Authors: A better definition of success can help your child achieve it

Part seven of eight excerpts from the new book “Letting Go with Love and Confidence.”

Parents seem more worried than ever that their kids’ future might not be as bright as they had hoped. Developing a broader view of success can help with the anxiety for both parents and teens.

Part seven of eight.

Excerpted from the new book Letting Go with Love and Confidence.

Settle into the bleachers or linger in the grocery store aisles and listen to the anxiety as parents talk about school, tests scores and team tryouts. Even if parents aren’t coming out and saying “I’m worried,” their inner questions are undeniable: Am I pushing my kid too hard, or not enough? Am I making the “right” decision now to ensure success down the road? Is my child keeping up with her peers? Is she too competitive or not competitive enough? Is her school expecting too much or too little? Is she participating in the “right” mix of activities that will allow her to stand out?

Parents seem more worried than ever that their kids’ future might not turn out to be as bright as they had hoped for. Parents no doubt sense that there is something wrong about how society seems to be narrowing the definition of success for kids—putting tremendous emphasis on grades, honors courses, SAT and ACT scores, and thick resumes for college applications. But they also are somewhat ambivalent because they don’t want their own kids to be left behind.

Here we will define authentic success—a broader view of success that includes such attributes as an ability to maintain meaningful relationships, resilience, generosity, compassion, a desire to contribute, creativity and innovation. Parents do not have to choose between happiness today for their kids and success tomorrow.

Authentic success:

Puts the emphasis on high achievement, not on performance.

Celebrates academic accomplishments, but acknowledges that kids are much more than their report cards.

Sets the bar high for every kid, but the bar is set on high effort, not on performance- driven standards such as grades or standardized test scores.

Values the use of specific, well- targeted praise and criticism, rather than effusive praise or labeling, as a means to spur kids to try harder.

Discourages the notion that kids need to be good at everything to succeed, and recognizes that we all have areas where we shine and others where we are adequate or struggle.

Recognizes that children are most apt to achieve when they are given the chance to discover what makes them passionate.

Recognizes that we need a highly educated populace, but college isn’t for everyone. Society needs well- prepared people in all fields, and education might look different depending on your goals. Some kids shine in the classroom, others in vocational settings, others when given service opportunities.

Provides a broader range of “heroes” for kids to aspire to be like, not just the sports stars and celebrities typically placed on a pedestal. Teachers, nurses and men and women in the military are proof that society couldn’t function without people willing to serve.

Recognizes that each child can thrive. Rejects the idea that only the superstars deserve attention.

Recognizes that some kids receive dispiriting messages about their potential due to their gender, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. These messages are rarely given intentionally, but they need to be addressed and eliminated.

Does not encourage perfectionism, a potentially self-destructive way of thinking that makes people feel unacceptable with anything less than the highest level of recognition. Rather than actually leading to excellence, perfectionism can stifle personal growth as kids take the easy way out for fear of falling short.

Promotes creativity and innovation, both core attributes of high achievers.

Values participation in sports, the arts and volunteerism because it builds complete human beings, not because it “looks good” for college admissions.

Acknowledges that the ultimate sign of whether a child has done well isn’t acceptances from certain colleges, but rather that he has an appreciation for learning and a curiosity about the world.

Discussion points: Is your child caught up in the frenzy to succeed? What can parents and schools do to change that dynamic?

—Excerpted with permission and edited from Letting Go with Love and Confidence: Raising Responsible, Resilient, Self-Sufficient Teens in the 21st Century (Avery, 2011).


In September and October, NewsWorks is presenting a series of eight excerpts from the new book, Letting Go with Love and Confidence. The final installment in the series, “how do I talk about sex?” will appear on Monday, Oct. 3.


Ginsburg_77x77Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., M.S.Ed., is a pediatrician and researcher specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Regularly voted a “Top Doc” by Philadelphia magazine, he also serves homeless and marginalized youth as the Director of Health Services at Covenant House Pennsylvania. He talks around the country on the importance of cultivating resilience in children so that they can thrive in a complex world. He is an advisor to the U.S. military, providing strategies to help families cope with a loved one’s deployment. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two teenage daughters.

Fitzgerald_77x77Susan FitzGerald is an award-winning journalist with a specialty in children’s health issues. A former staff writer and editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer, she now works as an independent writer and editor and teaches health writing in the graduate Writing Studies Program at St. Joseph’s University. She and her husband have three sons.

Author Susan FitzGerald will be available to answer your questions during a live Web chat at noon on Thursday, Oct. 6, on

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