A matter of interpretation
A recent poll by the Associated Press and MTV offered some surprising results for parents. I’d even go so far as to say they were pleasant results. Encouraging. Uplifting, when considering the world young people live in today. Then again, my perspective may have been different depending on which paper I read first. Very different.I opened up a major newspaper last week to this headline: “Relax, Mom and Dad: Your Kids Like You.” The front-page article went on to say that kids’ heroes are overwhelmingly their parents; that relationships with family rank higher than any other; that family is the key to happiness. Fifty-five percent of the respondents, ages 13-24, also said religion and spirituality are a big part of their lives. I had a regular “ahhhh” moment reading the full-page results and hearing the heartfelt quotes from teens around the country.
So imagine my surprise when I opened up a different paper the next day and the headline read: “Youth Say Key to Happiness is Money.” Indeed, here was the same AP/MTV poll that had surveyed the same 1,300 young people. But this reporter had taken a different, decidedly downbeat, angle.The article on day two went on to say that young people desire to have more material wealth, even if they believe it won’t make them any happier than they are right now. It also said “only 20 percent of young people enjoy spending time with family.” Only?! Day one’s reporter had stated, “Spending time with family was the top answer” to the open-ended question, “What one thing makes you most happy?” It also reported, in response to that question, “Almost no one said money.”Clearly we were dealing with a glass-half-empty kind of report on day two. Of course, that’s coming from me, a glass-half-full kind of gal.
But when it comes to reading the news, it’s a lot like reading your kids: It can be tricky business. Rudolf Dreikurs, a famed child psychologist, writes about being in a classroom where an exasperated teacher showed him one student’s work filled with messy mistakes. Dreikurs took in the disorderly paper and found one glaring piece of perfection. An O. Neat, tidy, perfectly formed. He turned to the teacher, in earshot of the student, and said, “But look here. This is a perfect O from start to finish.”As parents, it is often enormously difficult to find the O. We are so focused on our kids’ mistakes, that we forget those very mistakes are part of the process of learning. In our pursuit of their excellence, we find ourselves focusing on their every defect and limitation. Rather than searching for something to encourage, we pounce on conspicuous blunders.
Instead of saying, “Hey, isn’t this great that more kids said family makes them happy than anything else?” we say, “Only 20 percent of respondents said family makes them happy.”It’s like one of those ink blots at the psychiatrist’s office: we all see something differently, and our interpretation says a lot.Charla Belinski’s column runs ever other Sunday in the Post Independent.
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