Parents, Stop Telling Your Kids They Can Do Anything They Set Their Minds To

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Dear Parents,

No. Your child cannot do anything he sets his mind to. Furthermore, she cannot be anyone she chooses to be. And here are few reasons why you need to be really careful about telling your kids that kind of thing.

You set them up for disappointment… if not disillusionment

I remember sitting in grade 7 English class when our teacher asked the class what they wanted to do for a living one day. Not surprisingly, one kid said he was destined for the NHL.

That’s not an uncommon dream.

Our teacher, one of my absolute favourites, apparently wasn’t in the nurturing mood that day and deflated my classmate rather efficiently.

“Statistically, you have an almost 0% chance of making it, you know. Why don’t you choose a realistic goal for your life.”

The kid wasn’t deflated, he got mad. I don’t entirely blame him either; it was a bit untactful on the part of the teacher.

The problem is Mr. T was right. The chances were slim that kid would ever make the NHL (he still hasn’t to my knowledge). But dreams are not the problem. Kids are going to dream and dreaming is good.

The problem is when parents lie to their kids. Lying is bad, always. And it’s worse when it’s accompanied by a little dash of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

(If you’re going to start quoting that verse to your burgeoning RWB dancers or NHL players, you should probably quote verse 11 and 12 too. “I’m not saying this because I’m in any need. I’ve learned to be content in whatever situation I’m in. I know how to live in poverty or prosperity. No matter what the situation, I’ve learned the secret of how to live when I’m full or when I’m hungry, when I have too much or when I have too little.”)

When we tell kids they can do anything, and they find that they can’t; that will be disappointing. When we tell kids they can do anything with Christ and they can’t; that will be disillusioning.

You are teaching them New Age beliefs

Furthermore, the belief that we can be or do anything we want is straight out of the New Age how-to book.

There is a movement that became popular a few years ago called The Secret that taught the so-called “law of attraction.” The authors (or discoverers) of this remarkable principle taught their followers (in the millions), that “if you can see it in your mind, you can hold it in your hand.” Your brain, they say, is like a magnet that attracts positive or negative things to it based on what you think. Think good things, and the Universe will deliver. Think bad things and well… the Universe doesn’t discriminate.

There’s nothing new about “The Secret.” These are New Age beliefs, which are anything but new and they don’t work. They don’t work because, while the mind is a powerful thing, and being positive and grateful is a very good (and biblical) thing, the “Universe” nor angels will impart any secret knowledge or gifts because of what you think.

You know who did say you can be anything you want to be? Satan. Isn’t that exactly the lie he used against Eve in the Garden? “You can be like God!” (Ge 3:5)

New? Nope. A lie? Yup.

Or you’re teaching them humanism

What the New Age movement promises through “spiritual enlightenment,” humanism promises through human effort. Humanism teaches that people are the solution to the human problem (which is somewhat variously defined).

I remember sitting in my office a few years ago with an atheist humanist who made some remarkable statements:

“We are living in the most peaceful time in history!” (In other words, “See? People have learned how to live in peace with one another.”)

“In another 100 years people will live forever as all human disease will have been eradicated.” (In other words, “See? Humans can solve every physiological or biological problem.”)

I was actually gobsmacked.

Since then, I have learned that many people believe this foolishness. I find it a little hard to say we’ve become uber peace-loving people in the last 50 years or that we’ve solved a darn thing when our answer to unwanted pregnancies, unwanted children with Down Syndrome, and people with chronic illness or incurable diseases is to kill them off.

But that’s just me.

Do you see, though, how a kid might start to believe in humanism if we keep telling them they can be whoever they want and accomplish anything they set their minds to? It’s gotten so wonky out there that we even tell them they can determine their own gender!

So if our kids can’t be whoever they want or accomplish anything they set their minds to, and if dreams are good, what DO we tell our kids?

“Be everything God intended for you to be!”

Pastor Ray once told me that if you know what God has called you to and you learn to listen to His voice for direction, you can’t fail! And I agree. It’s just the mission that God gives us doesn’t always pay as well as the NHL.

Nevertheless, this is the truth that we need to tell our children.

It is echoed in the message Paul writes to his friends in Ephesus, “⌊I pray⌋ that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength.”Ephesians 1:18-19

God has lovingly set parameters on our lives and dreams that are both far greater than we ever expected, while being more specific than we might sometimes like. That’s because His dreams for us are for His glory, not ours.

BUT… His dreams are ultimately better than ours! FAR more fulfilling! A FAR greater adventure than one we could dream up!

What I’m not saying is that our kids shouldn’t dream. They should… with God.

I’m also not saying that our kids shouldn’t set a high standard for themselves. They should… but it should be a standard of godly character before a standard of talent or performance.

I’m also not saying that natural talents and interests don’t indicate what God’s calling on our life might be. They do! And truth be told, there are Christians who are called to play in the NHL; to do a lot of good and make a LOT of money for the Kingdom of God. (I.e. for HIS glory, not their own.)

So, parents, teach your kids to set their minds on what is above where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1-2), and where nothing will destroy the treasure they work for (Mt. 6:20).

That’s the place where the best dreams are born!

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Thom Dick

Associate Pastor – Southland Church

Thom has worked with children and youth for 18 years. He and his wife, Tara, have 7 kids; 4 boys, and two daughters and a SON-IN-LAW(!). The kids are spread across 23 years too so that gives him plenty of experimental material to write about! They have welcomed 31 foster children into their home over the past number of years.

8 Comments on “Parents, Stop Telling Your Kids They Can Do Anything They Set Their Minds To”

  1. I understand where you are going with this post, and agree with the general premise. But you are in a position of authority, and you do have a responsibility to be accurate in your statements. The world is statistically more peaceful than ever – this is not debatable, it is statistically true. The rights of women, children, minorities, etc. are stronger than they have ever been. We as Christians should be proud of these facts – don’t we want a more peaceful world? The fact that it is happening should be celebrated, not discounted. Please, if you are going to debate statistically true points in your blog, back them up. It is your responsibility.

    1. Hi KerryAnne – thank you for your comment. I can quite easily show you that we are living in one of the MOST violent times in history.

      In WW2 Canada sent approximately 424,000 men and women oversees into active duty. Of those some 61,000 died. That is right around 1 in 7 soldiers lost and that is tragic beyond comprehension.

      Last year there were approximate 100,000 abortions in Canada. That means 1 in every 4 pregnancies end in a violent death for the baby and unimaginable trauma for the mother (and many others). My heart can’t even fathom something so horrible.

      And keep in mind that greater percentage of deaths were carried out against innocent souls, not adults in war with evil enemies.

      By my estimation that puts us in a hideously evil and violent time in history.

      If we were truly a more peaceful people I would celebrate it wholeheartedly. Yes! I want peace! But humanism and New Age teaching fails to accomplish it.

      I do appreciate the comment, I trust you understand my position now.

      Those statistics were from the following sources.

      1. Hi Pastor Thom, I appreciate this comment a lot. Of course people have been having abortions since long before it was medically safe to do so, and it would be helpful if there were statistics on abortion throughout time the way we have with war statistics. I do appreciate the response though.

        1. I think it would be very difficult to establish the number of abortions prior to 1970 (abortion was legalized, with parameters, in 1969) but I did find a table that summarizes a TON of data. It is heavily sourced but I didn’t look into all the sources. Still you can see the exponential growth rate since legalization.

          I think there is another piece to this as well. I think our definition of peace is interesting. The 20th century was a remarkably bloody century. When I asked one older (brilliant) gentleman about the statement that we are living in the most peaceful time in history (as per Steven Pinker) he replied, ‘People who say that have a short memory.’

          Part of the cost of technological advancement has been the POTENTIAL of human death on an unprecedented scale. So while we may currently find ourselves between wars, the rumours of wars are always stirring and it only takes one madman to eliminate masses of people.

          This is the result of human advancement and enlightenment. This is why the answer is Jesus. Genius without character is very dangerous.

          I’m not pessimistic because the future will bring a new King to make things right. But I am pessimistic if the future rests in the hands of human beings.

          Blessings KerryAnne!


  2. Man, I never thought about it that way.
    One of my go to lines when my friends are in doubt or don’t believe in their dreams I almost always say, “you can do anything you put your mind to.”
    And I truly believed this too, and then thinking also that if someone said otherwise they’re a terrible person; for telling you your dream is unachievable.
    But, as you’ve illustrated, it’s not our dreams that are the problem.
    I, as a teenager, of course have big dreams… and often super doubtful of them too. But people telling me that can do anything isn’t going to help.
    Cause, it’s not about my glory, it’s about God’s.
    Thank you for writing on this topic, I’m definitely going to be more careful on what I say to my peers on this subject.

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