We’ve all experienced those kids that are likeable, that strive to be successful even from a young age. Those kids who have their eyes on the prize, who easily (or seemingly so) find success at anything and everything. It just comes “naturally.” These kids have goals and plans, and the fortitude to do what it takes to achieve them. But more often than not, we see kids who want to be successful but struggle. Maybe they have learning barriers, maybe they are easily distracted (squirrel!). These kids either overcome those obstacles to achieve or, they just stop trying. They disengage.
I was one of those kids who wasn’t an instant all-star. I struggled to be liked and I was always a little different than my peers. I mean, I wanted to be a park ranger when I grew up, which is definitely not typical for adolescent girls. One thing I can say for sure, is that achievement sometimes is difficult for those who don’t fit the mold. Even though I had a well-rounded set of talents, being that they weren’t typical, I still struggled to be seen as someone with potential. That’s why I feel that I was seriously lucky to find my passion early in secondary school, in the way of technology and digital arts. Finding a connection and fit was how I learned to be who I was, to further develop my strengthens rather than focussing on what I thought I needed to be. Having a teacher look at me like there was a future, who embraced my differences and pushed me to try harder made such a difference in how I interacted with peers, how I approached problems. It was like being given a map and told I could go anywhere.
It’s not the same for kids anymore. They have so many more outlets for their peers to give feedback, all thanks to technology. Finding satisfaction in just being themselves is becoming more unattainable as their world of peers broadens. Technology has also opened up what seems like unlimited competition. There used to be just one or two kids you had to compare a success to but now its infinite. We compare ourselves on the world stage, against celebrities, sport stars, professionals. What good is your best strength when there’s a thousand other people hash-tagging the same thing, every second of the day? It’s no wonder kids struggle with resilience and don’t like taking risks that might lead to failure. Everything you do, good or bad, has the potential to be broadcast to the world and archived indefinitely.
I asked one of my top students about having the world as a critic, and she said “you can just be the best person you know how to be, and it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks. You can’t give up because what does that say about you?” She’s an exception in a lot of ways, as it’s so easy for many students to give up. They are lacking resilience and perseverance–some of the most important tools we need in life. They get us back up on the horse, help us find another fish in the sea. Resilience and perseverance work together to get us out of tight spaces. We as educators should be helping prepare our students for life’s ups and downs. We need to provide opportunities and organize experiences that allow our students to develop perseverance and grow resilience. But kids are smart. They’ve learned all about the path of least resistance—it’s easier, its faster. It usually doesn’t result in failure. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t lead to adventure, or greatness, or world-changing ideas. If quitting, or not even trying means zero negative outcomes, that is what is now seen as the better choice vs. trying and the possibility of failure. Kids are missing out.
We have to push back against that mindset. Kids are scared to take chances on themselves. They compare themselves to every hashtag or snapchat story they see. We have to change that by giving them opportunities to be brave. I used to do this project in computers where I removed myself as a resource—I remember one of my quietest, back-of-the-room seat-warmers stand up and walk across the room to a peer he had never spoken to before to ask for help. I can tell you, for him, that took serious courage. What that kid wasn’t my top student? No. But he was talented (when he tried), and he had a great sense of humour. It took four years to really get to know him and know the best way to push him outside his comfort zone. I had to learn the best place to “start a fire” with him.
We really do need students to be brave, so they take risks. We are lost as a society if risk taking becomes a faux-pas. Technology is interfering with people trying new things—we can always find someone who did it better online. I can’t even bake a cupcake without comparing it to the thousands of others posted on Pinterest or Instagram. If I struggle with that comparison as an adult—undoubtedly most kids are struggling too. I learned about risk-taking essentially in the dark ages. Unless someone loaded their camera with a fresh roll of film—most of my risks went undocumented. I remember doing silly things, like cartwheels during gym class and wacky halloween costumes. No way are some kids doing that now, as they don’t want to go viral.
Technology doesn’t have to be all bad though! We get to be connected to anyone and everyone we want to showcase our stuff to, be it cooking or biking or whatever. We have the opportunity to be You Tube stars, to write and blog and share our wonderful creations to the world! But, we still need courage, resilience, perseverance to be ourselves, to rise above the negative comments, the broadcasted failures. The vlogging, blogging, hashtags, boomeranging will to continue to be an essential influence on our kids. We need to equip them with the compass they’ll need to navigate the virtual world, so they can use it to their advantage.
We need to encourage adventure, risk-taking and the pursuit of excellence so resilience and perseverance make a comeback. This is what is going to equip the next generation to take on the world, to get back up when they fall, and try, try again BUT most importantly, be successful.