know that the fear of not getting into one of the top universities in the world isn’t the same thing as being chased by a lion, tiger or bear, but our brains do not. When that fear is with you constantly, the stress is unhealthy.

Stress can be a positive motivator and moderate level of it will work in the short term. I remember being quite motivated to meet deadlines for papers; a little bit of adrenalin helped to keep me awake until it was done. But there’s a ton of research explaining the negative long-term consequences of a constant stressful state such as insomnia and a lowering of cognitive ability. (1)

The strange thing is that attending XYZ college is not at all a precursor to a “great life”. The reality is that there are almost 10 000 Colleges and Universities worldwide and gaining acceptance to the top 10 (you know the ones!) is an achievement closer to becoming an Olympic athlete than a well-rounded student. In fact, even when it comes to future financial earnings, studies show that there is little difference between universities (1). That’s not to say that future success is measured by $, but for some people that’s what matters. Finding the right college or university for you is much more important than attending the best college or university as determined by a magazine or website.

What about you?

  • An interesting experiment:  Take 10 minutes and imagine yourself five or ten years from now. In a perfect world, what is your life like? What are you doing? How are you spending your time?  Who are the people in your life? Write it down. Be as specific as possible.
  • Once you’ve finished, give some thought to what you can do today to help make that happen? What kind of College/University/Other experience would help? 

It bears repeating: Finding the right college or university for you is much more important than attending the best college or university as determined by a magazine or website. Next time you meet with your school’s college and career advisor, be sure to talk to them about what type of school will help you to best reach your goals. Rather than the best name, what type of school is your best fit?