Success is Relative

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A phrase I like to use and remind parents of is "Success is relative." By this I mean that sometimes we need to stop long enough to see those small steps as progress. When we look at the big picture, we may feel things are unchanged unless we learn to look at the fact that success is relative.

For example, an alcohol-drinking teen in my foster home used to drink every time he went out. Week after week, he returned home drunk. Parental consistency on our part conveyed the message that he should not drink. Eventually, this idea began to sound more acceptable to him, and although the problem wasn't resolved yet, he was listening. Alcoholism is a problem that teens need professional help with, but teens still may have some control. The result is that he drinks on occasion now, but not every time he goes out with his friends. This is success, small as it is.

If you have prevented a child from doing a crime by whatever intervention you use, you are responsible for keeping that kid out of jail for at least one night. This could be a kid who constantly is in trouble and is getting picked up often by the police. This success is relative to the fact that he could be in jail every night, but he isn't.

Let's bring this theory down to a more common level, like getting a teen to clean a room. You ask them to pick up all their stuff and put it away. You say please make your bed, and also vacuum the floor. They pick up and make their bed, but have not vacuumed. First of all, rooms are low priority when you have a teen that does crime or uses drugs. If your teen's only problem is they do not clean their room, consider yourself lucky. Look at the stuff they did accomplish as a success. Try to focus on the good, the things actually completed. This does not mean you cannot remind them you wanted them to also vacuum, but it should not become such a major issue that it ruins the harmony of your home.

The key to all this is to simply do the best you can. Set reasonable standards and realize even these things may need to be achieved in steps. Teens are easily distracted, they are concentrating on many things they perceive to be of vital importance, and their room may not be at the top of their list. Try to put things in perspective, praise them for what they complete, encourage them to continue with any good behavior, and recognize success is relative.

When a teen sometimes stops and thinks before a bad behavior or occasionally remembers to do something that is expected, but usually forgotten, that shows progress on their part. Little as it is, be grateful for it. You might be worrying about how to get your teen to clean up their room, while other parents are struggling to keep their kids out of jail. Keep things in perspective.

Remember: Each small success is another step toward your goal.

Credits: Jo Ann Wentzel

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