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I listen to lots of podcasts — when I’m driving, when I’m mowing the lawn, or folding the laundry. These days, there piles of laundry to fold.
Many of these podcasts talk about current events, but they also make predictions. They take what’s going on now and extrapolate to what will happen next. One of my favorite podcasts — Pivot — has a segment about predictions. What I appreciate about the hosts of Pivot is that they hold themselves accountable to their predictions. They’ll play predictions that they made in the past and talk about whether they got it right or wrong.
Predictions aren’t just made by podcast hosts; most people make them. We make them about our jobs, our marriages, and so many other things. But being a new dad has made me notice a group of people we make predictions about all the time: kids.
My son is really into birds. Does that mean he’s going to be an ornithologist? He can throw blocks really hard at the wall. Does that mean he’ll be an athlete?
Odds are my son won’t be an ornithologist or an athlete. Next month, he’ll learn a new skill or have a new interest and I’ll make some prediction about his future based on this. But I’m also not the only one who does this — his grandparents, his uncles and aunts, and his teachers at day care all do the same thing.
Most of these predictions are harmless — I’m not heavily invested in my son being an ornithologist. But some can be problematic. Predictions that happen in childhood can become strong narratives that kids carry into adolescence and adulthood. Sometimes before kids can talk, their futures have already been decided for them. And if a kid tries to deviate from that future, they are told they are bad, letting their family down, or not reaching their potential. These messages can lead to shame, anxiety and strained relationships.
Instead of making toxic predictions, give kids possibilities. I’m not saying that you should tell them that they can do anything; rather, provide them with the scaffolding they need to see if a certain path fits for them. If it does, great. If it doesn’t, help them create new possibilities.
Like the podcasts hosts of Pivot, if we checked on the predictions we made about kids later in their lives, we’d get many of them wrong. If, instead, we help create possibilities for kids, I bet we’d find them better adjusted teenagers and adults.
Of course, that’s just me making another prediction.
Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and University of Iowa professor. He co-hosts the Attached Podcast. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org