By Caren Chaffee
This week, the Associated Press reported that a 9-year-old boy became the youngest person to reach the summit of Argentina’s Aconcagua Mountain. The summit is 22,841 feet high and is the tallest peak in the Western and Southern hemispheres. The boy set his goal, held fundraisers to both offset his costs as well as raise money for a nonprofit organization that funds research for muscular dystrophy and worked out twice daily to prepare for the climb. After receiving special permission from an Argentine judge (ordinarily, no one younger than 14 is allowed to climb the mountain), he accomplished this amazing feat alongside his father and a professional climber.
The story is inspiring in many ways – reaching a nearly 23,000 foot summit is a life-changing accomplishment for anyone, of any age; hearing of a 9 year old who puts forth efforts to raise money to benefit others is heartwarming; learning of a father who had no personal interest in making the climb but trained and completed it to help his son reach his goal is demonstrative of a parent’s commitment.
The 9 year old was quoted as saying, “Any kid can really do this; all they have to do is try. And set their mind to the goal.”
Every day, youth set goals for themselves. Not all of them involve physically climbing a mountain – but to an individual youth, his or her goal may feel just as lofty. Many youth face great personal challenges and work very hard toward overcoming these challenges. As caregivers, mentors and significant adults in the lives of children and adolescents, it is imperative that we foster and support the goals they set for themselves. Our support may not involve physically training to reach a summit, but it is just as important: providing advice, lending a supportive ear, giving guidance and education, allowing for falls and failures, being available to help after a stumble and celebrating the successes along the way are all vital to youth reaching their accomplishments and ambitions.
When we offer our support to youth for a goal that they set, we are giving them tacit permission to try, to fail and to succeed. We are teaching them that all of these steps – attempt, failure and success – are permissible and even desirable. Setting a goal and taking steps toward reaching a goal allows for emotional growth. What may be seen as a “small” goal to some may actually be a significant step for someone else. And therefore, any support that we provide may become an essential part of a youth’s success and emotional growth.
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