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Parents must encourage kids to dream big for back to school

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Your 2022 Back-to-School Guide

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With the country’s current struggles — inflation, a lingering pandemic, a possible housing crisis, — parents are struggling. Add school supplies, new shoes, and lunch money for their kids, and parents surely feel some stress.

As students return to school in a few days, it might be tempting to shelter them, to limit their dreams, in case they aren’t fulfilled, or to communicate too much (or too little) about the current struggle now.

This is a mistake.

Despite the last few turbulent years, kids are still overcoming odds and making their dreams come true. Actor Cole Hauser (you know him as “Rip” on the hit show Yellowstone) recently congratulated his son Ryland, who received his first offer to play SEC college football. “So proud of the hard work and dedication you have put in to get your first [high-level] offer!!” Hauser posted on his Instagram account.

Granted, Hauser’s a famous actor, and who knows how he was able to help his son get to the place where he accomplished this goal. But as a parent of four kids dreaming big dreams in the middle of a pandemic and now a world ballooning with inflation, it was a sweet comfort to see a kid reaching his goals and a parent so genuinely proud.

As we help our kids fill their backpacks and check off school supply lists, it’s hard not to be anxious. The last few years have been wrought with pain, confusion, stress, and chaos. Between masks and vaccines, school shootings, and financial concerns, there’s no doubt kids feel some of this stress themselves, plus the residual from their parents.

It might be tempting to just tell kids to try to muddle through or to do their school work or sports practices at half-effort, because we don’t know what kind of world awaits us in 2023 and beyond. After all, parents have lost loved ones, gotten COVID, watched their 401(k) accounts tank, and struggled with just paying the bills. What if things just get worse?

But kids need goals not just for goals’ sake, but also so they learn the character and discipline necessary to achieve, even if they fall short of the goal. Even if Ryland Hauser had never gotten an offer to play college football at the highest level, he’d have learned much from the necessary work: the value of discipline, teamwork, exercise, and grit.

The older I get, the more I realize how much grit has to do with success in life. No doubt other parents know this to be true as well. In her book “Grit,” author Angela Duckworth found that talent wasn’t really an indicator of success but work ethic often was. “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare,” she writes.

She also says: “As much as talent counts, effort counts twice.”

Maxims like these are useful during times like this. Parents tend to want to control many aspects of their kids’ lives. But if we’ve learned anything the last few years it’s that little is in our control.

We cannot guarantee our children won’t see another wave of COVID, that their safety will be in jeopardy, or that they won’t get their heart broken or their dreams crushed. Not everyone gets the girl or the scholarship offer. But hope is a powerful concept, especially during times like these. Combined with grit, it just might take our kids farther than they imagined.

Times are not so dark that a kid cannot still feel the satisfaction of an A grade, making the team, a fun night out with friends or learning to drive. Parents must dig deep and be honest about the present without making kids too cynical about the future.

Kids are intelligent: They know times are hard. But they still deserve to dream big, just like we did, even if life hasn’t turned out just the way we wanted.

We’ve had our share of triumph and disaster in the last few years and the next generation has too. As they head back to school in a few days, let’s do our best to support their goals and let them dream big dreams and learn some grit along the way.

Nicole Russell is a writer and mother of four who has covered law, politics and cultural issues for The Washington Examiner, The Daily Signal, The Atlantic and The New York Post. She was voted “most argumentative” in high school and is proud to have discovered that being an opinion writer in Texas was way cheaper and more exciting than getting a law degree anywhere else.




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