There are things I spend a fair amount of time worrying about in my professional work. As a psychologist and director of a child and family wellness center, I worry about whether families feel supported; about overscheduled lives limiting opportunities for connection; about the stress hormones resulting from the hurry-hurry-do-everything attitude of our society causing harm to young bodies. I worry about what children are eating and if they’re moving regularly throughout their day; about technology disrupting sleep and relational skills; about whether school expectations for children are developmentally appropriate; and about a trending tendency to avoid doing things that are effortful. Yet, my biggest worry is whether life is feeling less and less meaningful and purposeful to children. It’s not distinct from the other worries, but actually an amalgam of the other worries smooshied together.
I have a great imagination. I can conjure up images of children playing video games, isolated in their bedrooms, shades drawn, from the time they wake up into the wee hours of the night every day of their summer vacation. Likewise, I can also imagine the rigidly scheduled teen turning down invitations from friends in order to get ahead of the upcoming school year with summer classes, private lessons, as well as part-time jobs, sports camps, and volunteer work to ensure that they’re well-rounded and marketable to colleges. Both of these children’s circumstances concern me. They each have goals– some centered around present-moment achievements on a screen and some oriented to futures that make the present seem like nothing more than a hoop to jump through. Yet, I worry… do either of these children feel passionate about something? Have they found something yet that feels meaningful and bigger than themselves?
Parenting a Child with Purpose
Defined Values. Purpose is wrapped up in what is meaningful and what is meaningful is centered around one’s values. As a family, you can start early by talking about what values you share and why. Be careful also to support your child’s developing identity and allowing for them to explore interests that differ from those of your family. Leaving room for exploration is part of their developing identity and values. You might also discuss with your child what they wish they could change about the world and what sort of adult they want to be. How do your and and your child’s values manifest through action? Talking about this is a good lead into your child developing goals.
Goal-Setting. Whether you’re a free range, helicopter, tiger parent or none of the above, your children need goals, though goals are not the same thing as purpose. Goals are about achieving something, purpose typically includes having goals but they are part of a bigger meaningful commitment and vision. How do you support your child in setting goals that really matter to them? Once your child know’s what’s important to them and why then you can help them take action. Developing smaller goals and reasonable timelines will support them in making concrete progress. At times, you might help them determine steps they can take that would be congruent with their values. Consider creating vision boards together and ask them if there’s anything you can do to support them in reaching their goals.
Transformative Experiences. Some of the ways that young people find their purpose is through an important event or circumstance, service to others or other transformative experience. Patrick Cook-Deegan tells us that some of the most common transformative experiences are traveling abroad, spending time in the natural world, joining a social change project, or establishing a contemplative practice. As a parent, you can support these experiences for your child. Not all organized trips are expensive and many organizations offer scholarships.
Sometimes it can feel like a confusing line between supporting your child and putting undue pressure on them. Remember that purpose is about your child finding meaning, not about you finding it for them.
Join guest speaker, Dr. Kate Sage, for “Avoiding the Helicopter Parenting Trap“
At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.