The Danger in Telling Teenagers They Can Do Anything

· February 2, 2017

Many parents tell their teenage children, “You will be able to do anything you want.” Every parent would like to motivate their children to follow their interests and not to feel limited by the vision that society has of their abilities. However, this kind of extremely positive and apparently motivating attitude can have unexpected consequences.

For starters, it is not true that anyone can be whatever he or she wants, or maybe so, but the path and its sacrifices are so strenuous that the teenager should also know what is waiting for them. Maybe they want to be an elite athlete, because they like the money they earn or how well known they would be, but they don’t really like the sport or feel any kind of attraction to the Spartan life this demands.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to issues like genetic gifts or our ability to suffer that exclude us. We must all keep in mind that luck and chance play a very significant role: our body is relatively fragile and it is not strange for there to be great injuries if we push it too far. When a teenager chooses one path, he has to be aware of this.

Furthermore, studies show that when we set highly ambitious goals, those objectives can end up being harmful to us. This is what, for example, leads to less ethical behaviors, like doping, with the goal of achieving those ambitious goals or what leads us to feel like failures if we do not achieve those goals.

Creating a vision without a road map is harmful for a teenager

Telling teenagers that they can do any thing without helping them create a road map has very negative connotations. Motivating them to set a very high goal without telling them anything or helping them with how they should manage it can give rise to extreme frustrations that they may not be ready to deal with or that they simply do not want.

Mother Talking To Upset Daughter


On the other hand, it is very hard for teenagers to value themselves if they are making enough effort. What’s more, they can even end up thinking that wanting something is already too much or thinking that the ability they have for something specific is naturally going to always be the case.

It is better to recognize that significant achievements will be difficult to reach, even helping them accept that luck plays a key role in life (for better or worse), and then to give teenagers a road map so that they can advance towards their goals. Erica Reischer, author of the book What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Fantastic Kids, proposes what she calls the “three Ps” road map.

The three P’s

Instead of telling a teenager that they can do anything they want, Erica Reischer proposes that we teach them the three P’s: practice, patience, and perseverance.

  • Practice: Effort along with feedback is fundamental for the development of a teenager’s mastery and the achievement of their excellence.
  • Patience: Significant mastery and achievement occur over a long period.
  • Perseverance: Obstacles are likely and difficult times are common in any enterprise.

Erica Reischer says that we must emphasize to our children that success is defined by effort and progress, step by step, not by comparing ourselves with others.

Before being teenagers, we are all children

It is said that one time, Thomas Edison was surprised by a colleague, surrounded by a thousand failed experiments in his workplace. “I have tried everything, but I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that do not work.” This is optimism and the ability to learn from one’s mistakes.

When your child shows that he is powerless and pessimistic and says that he is not capable of doing something, instead of showing them how to do it so that he can see that it is possible, tell him this story. Then, tell him that any challenge or difficult time requires time and effort, and that the more time and effort they dedicate, the closer they will be to achieving their goal.

Girl Looking Out Window

Your child will be able to go very far on their own if they are capable of facing the challenges that present themselves each and every day and if they are capable of feeling like they are moving forward. Your child does not need an answer, but rather opportunities to learn and to face their frustrations.

However, on top of this final goal, when we talk about children, what they need is to enjoy themselves, doing whatever it is they do. Maybe they want to be soccer players, but before that, they have to play a lot of games with their friends and simply enjoy that. The demand of high-level achievement only requires that they start in adolescence and work at it gradually.

Before being a teenager, the child has to have fun and while the demands and frustration have not shown up, the child can dream about being whatever he wants to be, even changing his dream each day. This is a stage of discovery and for this, there is one form, like any other, of exploring the world with one’s imagination and our hand. Think about the fact that the more we do something, the better we will know it, the better we will be able to choose when that time comes for us.