I’ll never forget September of 2001. President George W. Bush attempted to help Americans deal with the horrific terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. In his remarks, he said we must prepare ourselves for a “new normal.”
By this term, he meant that what is common and routine; what’s becoming normal for our daily lives will be different. And we must adjust our expectations.
In some ways, this is the day in which we live regarding several categories:
- We are teaching a generation of kids who learn about those 9-11 terrorist attacks as a story from history.
- We are now leading students who have their heads down much of the time, staring at their portable devices.
- We are parenting teens who are more connected to friends than ever, yet simultaneously they are often in isolation—and they may exhibit poor people skills.
We are now employing and educating young people who don’t need adults to get information. Thank you, Google and Wikipedia.
We’ve all had to adjust to a “new normal.”
Sometimes the “new normal” is a good thing. Change can be very positive, such as:
- the end of slavery
- women’s right to vote
- new child labor laws
- communication by phone
- the expansion of civil rights
- the discovery of penicillin
My big question is—how do we know when the “new normal” is not good?
I’m concerned that we often shrug our shoulders and simply moan, “Ah, that’s just the way things are now.” Or, “Ugh! Kid’s today!” As if there’s nothing we can do about new realities except to merely allow them. I’d like to challenge that paradigm here, with a different thought. Consider this:
- All progress brings change.
- But not all change brings progress.
I recently spoke to a parent of two teenagers. This dad is engaged with his children, but unfortunately, he has lost sight of his responsibility to lead them. Because everyone is on the go, they seldom have any time together as a family, and if they do eat together, each member merely scrolls through the feeds on their phone during the meal. He finds himself driving them to practice nearly every day and he doles out money to fulfill their every whim. In short, he reacts; he doesn’t lead.
Let me offer a few reminders of where today’s culture has gone astray. Sadly, few of us are willing to recognize the current situation and take action:
1. Youth Sports
I love sports, but today we ask kids to give their soul to a single sport. They travel, buy equipment and spend multiple days a week practicing or playing.
2. Portable Devices
I love technology, but parents feel they must succumb to the demands of their kids to buy the latest gadget—or they won’t keep up with their friends.
3. Brand Names
I appreciate a good label as much as anyone, but to spend ridiculous amounts of money just to display a specific brand and achieve status is unhealthy.
4. Standardized Test Scores
Educators are my heroes and I respect academic achievement, but students today spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for or taking tests.
None of these items on the list above are evil. We’ve simply allowed them to occupy a higher place of importance than they should. And our children are the real victims. Coaches feel their hands are tied because of demanding parents. Parents feel they must work the system for their kid to get ahead. Students are subjected to stressful levels of performance, usually because adults fail to lead them well. We all feel like we’re a victim of a system. Often, no one shows the backbone to question the system. Few take a stand and refuse to play the game. We react to a “new normal”—instead of holding fast to a more healthy and manageable way to live.
Be a Proactive Leader Not a Reactive Victim: Choose Your Normal
As we begin a new year, I want to challenge each of us to lead. To lead our homes. To lead our schools. To lead our sports leagues. To lead ourselves. Our phones make a poor master but a great servant. Our systems have become our “boss” rather than a “guide” to develop life skills in our young. We’ve lost perspective and allowed a “new normal” to surface, rather than insisting they become fads. We can determine so many of the “normals” if we’ll only stand up and question commonalities that appear unhealthy:
- Evaluate the results your new “normal routines” are achieving.
- Ask questions of the powers that be: why are we doing this?
- Brainstorm with those involved if the results can be reached a better way.
- Decide what you value most and work to ensure that is the “new normal.”
Sometimes, we can do nothing about a “new normal” in society. It is what it is. The train has left the station and we need to get used to it. Often, however, we give up too soon on an unhealthy “new normal.” We lose perspective.
Pete is a dad who coaches his son’s team in a youth hockey league. He told me his son is very good and will often “hog” the puck and do all the scoring. So, one season, Pete encouraged his son to relax a bit and share the glory with his teammates. “After all,” he said, “It’s just a game.”
Three games into the season, the team had lost all their games. Pete grew upset and yelled at his players to work harder. When they fell behind in game four, Pete pulled his son aside and told him to take over: “Go after the puck, and take it in for a score.” His son looked puzzled and questioned his dad since this was different than his original instructions. Pete raised his voice, insisting his son do it because it was the only way they were going to win! With that, his son looked at him and replied, “Dad—twenty years from now, is this going to matter? It’s only a game.”
Sometimes our kids become mentors for us.
Regardless of how culture morphs, let’s determine the timeless habits and attitudes our young adults will need to thrive in the future—and ensure they remain “normal.”
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