I'm Not an Examination Result

Many parents have concerns regarding their teenager’s educational and career progress.  What is important in the voicing of these concerns is to ensure that your talk with and not to or at your son or daughter.  Talking to teenagers is the unwise act of giving unsolicited advice.  Even when young people ask for advice, it is best to talk about what you would do yourself in the situation present and encourage the teenager to see how what you are saying ‘fits’ for him or her.  Young people are best helped when they are supported to come to their own social, educational and career choices.  Interestingly, when they do they are more motivated to follow through on their own decisions.

Talking at adolescents is an act of preaching, controlling and usually, of a threatening nature.  Some young people, out of fear, will conform; others strongly rebel; either response results in a blocking of the teenager’s mature progress.

Talking with teenagers means certainly expressing your concerns, but it also means allowing your son or daughter to express where he or she is coming from.  A crucial issue for a parent to hold onto is that their offspring are there to live their own unique lives and are not there to fulfil the expectations and ambitions of parents.

Threats are not effective ways of motivating young people; neither for that matter are bribes (the promise of material rewards for a particular examination result).  Young people need to know that they are not an examination result, and that neither failure nor success takes or adds to their worth and value in parents’ and, indeed, in teachers’ eyes.  Some suicides are associated with examination pressures, most of all the pressure to succeed.  It is also the case that a high percentage of students ‘drop-out’ of second-level or third level courses because of fear of failure.  The creativity of avoidance is that with no effort there can be no failure and no failure offsets emotional rejection.  There is also the reality that those young people who become addicted to success do not enjoy the adventure of learning and work, because they only rate themselves according to their last success and dread that next time they might not measure up.

There have been several developments in education and work that have seriously threatened the mature development of young people –

confusion of knowledge with intelligence

the use of ‘failure’ and ‘success’ as motivating forces

the labelling of children on the basis of their level of knowledge

lack of belief in a child’s immense potential

the failure to take into consideration the child’s creativity in expressing his or her unique individuality

When a child shows a low knowledge in any subject, it is grossly inaccurate to rate him or her as ‘slow’, ‘weak’, ‘average.’  You can certainly say that a low level of knowledge of this particular subject is present, but this does not equate to low intelligence.  There are numerous reasons why children may show a low level of learning of a particular subject – wanting to be different, interest lies elsewhere, too many unresolved emotional needs present, fear of failure, too much pressure to succeed, not willing to compete with an older or young sibling, rebelliousness.

Typically, such labelling results in a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it is too threatening for a child to go against the ‘authority’ of the adult.  Too often, this lack of belief in their intelligence follows individuals into their adolescence and adulthood, resulting in a less than average fulfilling of potential.

Success and failure are integral to learning and work and have precisely the same purpose – the setting of the next challenge.  The employment of what are intrinsic to progress in learning and work as extrinsic motivating forces – the punishment of failure and the rewarding of success – has effectively taken the adventure out of learning and work.  Those who perceive themselves as a ‘failure’ or a ‘success’ are doomed to difficult lives.  Bill Gates puts it well when he says that ‘the greatest impediment to progress is success.’  He could have added ‘the fear of failure’ as an equally powerful block to progress.

The labelling of children on the basis of scores from aptitude tests and intelligence tests has also seriously interrupted the mature educational, intellectual and occupational progress of young people.  All a score on any test demonstrates is the knowledge of the questions posed; the test does not even test what knowledge you actually have.  Intelligence is a vast potential that is part of our nature – immeasurable.  Young people need for the significant adults in their lives to believe in them, but adults can only provide such support when they believe in their own vast potential.

One other critical aspect of how parents and teachers miss an essential aspect of the expression of individuality is that each child in a family and, often, in a peer group, will radiate towards areas of knowledge that can be dramatically opposite to a brother or sister or peer.  There are 102 different types of knowledge and, sometimes, we measure children’s competence by a maximum of 10 subjects.  It is the wise adult who identifies where a young person’s motivation and individuation lies and supports and encourages these areas of endeavour.  Where there is a failure to spot the unique creativity of the child, there is a real danger that he may lose all motivation to learn anything, a not unusual development.

Unconditional love, belief in, support and encouragement of the particular ways that individuality is expressed, fun, kindness, patience and a sense of adventure are the sure ways of ensuring children explore their potential.  However, as adults, we can only give what we have got ourselves.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of several books on practical psychology, including Leaving The Nest.