The Character Movement

Focus on the 97 Right

One of my favorite teachers in high school was Mr. John O’Dougherty. I vividly remember the day in class when Mr. O’Dougherty handed back our midterms. He had a formal way of announcing and celebrating his students’ success. On this particular day, he acknowledged everyone’s hard work, but took a moment to highlight my results.

“Great job, Joe,” he said. “Ninety-seven right. Best in the class.”

My first thought was, “THREE WRONG!”

Mr. O’Dougherty saw the concern on my face and repeated, “Joe, great work. Best in the class.”

But all I could think about was the three wrong.

I think of this moment when I talk to parents about reflective parenting.

We often get caught up in our children’s problems (or the problems we’re having with our children) and forget to acknowledge what’s going right. If there’s a serious problem, it obviously needs to be addressed. But there is too much in our culture that focuses only on the “three wrong.”

Too many kids are picking up on a debilitating message of perfection. One of the messages we communicate on our Respect Retreat is that you can’t truly respect yourself if you only focus on the areas in your life that need improvement. Kids need to recognize their faults, but also focus on the good inside.

Teenagers naturally struggle with self-respect. They’re inclined to see the “three wrong” (wrong body shape, uncool clothes, the missed basketball shot, the social embarrassment, etc.) Youth Frontiers tries to shift that perspective and get kids to think about the “97 right” in their lives.

This reflective discipline in seeing both areas — where we need improvement and where we excel — is not easy. And it’s a definite challenge as a parent, considering how deeply our kids’ struggles can affect us. When I’m talking to my daughter Tess about something she needs to work on, I always make sure that I remind her of all the wonderful things she’s great at. Accepting and letting go of the three wrong is tough, but shifting our perspective to see the “97 right” in ourselves and in our children may allow for better celebrations of our strengths.

Here’s a parting practice for you to try out:

The next time you find yourself distracted or about to point out your child’s “three wrong,” pause and think about the many things that you see right in your child. It will naturally temper your comments, reduce parent-child stress and actually help your child hear you without being defensive.

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