Life-Changing Moments

Did anyone see the million dollar hole-in-one golf video going around on the Internet last week? Jason Hargett, a restaurant manager from Provo, Utah, decided to enter a charity golf tournament in spite of a hurt wrist, using his brother’s clubs. As in many charity tournaments, each hole is sponsored by a business or organization and often there are prizes for that rare possibility of a hole-in-one. This video shows the shot and his reaction after he makes it.  It’s fun to watch because you can just feel the joy leaping out of your computer screen. I want to dive in and jump up and down with him.  This is the kind of stuff we need to see in the midst of so much worldwide bad news.  This is the kind of joy everyone needs to feel at least once in their life, and I think it’s especially important for kids and teens.

Allison got to feel it a couple days ago.  She tried out for a part in her high school’s fall musical production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and found out she got the part of Snoopy, which is not only a big part, but big for a freshman to get with less than a month of high school under her belt.  Emmie felt it when she made the gymnastics team after trying for so long.  I felt it the first time I found out I was going to be published nationally. It was a poem printed in a United Methodist Church Sunday School “magazine” for kids– I think I was around 12 or 13 years old, and I ran all over my house screaming and jumping up and down. Ditto when I was elected President of my 4-H Club in Jr. High when no one under high school age had held the office, and the time I was asked to the Jr.-Sr. prom when I was a sophomore.  Anything like that does loads to help a kid’s self confidence and self esteem.

But what about the opposite? Should we also secretly hope our kids experience some setbacks? That’s a tough question.  As a parent, you want everything to be wonderful for your kids.  And tweens and teens can take setbacks pretty hard.  We’ve all read or heard about teen suicide after relationship break-ups.  Or the kid who gets a bad grade and shoots his teacher.  There’s also anorexia, self mutilation, drugs, drinking, and numerous other unhealthy ways kids cope when dealt a tough blow.  Many years ago, I watched the drama unfold as a former supervisor’s teen daughter went downhill after not making the basketball team in Jr. High. She immediately decided her former group of friends, many who had made it on the team, were “stuck up”, and she began hanging with a “bad crowd”.  Then my supervisor was getting calls at work that his daughter was caught sniffing markers to get high in class, and skipping school.  In high school, she ran away from home, got back on track enough to graduate, and immediately got a job– as a stripper.  (“The money is too good,” she told her dad.)  All possibly beginning with a defining setback in Junior High.

Shielding kids from failure and sadness is not the answer.  These parents who go before the School Board in anger, demanding a new tryout or reinstatement because their child didn’t make this or that squad– unreal.  Or people who refuse to talk about death or let their child attend a memorial service– more tragic than death itself.  Helicopter parents prevent their children from developing valuable coping skills as well as detract them from learning empathy toward others– maybe even toward their future children!

So I think all rational parents would agree that to be a balanced person, our kids should experience some discomfort– it’s just “How do we prevent their angst from going horribly wrong?” that is the better question.  And I don’t have the answer.  Sometimes a parent can do everything right and kids still make bad choices.  They’re their own unique person, after all.  But I do know that the more encouragement and opportunities kids get for learning new skills, the better their chances for a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence from reaching a goal in something (Allison was bummed when she didn’t make the 9th grade cheerleading squad, but got over it pretty quickly, saying that she had other interests to pursue.)  I do know that parents need to empathize with kids during setbacks instead of being judgmental, indifferent or impatient (I remember my mom was annoyed that I was still sad weeks after my dog was hit and killed by a car, when I was 13) (on the other hand, she shed a few tears right along with me in high school after a boyfriend broke-up by telephone…and she told me about a similar situation she’d gone through…that meant a lot to me.) And I do know that involving kids in community service on a regular basis, really good, get-in-the-trenches-and-work-face-to-face-with-those-in-need kinds of service, helps kids put their troubles in perspective and enables them to feel needed.  At a stage in their life when they sometimes feel powerless and invisible, they realize they really can make a difference in the world, even if they’re not scoring touchdowns on the football field or being voted Most Likely To Succeed in the senior poll.  (And if their parents get in there and help right alongside them, they grow as well, especially if they’ve lead a “charmed” life.)

It might also help to let kids know that overcoming an obstacle is even more reason to jump for joy than when everything is always rosy.  You really don’t appreciate Prince Charming as much unless you’ve kissed a lot of toads.  Membership on a team means so much more after you’ve “fallen short” at the tryouts at least once.  The boy who becomes a drummer in spite of physical challenges is having a much better time in the marching band than probably any other member.  And if kids can’t wrap their brains around this concept, or believe it, there are lots of books and movies that can help.  I remember as a teenager reading a paperback autobiography by Joni Eareckson Tada, a woman who was paralyzed in a lake diving accident right after graduating from high school, but went on to become a famous inspirational speaker and artist, drawing with a pencil in her mouth.   There’s the story of Wilma Rudolph, the movies “Miracle” and “The Rookie”, even the book “The Glass Castle” is inspirational (for teens).  As far as fiction, the movie, “That Thing You Do” has a great scene when the band first hears their song on the radio after stumbling through previous pitfalls and rejection.  The happiness is contagious! Again, it makes you want to jump into the screen and yell or honk your car horn right along with them.  

So, here’s to moments of life-changing joy for everyone, and an even bigger cheer when it happens after times of life-changing setbacks!