What is a Successful Teenager?
Defining success is tricky, especially when it comes to your teenager.
Would you say your teen is successful?
Would you say your teen was successful?
These are uncomfortable questions for both you and your teen. Here’s why.
This culture defines success in terms of ranking from the highest to the lowest.
Your daughter is successful because
- She has a lot of friends and a cute boyfriend.
- He makes good grades
- Has a high SAT score
- Won the dance competition
- Got the starring role in the musical
- The top player in soccer or lacrosse
- Got accepted at a great college
The problem with this ranking definition of success is someone is always higher or smarter, leaving your daughter feeling lower. I call this the “Success” Trap because no teenager can feel successful with this definition.
There is always someone who is going to rank higher than your teen. If your daughter made 2000 on her SAT, her friend made 2100. If she is top 10% of her class, someone else is in the top 5 %.
See someone is going to have more friends, cuter boyfriends, better grades, and higher SAT scores. If you make lead in your musical at your school, there are more prestigious schools with better musicals.
This is especially true with teen girls and body image. If successful girls are skinny girls, then how skinny do you have to be?
I remember leading a group of gorgeous, rich, white 16-year-old girls. This was years ago and I will never forget this. I asked them to name 5 things they liked about themselves and 5 things they did not like. Every one of these girls could rattle off 5 things they didn’t like but really struggled to find anything they liked about themselves. These girls were considered the most popular and privileged kids in the school and yet they did not feel successful.
The problem with the “Success” Trap is everyone feels like a failure even if you are a top achiever. This creates incredible stress and robs girls of enjoying their High School years.
Then there are the girls who…
- Fail classes
- Have sex with their boyfriends and get pregnant
- Smoke, do drugs, and abuse alcohol
- Cut on themselves
- Lie to their parents
- Make low SAT scores
Most people would agree these girls are not successful, because their failures and mistakes have obvious consequences for the future.
Here’s the problem with that.
One failure or mistake does not define your daughter. It’s only one picture frame in the entire video of your daughter’s life.
Some of the most successful people in the world’s eyes were “failures” in High School. Many millionaires were High School dropouts.
I am not suggesting your daughter drop out of school, but it brings us back to what is real success, and what does that look like for your daughter.
It’s really important to look deep inside your heart. What do you believe about your daughter? Do you believe she is successful or a failure?
Because what you believe is going to impact how you look at her and treat her.
It’s easy to feel embarrassment or shame when the other mothers ask about your child when you fear your child is a failure.
And if we’re honest mothers are constantly doing the ranking thing with other mothers.
It’s Time for a New Definition of Success.
1. Success is learning from your mistakes.
Your daughter is hard-wired to make mistakes and is still developing. It’s impossible for her to not mistakes. The point is to take responsibility for them and learn from them. Your daughter is successful every time she learns from her mistakes.
2. Success is getting back up and beginning again
Her grades will drop. She’ll fail a test. She blows a competition. Your daughter is successful when she gets help for her chemistry class and gets a tutor. She is successful every time she walks back into the choir, or onto the sports field.
3. Success is enjoying your sport, art, or other activities
Fierce competition can steal the joy out of any activity. It can knock the wind out of your daughter. This is a time many girls drop out of sports, gymnastics, or the arts because they aren’t “good” at it. Success isn’t only about being the top athlete or performer.
Success is when your daughter enjoys art, sports, and band. Your daughter can take a less competitive class. You want your daughter active and enjoying her activities it’s really good for her on many levels.
4. Success is about your daughter’s best
Your daughter is successful when she improves her best. This way your daughter can celebrate any improvement she makes. This could be 10 seconds on her mile race, learning new choreography, or 20 points on her SAT score.
5. Success is being good to others
Success is being good to others by showing compassion and kindness. You are successful by being thoughtful and comforting others when they are down or make mistakes. Fierce competition breeds mean-spirited interactions with peers. Girls make fun of the other girls to make themselves feel better. Your daughter is successful every time she is kind or does something thoughtful to someone else.
Success has many roads and may look different.
There are many roads to success. If your daughter doesn’t go straight to a great college but spends a year working and taking a few classes at the community college, it doesn’t mean she is a failure. If she is working and learning responsibility then she is successful. I have seen plenty of girls who get accepted in their dream college only to party it up and fail out of their freshmen year. They would have benefitted from working for a year. Your daughter is successful when she takes the road that is right for her.