'Average' is out!

- Article by Ms. Srilatha Srikant (Counseling Psychologist at Prafulta Psychological Services)

Average’ is out! The modern parent won’t stand for it! It's not unusual for some parents to declare that their worst nightmare is that their kid will ‘turn out average.'

The dictionary defines average as, 'an amount, standard, level or rate regarded as usual or ordinary.' Look up synonyms for ‘interesting’. Here’s what I got! Absorbing, engrossing, fascinating, riveting, gripping, compelling, spellbinding, engaging, enthralling, entrancing, beguiling. How fascinating is that!

We live in times where the 'usual, the ordinary' equates to boring, unexceptional, commonplace, mundane, mediocre. In an age of information overload, it takes either the extraordinary or the awful to catch our attention and recognition. ‘Sensational’ works. In an age of adrenalin rush and living life 'on the edge', ordinary doesn't merit consideration. Hence, average won’t cut it. You’re not here to be average, you’re here to be awesome, parents may well be saying to their kids.

• So, what's the parental reaction to a child who is somewhat middling in academics, gets mostly C's and an occasional B? Who isn't outstanding, but isn’t 'dull' either? 

• What's the parental reaction to a child who participates in athletics for the fun of it? Who doesn't finish last, but doesn't come out a winner either?

• What's the parental reaction to a child who doesn't really keep mum in social situations, but isn't the life of the party either? 

• What's the parental reaction to a child who has 'passable' looks, who isn't likely to be crowned 'Queen' or 'King' at the school farewell party?

• What’s the parental reaction to a child who is 'average' in height, weight, IQ, style quotient? The child who might just about meet expected criteria, not exceed them?

• What’s the parental reaction to the child who will turn out to be an average Joe leading an average lifestyle, earning an average salary, perhaps settle for an average marriage or relationship that might, heaven forbid, result in average children?

Parents’ hearts sink when they are told by the clinical psychologist that their child’s scores on the IQ test fall in the average range. Or by the teacher at school that their kid is hardworking but may never be a whiz at math in the mould of his dad! Or by the cricket coach that the child’s interest is high, but natural aptitude is average and he won’t make it to the cricket team.

In the indomitable ‘need’ for their child to achieve spectacularly in some sphere, parents act upon the slightest sign of interest the child may show in singing, dance, painting, karate and the like, enroll him in classes and then cajole/ threaten/ bribe the child to continue because it is ‘for his own good’. Or a parent of an average child who performs fairly well at school, may look to a psychiatric diagnosis that will enable the child to get extra time on tests or medication to improve memory or concentration, even if the psychologist may dissuade the parent from doing so.

What are some messages that parents may be sending kids through their own actions, sometimes inadvertently?

• Be outstanding! Always. 
Consequence? Learning becomes insipid, joyless, a burden, a task to be completed rather than enjoyed. Anxiety/ depression/ guilt/ anger and resentment may follow if the child can’t live up to unrealistic parental expectations.

• If you aren’t outstanding, you’re nothing.
Consequence? The child develops black and white thinking patterns. One succeeds or fails; one is a saint or a sinner; life is marvelous or disastrous. There are no shades of grey. Being average isn’t catastrophic, although it may be a disadvantage sometimes. Also, statistically speaking, if 68 percent of us fall in the average category, we’ve obviously learned to deal with this unhappy fact without dire consequences befalling most of us.

• Your performance is equal to your worth.
Consequence? The child believes he is good, adequate or worth loving only if he performs well. Self-acceptance fluctuates with the level of performance. Anxiety becomes a constant companion. Even when the child achieves outstanding results, there is always the constant fear of losing it all in the next round of average performance. How about teaching the child to rate his skills instead of rating himself?

• Results matter. Rather, 'ONLY ' results matter.
Consequence? Efforts are not valued by the parent or child. Improvements don’t count for much. Means may justify the end as the child may cheat, lie or copy, for example, to show the results that are demanded.

• Just be the best, I’ll manage the rest.
Consequence? Parents may start micromanaging the child’s life, and planning everything to the minutest detail. Parental anxiety rubs off on the child too. Child may grow dependent and may not develop problem solving skills adequately

• NEVER fail, NEVER make mistakes.
Consequence? Risk taking ability, willingness to try new challenges and tasks may be very low if the child fears that he’s likely to fail or make mistakes. Mistakes may be seen as fatal and defining self negatively for life.

“The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.”  ― Mark Twain

Is that the legacy we want to pass on to our kids?