The role of chance in your child’s success

By Erin Eagan

Parents often tell their children they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. A rocket scientist? Sure. A world-famous surgeon? No problem. ‘The world is your oyster,’ they say. But is it really? Not necessarily, according to psychologist and parent educator Dr. Erica Reischer.

Author of What Great Parents Do: The Small Book of BIG Parenting Ideas, Reischer believes that, although meant with the best of intentions and great love, there are dangers associated with parents encouraging their children to pursue what could be considered overly ambitious goals.

Before we go any further, a little clarification may be in order. Reischer isn’t saying to crush a young child’s dreams of one day landing on Mars or discovering a cure for cancer. Instead, she encourages parents to educate their children as they get older on what needs to be in place to achieve their dreams and suggest they have a backup plan. It’s important that realism not be confused with defeatism.

The Role of Chance in Success

It goes without saying that it’s important to encourage children to work hard and have dreams and goals. But because we live in such an achievement-oriented culture, equally important is they understand how much the role of chance plays a factor in outcome. In other words, forces beyond their control (i.e. luck, socio-economic status, opportunity).

“Telling kids that they can do anything — whether fueled by imagination or hard work — obscures the critical role of chance in success,” said Reischer in a recent Washington Post article. “This can be a bitter pill for those who want to believe that we control our own destiny, and that, therefore, our destiny reflects something about our internal qualities, such as ability, drive, or worth.”

Why not instead teach them to work within limits that are present in their life? There are other so many options out there, and what she’s suggesting is that parents simply

help their kids explore other alternatives and adjust dreams based on reality. If not, “When they fail at something (as inevitably we all will), children who don’t recognize the significant role of random chance in determining life’s outcomes may blame themselves or stop trying,” said Reischer.

There’s More Than One Way to Win

You may already be familiar with the “only way to win” mentality as it pertains to higher education. If not, in a nutshell, it means that only by attending a four-year college or university will graduates end up with high-paying, professional jobs. Not only is this sentiment untrue, a four-year college is simply not a realistic option for all students. Likewise, not every child who wants to be a rocket scientist or surgeon can become one, no matter how much hard work they put in.

If a four-year university isn’t the best fit for your child, as a parent it’s okay to step in and guide them down a better-suited path. Perhaps finances are an issue or they need a more flexible schedule than a four-year can provide.

If that’s the case, perhaps a technical education is a better, more realistic option. For the child who wants to be a rocket scientist, a career in robotics can be just as fulfilling. And if becoming a surgeon isn’t in the cards, what about instead training as a surgical technician?

It’s a fine line between nurturing your child’s interests and keeping goals realistic. Your children may lose their footing along their way, but as parents you can help keep them focused on a path that best suits them.