What is your kids’ superpower?

Growing up watching the likes of Batman, Superman, The Flash, Aquaman (what was his skill set again?), and the rest of the Justice League, plus Spiderman and the Fantastic Four, we all dreamed of having superpowers. We actually do – and so do our kids. We just need to help them identify what they are, but don’t count on our educational system to do that.

Charles Darwin was labeled as mediocre and lazy (Levine, 13), Richard Branson grew up dyslexic and was labeled stupid by his teachers, and as we already know Steve Jobs toiled away in the family garage on his little hobbies – like building Apple Computers. Unfortunately, our educational system is designed to turn out kids that will serve the economy (Levine, 14), focusing on rote memorization, unquestioning allegiance to the ‘sage on the stage,’ and for the past 20 years, doing well on standardized exams. These aren’t the skills that our children need in the 21st century where problem solving, innovative thinking, adaptability and initiative have far more value.

A major study conducted by IBM found that the single most sought after trait in a CEO was creativity (Levine 15), which is a trait cultivated in the music and arts courses – the kinds of classes usually deemed non-essential and cut from the schools. And speaking of schools the studies have shown that success for our kids is not dependent on the college or university they attended. As for standardized tests that were supposed to help put our kids back on “top” amongst other nations – those didn’t work either. More testing, standardized testing and countless hours of more homework have failed to achieve that result, yet we continue to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result.

Our schools have focused on English, math, the sciences, civics and history, which are all fundamental and necessary skills (I’m a HUGE history buff myself), but at the expense of physical fitness (remember gym class?), and the music and arts programs. Some schools even advocated getting rid of recess in order to spend more time cramming State testable information into their students brains or else lose their federal cash supplement. Am I advocating a change to the U.S. school system? Well, yes, but that’s lets focus on what we can immediately control – we know what our kids are missing, so start by working in your small circle of influence.

Kids need what they have always needed: love, support, limits and responsibilities (Levine 15), and play is also essential. Play teaches creativity, resourcefulness and social skills (Levine 26). “Resourcefulness provides the backbone, the courage that allows kids to move out into the world and test themselves.” Not just playdates, but unplanned play time.

We are rapidly finding out that while Facebook is a fun distraction (sometimes) its’ not doing anything to help our kids build relationships with actual people. They need to get out and interact and not have every second planned to the detail – toss the kids in the yard or park, lock away the electronics and tell them to have fun. It may take them a few seconds, but they’ll figure out a game to play on their own. This is where creativity begins.

The self-esteem movement needs some adjustment as well. We spent the past 20 years focusing on kids “self-esteem” and ended up with a generation of narcissists who don’t understand why no one else believes the world revolves around them. They’ve been left to figure it out as adults, where the consequences are more severe. Self-esteem comes from self-reliance, figuring things out for yourself and with minor guidance when necessary.

Here’s a good example I’ve observed: one of my boys is into those Lego building sets. I must confess that I suck at these things. I can barely build a good case of hiccups, much a Lego building set, so at first, I told him he couldn’t buy them until he could figure out how to build them himself. This wasn’t reasonable because by not getting one he would never learn how to build them.

So, the first few we bought, sure enough, I ended up building (works better with a glass of beer I found out). But then I started building less and coaching more – finding pieces, pointing out where they go while he put them into place. We’ve gotten to the point where now he will attempt one of the sets himself and then come get me when he gets stuck. More than a few times I’ve had to tear a set back down to fix the errors, but as time went on, we’ve transitioned to where he tears it back down, diagnoses the problem and I help him find the right parts to rebuild – but the building itself is still all on him. As a result, he’s become a pretty good builder of Lego sets (and my credit card has suffered accordingly).

Will he become a builder, an architect, an engineer or a contractor? I have no idea. He probably doesn’t either at this point – in fact, the last time I asked he wanted to be a lifeguard. Whatever. I really don’t care at this point what he wants to be – for now, I’m not trying to raise an a builder, an architect, an engineer or a contractor, I’m trying to raise kids that have the skill set of self-reliance, who can try something, make mistakes and try again – who aren’t afraid to fail. If his parents can succeed at that I really don’t care what he gets on a standardized test, or any test for that matter.

What message are you sending your children? What message do you want them to get? What is his or her superpower?

Levine, Madeline. Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success. New York: Harper, 2012. Print.

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