Having a healthy grip on fear is one thing, but teaching your children fearlessness versus healthy ways to handle fear is another process.
The following was written by Heath Kull
I often work with and write about hurting and angry young people since they make up the majority of the kids at The Ranches.
On any given day, in any coffee shop in New Mexico, you can hear people talking about the problem with young people and how they are all hurting and angry. While I tend to agree, it leaves out a very important part of the equation. Most kids are struggling because they are actually scared. School, friends, new teachers, rumors and social cliques are all very scary to young people. As adults and as parents, we sometimes inadvertently send the message that kids should be fearless instead of teaching them to be courageous; and the men of my generation are the absolute worst at expecting everyone to be tough, respectful and fearless. “Don’t be scared!” “Suck it up, Buttercup.” “Man up!”…“Cowboy UP!” “FEAR is just False Evidence Appearing Real.” “Don’t be weak!”
The problem starts to take shape when kids start to realize that being fearless has consequences. While all of these sayings are meant to help kids face the little things that scare them, they fail to address the fact that fear is natural and present in all of us, and that there are actually things that we should be afraid of. These sayings also tend to leave kids with the distinct impression that they are broken or flawed when they start to be scared or experience the fear that we all have had to face. Once the feeling of being flawed and broken starts to take hold, the limits for what kids will and won’t do to manage their fear starts to disappear. Drugs, sexual encounters, negative relationships and withdrawal from society all start to make a lot more sense and become much more attractive. “Smoke this. It’ll help and it’s not addictive.” “Just trust me. It feels good and I won’t tell anyone.” “Just send me a picture.” “Just sneak out. All the best people will be there.” “If you take enough of these, you won’t feel anything anymore.”
These messages start to replace the messages from childhood that were uttered with the best of intentions and these alternate messages are much more compatible with the idea that the scared child is just broken and flawed.
Sadly, we sometimes fail to recognize that our fear makes sense when we are afraid of something that can actually hurt us, damage our reputation, ostracize us or point out our flaws on social media. While we want our children to be fearless, it is much better for children if we teach them to be courageous and to understand their fear, but not let it control them. Instead of expecting kids to be fearless, we have to teach them that it is OK to admit that they are scared and to then formulate a plan to handle scary situations with courage and caution.
As anyone with a loved one in the armed services can tell you, fearlessness is not what gets your loved one home at night. Fearlessness is ignorant of reality, while courage fully acknowledges the reality of the situation, but gives you the strength to cautiously move towards, and face the things that rightfully scare you. As we deal with hurting, angry and scared young people at The Ranches, we have to teach them be courageous in all that they do – even when they are scared. Especially when they are scared.