“I want to grow up to be a rock star!”
Magical thinking is cute on a five year old but it looks different on a nineteen year old. When a senior in high school expects to be a race car driver upon high school graduation but hasn’t passed a regular driver’s license test, it’s a little odd. The fantastical story might even continue with Bill Gates backing their career financially even though they’ve never met Bill Gates and they have no connection to him. As the public world shakes their head and thinks privately, ‘surely this almost grown man knows this isn’t even close to reality,’ the teenager continues to spin a magical story where free cars appear and people cheer for him as he wins the Indy 500.
Often high school students have high aspirations for their young adult future however sometimes they are completely off base in the real world. How does this happen?
A parent will usually support a dreamy childhood aspiration through elementary school and then the conversation is expected to change with age. In a concrete world where actions equal reality, the parents might start asking their future race car driver some questions:
Do you have any role models in this field?
What are the steps you could take to get there?
Why do you think you would be good at it?
And oh by the way – go rotate the tires and learn how to change oil in a car. Show me how concrete actions of working on machines today link to a career in the future.
Somehow there is a hiccup in this progression of early childhood fantastical thoughts moving towards mature reality when a student who has no license tells me he’s going to be a race car driver in six months. What happened? How does a teenager get the idea the world will serve me, give me endless free opportunities and support me financially – all without me lifting a finger? Insert my finger pointing to the parent here. Parents actually hinder adolescent growth and propagate fantasy living when they fail to offer reality-based opportunities to their child. When a parent nods their head and agrees with the nineteen year olds race car fantasy while cleaning their child’s room and putting away their child’s dishes, well… I can see how the teen thinks. ‘People serve me by cleaning up my mess and my fan club sure likes to listen to my magical thinking story of race car driving.’ At some point the parents provide a disservice when they help propagate a false sense of the future.
In high school this false sense of the future is often described by teens as attending major colleges, living in far off places and driving a hot car. At Gateway we are challenged with the task of unraveling magical thinking. We ask the students what is likely based on your abilities and opportunities and how will you get there?
Parents can help adolescents attach fantasies to the here and now. The key idea here is realistic. What can a student do on this day to show they are ready for the next opportunity? If you are not sure where to go with a conversation, come and talk to us. We have some great resources and we know our students educational strengths and challenges.
Please be bold and question magical thinking. Parents send out signs of approval if they fail to question fantasies. Purposeful and realistic planning is extremely useful to instill hope for the future and to reduce anxiety. When today’s actions create a stepwise path towards a realistic goal, the outcome is a ‘can do’ attitude and probable successful future.
Julie Nicodemus, M.A., LPC, LMFT
Houston, Texas 77092
713-659-7900 ext. 25