Thinking about identity and how we become the adult we were meant to be…

Originally published on as part of a series of posts focused on social and emotional learning

There is a lot of stress around the time of the year when students are testing. Every year the internet reshares the now viral letter from a school to its families and students clarifying that you are more than your test scores. However, the reality of the world we currently live in means we do track progress and we do categorize people and we do group together people who have, or lack, the same set of skills.

So how do we help children become the adult they are meant to be while also helping them go through testing, and the resulting stress, without negating the importance of taking life’s tests seriously? One way is to really focus on identity. Middle school students start searching for how they define themselves through status symbols, specific behaviors, and the social media influencers, singers, athletes that embody the kind of adult they want to become. Sometimes the combination can be difficult to navigate as you hear your child explain they are not going to college but will instead be an NBA star when you know statistically the likelihood is small that t will actually happen. I’m reminded of the scene in Pursuit of Happyness when Will Smith tells his son he’s not going to be a basketball player and then realizes he’s taking his son’s newly forming identity and stepping on his dreams by telling him it will never happen.

Smith then reverses himself and says not to let anyone tell you no, not even him. Haven’t we all had those moments? When we look at a child and suddenly realize our adult pragmatism isn’t what they need right then? It can be hard as an adult knowing the percentages and the likelihood of something happening and trying to balance that, and possible future disappointment, with the need to support a child’s growing sense of self and their ability to imagine their future as they see it.

What is our job as adults? Helping the children in our lives be better. In a way that keeps them safe and healthy while also letting them grow into who they are, not who we want them to be. If you’re interested in learning more, just google ‘building personal identity’ and pick one of the dozens of options that will pop up. It’s a huge topic for a reason and one that can have an oversized impact on how we teach our children to become the adults they are meant to be.

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