The Importance of Dreams
Patty O’Sullivan, Ph.D.

Do you know what the youth of today hope for?

I was recently in a classroom in which a 6th grade boy asked, “Why are dreams important?” You should have seen the hands of his classmates shoot up. Here’s what the kids said:

• “Having a dream gives you a direction.”
• “It helps you make better choices because you don’t want to mess up your
chances for success.”
• “Dreams help you do better in school because you gotta study to get to where
you want to go.”

You see, kids know.

This is the way I see it. Dreams are imaginings of what we can make happen in our lives. We can also call them goals. We might think of them as coming in three major flavors: short-term, medium-term and long-term. For example, in a classroom setting, a short-term goal can be planning the process for completing a book report or science project. A medium-term goal is what they would like to accomplish during the school year, like playing on a team. The long-term goal is the direction they want to take for their big dream in life, like going to college or choosing a profession or trade. Each dream requires small steps and these practical steps build a strong foundation for success.

I like the way Thoreau said it.

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.
Now put the foundation under them. Henry David Thoreau

Often, the challenge for a young person is to figure out what small steps of success will help move him toward his dream in the sky. Or, how to attach his dream in the sky with his life down on earth. I think of it as building a foundation of practical measures. Dreaming of the good things that can be acted upon now. This energizes and motivates kids to put together the pieces of the puzzle for a positive future.

Here are a few things kids can do to make it happen:

1) Clarify the dream by getting a sense of how they can live their lives in the big picture.
2) Create the blueprint by mapping their dreams (all flavors) and what steps it will take to build them.
3) Identify the people and resources who will be partners in the dream and in helping them accomplish their goals.

Without a vision, a nation perishes.
Proverbs 29:18

I believe it. More to the point, children without a vision perish. There is a part of them that dies when they don’t feel they have the chance to actualize their dreams. The results of a study I conducted in 2004 showed that students in middle school had big dreams, but that by high school many had “netted out” success by having a job and a car and not necessarily their diplomas. So, why did their dreams vanish?

Teens are voicing a sense of hopelessness through their choices. Dropping out of high school, suicide, pregnancy, drugs, and crime. They are not productively engaged in their lives even though they want to be.

The importance of their dreams needs to be of high value to us since it is to our youth that we entrust the future. And, look at the legacy we leave them! War, debt, global warming and all of the fears that come with these challenges. Where is there room for their “castles in the air”?

Sometimes dreams can unwittingly be shot down because we, as adults, see them as “pie in the sky.” It may be tempting to respond negatively. “We don’t have the money.” “You’re not smart enough to do that.” “Don’t get your hopes up, you’ll only get hurt.” But these sorts of messages demote dreams. They can turn a hopeful kid’s life into drudgery. If we don’t encourage their dreams, can we be surprised when kids make the choices they make?

So, how can we help turn it around and be part of the solution? Busyness (keeping yourself and your kids too busy) seems to play a major factor in the lack of connection kids feel with adults in their lives. Often, we fault the kids for lacking communication skills, saying they are watching too much television or playing too many video games. Yet we, the adults, are often the ones too busy to communicate.

I have a few simple suggestions that could have a big impact:
• Find time to listen actively to your kids and their dreams.
• Find time to offer emotional support. Ask questions!
• Find time to listen to your kid’s dreams for the future and be willing to trust his ideas. Ask questions!
• Share your own dreams with your kids. Get connected!
• Encourage conversation.

In short, don’t let another day go by without sharing your hopes and wishes for your kids and for yourself. Let them know how you are going to be there for them. And, listen to what they want for their lives. It is an offer nothing short of greatness!

For authorization to reprint this article please contact us at or 505-466-2944 and ask for Sam Sanders. We invite you to visit our web site at for more information on our positive youth development program that is giving our youth a reason to stay in school and make healthy choices. Envision Your Future is being successfully facilitate in classrooms and youth programs.

Author's Bio: 

The author of the article and developer of Envision Your Future is Dr. Patty O’Sullivan. For the past 35 years, her ability to see a need and meet it, has carried her from the classroom to the inner-city, to the migrant fields, to the chemically addicted, to Hollywood, to needy rural communities, with adjudicated youth and back to the classroom. Along the way, she has garnered eleven national awards for her documentaries on chemical addictions. With her latest program, Envision Your Future, a positive youth development program, Dr. Patty is spreading a wide net to capture our youth in the excitement of their dreams.