Dashed Hopes: The Two Words That Erase Your Children's Dreams

06/30/2015 03:47 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016

For John it was always about numbers and sports.

I worked with John for several years, helping him navigate the treacherous waters of adolescence, and for as long as he could remember he had always wanted to bring together his love of numbers and sports, particularly baseball. One day he walked into my office beaming from ear to ear. He found the answer he was looking for and it resided at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. He would work for the Chicago Cubs.

John was possessed with excitement. I had never seen him so focused, so committed, so driven to bring a goal to life. Surprisingly, for a dream that stretched high into the clouds his feet were planted firmly on earth. He knew it would take time and effort, and he was willing to start from square one within the organization. The work didn't scare him. The path was clear and powerful enough to make all the work and all the wait more than worth it.

His parents didn't share his enthusiasm. "John, you need to be realistic." They knew of his love of numbers, which is why they had their own plan in mind: accounting. Safe. Secure.

John's excitement vanished. He started with a fire inside and ended with a flicker. A fresh dream, you see, is a fragile thing. Sometimes enough well-intentioned hole-poking can bring it to a premature end.

I don't blame his parents or the millions like them who extol the advice of being realistic. They're doing what all good parents do: protect their children. The higher the hopes, the slimmer the chances of success, and the longer, more painful the fall and resulting crash to earth will be.

But our kids will never see from the tops of mountains if we're too afraid to let them climb. As compelled as we are to keep them safe, we have to consider not only the possibility for failure, but also holding them back from their potential. Doing so could force upon them limits we ourselves never would have accepted.

I suggest a new role for you, mom and dad.

Instead of telling your kids to be realistic and aim for the safe shot, be inspired by the size of their reach and help them pursue those big ideas with a level head. Guide them to the goal with logic and efficiency, using your experience to help them avoid missteps and seize shortcuts. Add to the dream. Join in the race.

Young adults achieve amazing things every day. Do you want to be the parent who takes away this possibility, or the one who stands behind them and believes?