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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

When I was a kid I read a short story by Ray Bradbury called A Sound of Thunder. The story was fascinating, a tale of time travel with a terrifying lesson about ripple effects. One small event, one that, at the time, seemed so trivial and irrelevant, ended up producing a disastrous result. Some people nicknamed it the “butterfly effect.”

We’d be wise to heed Bradbury’s message, and to impress the importance of ripple effects on our students. Understanding how their actions today impact their tomorrow could help to prevent young people from making devastating mistakes, while also helping them to build a powerful foundation for their future.

There are a couple of factors that make this a hard lesson to learn. By nature, young people are very challenged when it comes to visualizing. They’re caught up in the here and now, much more interested in the acceptance of their peers than they are in preparing for tomorrow.

Plus, it often takes an accumulation of experience to appreciate the concept of connecting the dots. Until you’ve actually witnessed how one move affects another, then another, you have no body of work upon which to properly judge your actions. You’re naive, and I don’t mean that in a mean way; you’re literally inexperienced when it comes to understanding consequences.

So what can we, as adults, do to help young people recognize the power of the ripple effect? It starts with communication.

Use every opportunity to point out the string of events behind important moments . . . and not just the unfortunate ones. Take sports, for instance. Kids are very focused on winning – trust me, even if adults don’t want to keep score, every six-year-old on the field knows how many goals have been scored.

Winning that coveted championship, though, requires a series of building blocks, beginning with weeks or months of practices, ongoing drills, overcoming difficult game situations, and learning to work as a team. Rather than focusing only on the outcome, use the sporting experience to point out all of the steps it took to get there.

If your children are into the arts – and I hope they are – engage them in a casual conversation about what it takes to become one of the best. I host writing workshops, where we spend a fair amount of time on the education of a writer, through exercises and continuous effort.

The same thing applies with dance, or painting, or music. No one creates a hit record without hours and hours of practice and discovery. Believe me, it’s important for young adults to become aware of the process as early as possible.

Once you’ve spent some time pointing out positive consequences, it’s easy to segue into a talk about poor decision-making, and how sad outcomes can be avoided if they only visualize how the dots connect.

Don’t rule out using an actual demonstration of ripples, which helps to drive home the point. I once spoke with a classroom about how an earthquake today might produce a tsunami tomorrow, thousands of miles away. The lesson: what you do right now has the potential to wreak havoc in the future.

But it also has the potential to produce fantastic results, too. Helping kids visualize what it takes to succeed is just as important as the actual nuts and bolts of an education.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty two years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people recognize that Smart Is Cool. More info at www.DomTesta.com.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want their children to think about logical consequences.

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