Teach Your Children to "Suck it Up"
By Jim Taylor, Ph.D.
Popular culture conveys to children very unhealthy messages about responsibility. Through its focus on the pampered lifestyles of the rich and famous and advertising that suggests that life should always be a party, popular culture communicates to your children that if it's not fun, easy, or interesting, they just shouldn't have to do it. If your children get tired, bored, or uncomfortable, they shouldn't even try. The messages of rebellion in pop and hip-hop music, the sense of entitlement shown by professional athletes, and the disdain spoiled movie stars express toward what most people would see as normal responsibilities tells your children that being responsible is just not cool.
Yet, as children are going to learn sooner or later, the adult world just doesn't work that way. To prepare your children for that real world, teach them that sometimes they just have to suck it up! Part of being a responsible adult is accepting that there are a lot of things in life that we don't care to do, but we do them anyway because we have to. How often do you do things for your children that you would really rather not? I'll bet you just love taking your children to their music lesson at the end of a long day or to a soccer tournament two hundred miles from home on a weekend. Of course you don't, but you suck it up and do it because that's part of the job of being a parent. Your children need to learn that they too have a job to do and life, now and in adulthood, often involves doing things that they don't want to do. If they have to do it, why not just suck it up and do the best they can?
For example, I constantly hear children complaining that they "hate math" (or some other school subject). The following conversation is one I often have with students. Though it may not convince them right away to suck it up, they always admit that it makes sense:
JT: Can you get out of math?
Students: No, we have to take it. [said with a grimace and an eye roll]
JT: But because you don't like it, you don't give much effort.
Students: Sure, why should we?
JT: What kind of grade would you get?
Students: Probably a D or F.
JT: How would that make you feel?
Students: Pretty bad.
JT: And how would your parents feel about an F?
Students: They would definitely not like it!
JT: Would an F help or hurt your chances of getting into a good college?
Students: It would definitely hurt.
JT: What would happen if you just decided to suck it up, hate every minute of it, but do the best you can in the class anyway? What kind of grade would you get?
Students: An A or B.
JT: How would that make you feel?
Students: Really good.
JT: How would your parents feel about that?
Students: Duh-they would love it and they'd get off our backs.
JT: I'll bet you'd like that. Would that good grade help you achieve some other goal like getting into a good college?
JT: What life lessons do you think you might learn from this experience?
Students: Well, like sometimes you just have to suck it up!
JT: Very funny. Any other life lessons?
Students: Hard work, persistence, patience.
JT: Another thing I've found is that many children have a surprising thing happen while they're sucking it up in that class that they hate. They actually come to enjoy it. Has that ever happened to you?
Students: Yeah. [with a glint of self-realization]
JT: So do you think that just sucking it up is a pretty good thing to do overall?
Students: Yeah. [said begrudgingly, knowing I'm right]
JT: Next time you're faced with a situation you don't like, but you can't get out to it, think about our conversation and perhaps choose to suck it up.
Getting your children to suck it up is easier said than done. Start with a conversation. Introduce the idea to them so they understand it. Some parents don't like to use the word suck because it has other, less positive connotations (e.g., "That sucks"). If you feel uncomfortable with it, substitute "tough it out," but I've found that most children know the difference and "suck it up" resonates more with them.
Your children can easily generate examples of having to do things they would rather not (e.g., school, household chores). Have the same conversation with your children that I had above. Then, when "suck it up" situations arise in the future, remind them of the conversation and ask them what they should do. Your children won't immediately buy into the concept, but over time, as they see its benefits, they will likely start to suck it up on their own.
In teaching your children to suck it up, you better prepare them for the adult world. They learn that responsibility is a powerful and rewarding value. They also learn to be skeptical of messages from popular culture telling them that life should always be easy and that "stepping up to the plate" is for losers. Your children learn that life isn't always fun and games, and when they choose to be responsible, suck it up, and do the best they can, good things usually happen.
Jim Taylor, PhD, is the author of eight books including his latest, Your Children are Under Attack: How Popular Culture is Destroying Your Kids' Values and How You Can Protect Them (Sourcebooks, March 2005), from which this article is adopted, and Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child (Hyperion, 2003). He has worked with young people, parents, and educators for 20 years. He has been a consultant and frequent speaker to numerous elementary and secondary schools, youth-sports programs, and performing-arts organizations around the country. Dr. Taylor has appeared on NBC's Today Show, Fox New Channel's Fox & Friends, UPN's Life & Style, ABC's World News This Weekend, and major television network affiliates, and has participated in many radio shows and national print publications. Sign up for Dr. Taylor's free quarterly newsletter, Kids & Culture Alert at www.drjimtaylor.com.
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