Sigmund Freud said, “How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.”
Boldness is the ability, the willingness, the love of taking risks. The risks don’t have to include sky diving or free climbing El Capitan, but boldness is an important component to happiness, because it means that you are living without fear.
I know what you’re thinking: you love your kids, so you should be all set, right?
When “Toughen Up” Doesn’t Work
Your kids may have a measure of success in terms of NESCAC and Ivy matriculations, but that is not necessarily the boldness of which I write. Increasingly, people are acknowledging that there are many kids who are outwardly successful yet are fundamentally fragile and can’t create deep camaraderie nor find fundamental, internal confidence.
These kids are both materially spoiled and emotionally neglected. Flat screen TVs, all-expenses-paid vacations, fancy cars to drive around… parents working 80 hours a week, no family dinners…. Kids neglected in this modern way are not sure they are loved, and they are not bold: not on the playing field, not in relationships, not nowhere, not no how. They may seem bold. They may get into fine colleges, captain their teams and have a GPA north of 4.0, but they’re not really bold. Or happy, in many cases.
If you look at them closely, you’ll see that many of them are simply not ready for the world. They race to Wall Street, but have no knowledge of their Own Street, and because they’ve been so groomed for “success” and are afraid of disappointing their parents, they’re embarrassed to admit it.
I also find many, many athletic coaches, teachers and even parents who simply don’t understand their players, students and children.
“What’s the matter with these kids?” they ask.
There’s an old-standing tradition in this country to advise kids to toughen up. It’s good to have mental toughness and confidence. However, that advice, not always delivered with patience, can’t help these kids, who don’t have the emotional skills to follow that directive. This results in frustration on both sides.
My answer: “How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.”
I once asked a teenage boy with whom I was working, “What do you feel when you really look at your Dad?”
“I can see myself in his eyes,” the boy told me.
Shrinks call that “mirroring,” a key component of letting a kid know and feel that you love him. Children fundamentally drift around as their identity, their self-image, solidifies. If you want to hit that Freudian bar with your child, if you want to rectify the cultural neglect our generation has foisted on our kids, you need to mirror them, and they need to see themselves when they look in your eyes. The anchor that they need is as simple as that.
As for the kids in our lives, it is possible to do some mirroring even if you’re not the parent, and that can make a huge difference, although it’s tough to do. However, to mirror kids right, you, yourself, have to be solid: you have to know who you are and know what you’re doing. You have to feel you’re loved, too—because that gives you the ability to take the risk to love a child unconditionally. That’s a boldness in and of itself.
Easier said than done, sometimes. For the parent, coach, or educator who isn’t sure of being loved themselves because of abuse, neglect, trauma and so forth they experienced, life can be so, so hard. Trust issues develop, and it can be very challenging to mirror the children in their lives.
It is possible to rectify this, no matter what your age. Adults will need professional help, and it’s well worth the effort.
One boy on a hockey team with whom I worked had an epiphanic realization during my weekend team-building session, but that’s rare. He tearfully hugged his teammates, proclaiming he was done not working hard, he was done not living in the moment, he was done not loving them the right way. I spoke with his coach recently, and this kid fulfilled those promises. He saw himself in the mirror with my help.
But even if you can’t achieve an epiphany for a child, with mirroring, every little bit helps. So the next time you rail against today’s kids, try spreading some good, old-fashioned love around. Polish up that mirror.