Lies We Tell Children Part 1


I am using this Blog as practice for a second Blog which I will be posting in the coming weeks with Todd Lile.  We will be blogging about our book, sharing insights, thoughts, and ideas related to the book, for those of you interested in following along.  This Blog will contain other ideas that go through my head.  Like this one.

There are a number of lies we adults tell children.  I will write about them one at a time.  The first lie is perhaps the most dangerous.  It is a staple of the motivational speaker diet.  Parents, teachers, celebrities, and athletes all know and spread this lie.  It goes something like this:

“If you have a dream and believe in yourself and never give up, then you can do anything!”

Really?  Seriously?  Is this a healthy message?  What if my dream when I was young, was to one day win the NBA Slam Dunk competition?  I knew it was possible because I heard the winner being interviewed.  He looked straight into the camera told the whole world the famous lie about this being his dream and he encouraged little kids like me to do the same.  So maybe  I believed in myself.  Maybe I trained everyday.  Maybe I learned how to dribble with my left hand!  Wait a minute….  My mom is 5’2″ and my Father is 5’6″.  Maybe the cards were stacked against me. But if I could just believe…….  But if I just never gave up……..

Is it possible this lie does more harm than good?  If “anything is possible” if we “never give up” then when we fail to achieve whatever dream (like me getting to play in the NBA let alone winning the slam dunk contest) then it is not because we lack the physical or genetic gifts, or what ever ingredients necessary.  It is because we lack the strength of character to follow our dream.  It must be because we gave up.

Is this really what we want to tell our children?   More on this in Part 2

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    • Maria Rivera
    • January 30th, 2010

    Hiya Timmy! Just saw your facebook status and found your blog. Adding you to my blogroll, can’t wait to read the one you are starting with Lile too. Just so you know, I’m one of the random people reading your blog. Miss you!

  1. Thanks Marie! You are definitely Random! I need to figure out what a blogroll is and get one! So much to learn!

    • vitamin d
    • January 30th, 2010

    Great topic, Tim. I, for one, would not want to be the father who tells his child that s/he cannot accomplish something – but you’re right – there needs to be a healthy dose of reality administered at the same time. I don’t find the message that you can achieve whatever wou want to be, in itself, harmful. The lie is told when we tell our children to expect that they can accomplish their goals by just believing in them without the requisite hard work. Harm is further done when happiness is tied to the accomplishment of (possibly impossible) X when really the important part is the journey, not the final destination. More damage comes about when folks further believe that the world owes them the fulfillment of their dream. This has never been true. Our forefathers knew then when they penned in the constitution the “pursuit of happiness” and not “happiness” itself.

    I think that one of the hallmarks of maturing is knowing when to “give up” on your more unrealistic dreams or at least narrow the field from “boundless opportunity” to “achievable goals”. It’s like the conversion of potential to kinetic energy. When to say, you know, the NBA is fine, the slam dunk contest is not in the cards. Had you not had the initial kernel of hope to win the slam dunk contest, however, would you have ended up in the NBA?

    • Amazing insight! You hit on many things I am planning to mention in my next post. One of your ideas I had not thought of, Is how the constitution gives us the right to pursue our dreams but we are not guaranteed the realization of those dreams. If children believe they are owed the realization of their dreams this would be a very dangerous lie indeed! I also agree that we cannot tie happiness to achieving a dream. In fact, Mr. Vitamin d, Happiness is one of my favorite topics that you and I have probably discussed at length at some point. Maybe a good future topic to bring up here!

  2. I’ll bite…and add my two cents worth. A lie is an untruth. “You are ugly” is an opinion. “You do not meet this culture’s standard of beauty” is more of a fact. Telling someone they are beautiful when in fact they do not meet the standard of beauty…can be either a lie or the truth or something else. A lie: they don’t meet the standard. The truth: inner beauty or an opinion that the person is beautiful. Something else: the statement has nothing to do with what is said.

    Motivational speakers many times fall into the latter category. They aren’t really lying, but are trying to communicate a greater truth. You can be the best YOU. Aim high. Have dreams.

    I have students who frankly will never become what they dream of. Special ed kids who, because they have all A’s in their adaptive classes, think they are college and NFL material. Or who dream of greatness as filmmakers, actors, pediatricians. I would never tell them that they WILL achieve their goals – but I am not going to tell them to give it all up and settle for becoming a custodian either. I tell them to dream and work hard and see what life hands them.

    Everyone has dreams. As we age, we realize the truth and begin to either rationalize or settle for the lives we have…and hopefully still keep part of the dream or acquire new dreams. The lies that I wrote about that brought our two paths to cross each other are lies plain and simple. People who think lying is okay and pass that on to their children, resulting in a society that sees nothing wrong with lying to get what they want.

    • Fantastic! Definitely more than two cents worth here! You are right that motivational speakers are communicating a greater truth that we should have dreams and take action to reach for them. There is a big difference between unrealistically big and having attainable goals to strive for. You are giving your students the latter which is healthy and very appropriate. Obviously your students are lucky to have you!

    • Sandhya
    • January 31st, 2010

    Hey Tim,

    Congrats on the blogroll. Iam waiting for the part 2 of Lies We Tell Children ….Intresting twist. But thinking how to escape from this… If find a solution let me know too.

    Best Wishes…..Sandhya

    • Thanks Sandhya, I am about to post part two which may help but also see cyndygreen’s and Vitamin d’s comments below for ideas on how to escape from this lie with your own kids.

    • Amy Arnott
    • January 31st, 2010

    Hi Tim-

    I read your blog and the comments that followed this morning. They put me in to deep thought about what I tell my own children. I encourage my kids to set goals for themselves whenever they start something. Sometimes it is a new season in sports, a new school year or even what they want to do over the summer. I think it helps them to not set them selves up to fail. They have learned to set goals that are attainable but will take hard woek to get there. If the goal is met than a new goal must be set.

    My daughter is a perfectionist and thinks that if she is not the best at something immediately she needs to quit. This helps her to set goals that are more reasonable and in the end may help her achieve more.

    My son on the other hand is the opposite he tends to under set his goals. For instance, this year he set the goal of making the JV team and winning half of his wrestling matches. That goal was blown out of the water when he made varsity and went 7-2 within the first couple of weeks. New goals have now been set.

    I guess what I am trying to get to is everyones dreams and the reality of there dreams is different. Some dreams may be very attainable with some hard work, while others will never occur no matter how hard you work. I think telling kids that whatever they dream to do has to be used with caution. Sometimes failing to make the dreams happen is too devistating.

    • Amy – Realistic goals are the key. We cannot do “anything” but we can strive to do a great many things that are within our extended reach. You are a wise mom to recognize the differences in your children and to help them set realistic and attainable goals. It is good to dream but even better to dream about the things that are possible. Keep up the good work!

    • kathy
    • February 2nd, 2010

    hiya tim, nice to see ya back online.

    hmmm, very interesting topic! as a mother of an especially gifted child (like we all are) i would absolutely hate to tell her to give up on any dream, whether it be big or small. the world is cynical enough (and so is her mother!) and full of enough ups and downs and disappointments without them needing to learn that ahead of time. i think that the majority of children, young adults, adults eventually come to the realization that they simply cannot be all that they want to be and need to become the best that they can be. furthermore, instead of simply encouraging our children to dream big and feel that they could accomplish anything i think we should encourage them to pass on the message as well! would the school yard bully, the jealous friend, the back stabbing co worker, the mentally abusive spouse, or the insecure boss exist if we all thought we were capable of more? if we concentrated on what we could accomplish and not what we had failed at or what others seem to excel at, would we all not be better off?
    yes, we all eventually need a reality check or a wake up call, but i think that should be learned as a personal experience, we need to learn to fail as well as succeed, the good parent/mentor/teacher/friend should be there to lend a shoulder and a word of empathy, not an “i told you so”

    …that said, i do think parents do have a responsibility to gently quash some dreams that obviously unattainably, maybe by steering them down a different path, but then, american idol auditions would probably not exist…

    • Kathy! You cracked me up at the end!! Wow! Are American Idol auditions full of all those people who bought into the lie and never gave up their dream of being a Diva even though they have a voice like a boat horn? I think you hit the nail on the head with that line and thank goodness your daughter has you to quash her dreams! Just kidding! You are doing an amazing job with her! Keep it up!

    • Adam Goucher
    • February 5th, 2010

    You’re my hero!

  1. January 31st, 2010
  2. February 2nd, 2010

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