Link copied to clipboard

It’s not uncommon for a preteen or teenager to become consumed by a dream that you know has no chance of ever coming true. Your child may imagine himself a major-league sports phenom, a singing sensation, a world-tour rock star, the next movie heartthrob, or a future Matt Zuckerberg. When you’re young, the sky’s the limit. When you’re a parent, should you bring your kid back down to Earth?

There’s a lot to be said for bursting your teen’s bubble. You know that the chances for fame and fortune are vanishingly small. You know that for every person who makes it big there are thousands who don’t. So you naturally want to save your child the disappointment you know will inevitably come. Isn’t it better to give up now and put all that effort into something more possible?

And you worry about the wasted effort that’s being applied right now. If you’re fronting music lessons or elite-level coaching you have reason to question the likelihood of ever seeing a return on that investment. If your child is spending every waking moment practicing and dreaming, you have reason to question the time expended on a fantasy. You wonder about your child’s inattention to ordinary school studies or to an ordinary social life. It all seems to be a waste of time and treasure for something that you know to be futile.

And how do you know this? Maybe you know it from personal experience.

If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve had dreams that fell by the wayside. You’ve had hopes crushed. You’ve been able to look back and realize that your time and money might’ve been better applied to something more practical and ordinary. You might even feel silly to have dreamed the dreams you did. Your dreams never paid off.

Psychology includes something called “regret theory” built around the feelings adults have about how their lives turned out. Regret theory was borrowed from economics, where it proposes that we’d all like to know in advance how a choice will turn out so we can be sure to choose wisely. The problem is, of course, that we cannot know outcomes in advance. We all have dreams we wanted to come true that we see now, in hindsight, had no chance. Somewhere deep inside we each probably still cling to those youthful dreams.

So it’s natural to want to save our children from regret. Except that to do that, we must save our children from their dreams.

You may know – you may think you know – that your teen’s fantasy life will never come true. But the dreaming of it has value. In some way, our dreams are our most-perfect selves, our most private selves, the piece of us that endures the longest. Your teen needs her dreams.

And maybe, just maybe, they’ll come true.


© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.