This article is about the life of an adolescent and how as parents we need to allow them to find true happiness and independence through making mistakes and gathering their own personal scars.
By the time I got to high school at the age of 20, I counted that I had been in the hospital over 15 times. If the hospital had a loyalty card, I would’ve needed two. And no, it wasn’t from sickness or being a hypochondriac.
It was purely from risk taking… and stupidity.
When I was about 4, my mum pushed me on a flying fox at the local park, possibly a little too hard (but that’s for another story…). I ended up hitting the other side of the flying fox, slipping off and ending up with 6 stitches under my chin. It was brilliant! I got ice cream, a sticker and cool scar that I still tell people about over 20 years later…
Another time when I was 15, I was skateboarding with my mates in their backyard over a homemade plywood ramp. Once again, I may have pushed a little too hard and gone too fast… slipped the landing and snapped my humerus (upper arm bone) into two completely separate pieces. Same thing, I got lots of ice cream, respect off my friends and my mum face palming herself for another occasion I would need an x-ray. I learnt three things that day – physics, anatomy and my mates always had my back.
Here’s a shortened list of other ‘lessons’;
6 years old – broken forearm playing soccer
13 years old – facial lacerations from trying to jump over some chairs
15 years old – broken nose from cricket (confirmed, many more unconfirmed)
17 years old – a ‘home job’ of stitches when I split my face playing rugby league
19 years old – 6 stitches from rugby union
15-20 years old – 5 dislocated shoulders from various sports
Plus, endless sprained fingers, ankles and grazes along the way…
Why am I scaring you off playing sport and letting your kids run wild?
What’s my point?
Our Biggest Life Lessons
I’m actually doing the opposite of encouraging you to bubble wrap your kids, I’m sharing some of the most important and memorable moments of my life.
Although, I was stupid and liked to push limits, this was also my biggest learning period. Something far better than accruing physical scars from scratches and stitches, was the mental scars that occurred from the pure independence I had during these times. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to hurt myself, it was just walking along that fine-line of ‘will I enjoy doing this’ OR ‘will this hurt me’. Most of all, knowing that I was going to be OKAY.
But this wouldn’t have occurred without the proper nurturing and growth throughout my childhood.
Life as a Parent
One aspect of my childhood that was incredibly profound and incredible, was not found in a single moment but over many moments. It was the style of parenting my parents gave me when I was growing up. Whenever we were heading back from the hospital after hours of waiting; there was no anger, frustration or any hint of a negative emotion from my parents. It was the opposite. They would first understand that I’m okay, that I took something away from the experience, we would have a laugh about the experience or my constant ability to hurt myself and then celebrate with, ice cream, of course!
It was a safety net that gave me confidence. I was reading an article from Mark Manson about growing up and he mentioned this; “A friend of mine once described parenthood as, “Basically just following around a kid for a couple decades and making sure he doesn’t accidentally kill himself, and you’d be amazed how many ways a kid can find to accidentally kill himself”.
I found that part particularly hilarious, because ultimately, it’s true! As parents or caregivers, it’s our responsibility to; 1) let our kids make the mistakes to learn from, 2) make sure those mistakes aren’t lethal. The rest can find its own way.
This is all a part of growing up. We have to go and out hurt ourselves and make mistakes and learn that at the end of the day, it 99% of the time WILL BE OKAY.
The big problem is when we starve someone of the journey of self-growth.
Small Regrets Now To Avoid Big Regrets Later
There are huge issues in the world where people get to a certain point in time in life and realise, they have MASSIVE REGRET. Regret happens at an early age but it’s centred around more insignificant things like what you said (or didn’t say to a girl) or when you wish you chose the chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla! Things that will be over by next week.
The regrets in life that really take a turn are the ones that end up being existential crises. Things along the line of career pathways, not travelling enough, not being bold enough to make your own decisions and being pushed around. These are issues which build and build until the bubble pops and we have a mid-life crisis of sorts, anywhere between the ages of 25 and 105. All this is very important for helping us find purpose which i wrote about here, How To Find Purpose?
I believe a big reason for that is how much we were wrapped bubble wrapped as a child. And this can be countered, simply by, how much we really needed someone to say “go and live your life and make your mistakes, but you will always have safety in the knowledge that we will always help you find your feet again”. I believe that’s something we all should hear or feel through action.
But Did You Die?
Just as easily as you can end up with a couple scratches in life, you can end up learning the most life-changing experience of your life. If you’ve ever seen a bunch of kids work really hard to construct a jump for them to ride their bikes over, you would realise the sheer joy and happiness when it finally works. Not much amounts to something you work really hard for with some initiative and teamwork, and a healthy dose of risk.
One thing we absolutely do need to do and schools will hate this, but we really need to give more power to the creativity of kids and allow them to make more mistakes and not filter them in between pre-determined lines.
This is particularly important for middle schoolers or kids that are between the ages of 6-12. A study completed in 2022, concludes that kids between the ages of 6-12 have a massive increase in competence in values that relates to their self-esteem (1). These values of self-esteem are very much tied to what choices they can make in their life and also what area they want to succeed in.
This is true, as around the ages of 6-12 you are fighting for your place in the world. You start realising that you can make genuine decisions on your own life. You can walk to school easily and not get lost, you can buy things from the store (with mum and dad’s money) and you start to have a preference for trendy things, like music, clothes etc.
What an Adolescent Really Needs
The last thing a child needs is a helicopter parent dictating their life for them and bubble wrapping them. What a developing and growing child needs is someone that will listen to them and let them make their own mistakes, pick their own preferences and most importantly, let them take responsibility.
The biggest thing that underlies all this is the simple act of providing a safety net and showing our kids that whatever mistakes they make and how often idiotic they are… we will always have their back to provide a safety net for them.
Not just words, BUT ACTIONS.
Without action, words are nothing.
Until next time,
- Patricia R. Collins, Joanne Sneddon, Julie Ann Lee, Do personal values have an effect on self-esteem in middle childhood?, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 199, 2022, 111861, ISSN 0191-8869, Link to Study