I attended a meeting of people involved in mentoring high school students. The mentors were becoming frustrated with the kids because they weren’t following instructions. My caveat to them “You can’t care more than the kids do.”
The right to choose
From roughly age two on, we strive for the right to choose for ourselves what we want from life. Rightfully so. We should pursue the things that make us happy.
As guides in our children’s lives we need to be cognizant of the fact that we all desire to control our own destinies. That doesn’t mean giving carte blanche to kids. We know that they are ill-prepared to make their own decisions early in life…they simply don’t have sufficient experience to make good decisions.
Teaching decision making
Having said that, we need to teach them how to make decisions and that all decisions have consequences. My nephew’s 3-year old hadn’t eaten much yet wanted to leave the table to play. My nephew wisely said “If you’re finished eating you can leave, just remember that if you leave you won’t get dessert. He allowed his son to make a choice and later reminded the child that he’d chosen to forgo dessert in order to play.
As children get older, like the high school students, we need to allow even greater latitude in their decisions. Choosing not to do what their mentors suggest is a relatively safe choice in that it doesn’t pose the risk of bodily harm.
Let’s be honest. As adults we regularly make choices that are not in our best interests. So is it reasonable to expect these kids to always do what’s best for them? Respect their right to make their own choices when it’s not life threatening. You and I both know that we learn more from our mistakes than the things that go well. Don’t deprive the kids of these valuable learning experiences for they’ll need them after we’re gone.
A few days after the meeting one of the mentors sent me a thank you note. He said that he felt instantaneous relief from his frustration when he heard me say “You can’t care more than the kids do.” He went on to say that he has reminded himself of that caveat 10 times a day in his business and felt joy and peace because he has “let go of the outcome.”
In other words, when he stopped worrying about the outcome he was able to continue his efforts without worry or regret. He also took to heart the second part of my message “We have a right to choose as well.”
I told these mentors that if a kid with whom they are working, regularly ignores their advice, they, the mentors, have a right to choose not to work with that kid. The key is to position the decision as a choice the kid is making. Here’s language that has always worked well for me whether dealing with family, friends, clients or kids:
“I respect your right to choose what you want out of life. I also reserve the right to choose with whom I want to work. You’re not doing much, if anything, that I’m suggesting. My question to you is ‘Are you going to begin taking my advice?’ If not, that’s okay, but I’m going to suggest that we end the relationship and part company as friends. It’s your choice.”
Note that there isn’t any judgment in that language. I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with the kid because he isn’t taking my advice. Nor am I accepting any blame because he isn’t following my advice. I’m simply recognizing the facts for what they are and forcing a conscious decision on both parties.
This simple approach will help you avoid frustration anytime that you’re trying to help anyone in your life, child or adult, who isn’t following your advice. The key is to remind yourself that you can’t care more about the outcome than they do.