If a kid does not have a red-hot burning passion by age 5, she has missed the train, going through the wisdom of some guidance counselors and helicopter parents. Not long ago, Lucy, my younger daughter, said she wanted to try football. I signed her up for a team at the local level. Some parents on the sidelines shook their heads at me at her first game and said, “It’s way too late for her to start now.”
She was 10. Lucy lost interest after a season because of her age handicap-you would have thought she was dragging a cane up and down the field-Lucy lost interest after a season. And I half expected the teacher to tell me that she was over the hill at 12. when she later auditioned for the school musical.
How I envy moms whose children at an early age had a marked interest. But this category suits only a small percentage of children. A seven-year study of 12- to 26-year-olds was undertaken by William Damon, Ph.D., director of the Stanford University Center for Adolescence and author of The Road to Purpose: How Young People Discover Their Calling in Life.
20% of the subjects understood what they wanted and directed. About 25 to 30 percent were apathetic or floats. But most of the teenagers and young adults about 50 percent to 65percent were looking for a course in life but had not yet to find it.
Many of these searchers could be categorized as dreamers and dabblers. ” Dreamers had pie-in-the-sky notions (“I want to be a rock star! “). For their hobbies “to become the foundation of an enduring personal identity,” Dabblers, like Maggie and Lucy, bounced too fleetingly from one passion to the next, as Damon says, however, he points out, “dabblers and dreamers are nice kids who do what is required of them, practice their instruments, do their homework.”
Eventually, these children may find a purpose. It just might take a while. Our society offers so many choices and resources for young people that the role of a parent is to help a child sustain momentum.
So, you buy the guitar, find the teacher, and drive her to lessons, for instance, and then feel devastated when she quits after a season, despite your guidance and support. (Or this has been my experience, at least.)
“Don’t worry. I’m a fan of wise wandering. To find our passions, we wander. Do perceptions only have meaning if they tell us what we want to have? Probably not. You must spend time knowing what you don’t like, too.
Try and try again
So far, Maggie and Lucy have explored karate, tennis, yoga, track, gymnastics, fencing, soccer, basketball, volleyball, skiing, skating, theatre, clarinet, piano, violin, ballet, and tap, among other activities.
My children have learned a lot, primarily that neither of them has a future in pro sports.
But maybe I need to chill: even if, after a few months, a child quits an activity, she can go back to it. “Experts say there are three stages of learning,” says Brooks. Step one is ‘unconscious incompetence,’ when you don’t know what you don’t know, a kid picks up a guitar, assuming it’s going to be as simple as professionals make it look. Stage two is ‘incompetence of consciousness,’ when a kid knows that this is complicated and she has a long way to go.
Step 3 is ‘conscious skill’; she puts in the effort and learns to play. In step two, most give up. Fear and fear need to be vanquished. Some children are tiny perfectionists. If they can’t immediately do anything perfectly, they get upset and want to leave.
Often, there’s a dormant phase between phases two and three. “Let the guitar sit in the corner for a while,” Brooks suggests. If the kid dusts it off and begins to play again, she may be able to make a real effort this time.
Search for a Spark
Don’t feel compelled to play to her strengths while trying to stimulate your kid’s interests. “Any healthy passion, anything your child enjoys, should be welcomed,” even if she doesn’t seem to have a special passion for it, says Damon. The most important thing is your child’s happiness, and other advantages can follow. The chances are infinitesimal that the NBA will one day be made by an 8-year-old who loves basketball. But the love of basketball can translate into a career as a coach, or in the sports industry, or in the media,’ he says.
All begins with light. “Every kid has one,” Damon says. Hidden glimmers can be revealed by careful listening and leading questions. “What’s important to you?”What’s important to you?”What’s your favorite subject at school?”What’s your favorite school subject?”Why do you really care about it?”Why do you really care about it?”Why do you like this show?”Why do you like this show while watching TV?”What aspect of this game do you enjoy the most?”What aspect of this game do you enjoy most when playing FarmVille?
Together, unstructured hangout time can offer invaluable clues: weekends, holidays, vacations. “What do you want to do today?”Let’s make cookies” What do you want to do today? Her love of trends may mean a career in fashion or design if she says, “Let’s go shopping” repeatedly.
Everyone definitely knows an unusual success story. How about the kid who obsessively watched Star Trek and Star Wars in junior high and ended up being the head of programming on a (true) sci-fi channel? Or the geek who spent endless hours a day noodling on a computer and grew up to be Bill Gates (true)? “I love the word “energy” more than “passion.” “Look at your child or kid and look for energy that this gives him. See if he would volunteer at an animal shelter if he plays with a cat or no.
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