Archives For Generation iY

I want your feedback on this issue. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, employer, coach or youth pastor—you have to admit, we’re hearing more stories these days about how helicopter parents are “hovering” over their kids.

Just a few weeks ago, a report was released that Aubrey Ireland, a 21-year old student at the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, got a restraining order on her parents for “stalking her.”


photo credit: The U.S. Army via photopin cc

Aubrey told the court that despite making the dean’s list, her parents routinely drove the 600 miles from Leawood, KS to Cincinnati, OH to make unannounced visits to her at school. In addition, they installed software on her phone and computer to track her every move. The student even reported her mother wanted to stay on Skype all night with her, basically to watch her sleep.

Hmm. Sometimes parents just don’t know when to let go. The student told the court, “I was a dog with a collar on.”

David and Judy Ireland now cannot get within 500 feet of their daughter, and due to this order, they’re requesting the school pay back the tuition they’ve spent on their daughter. They accused her of drug abuse, promiscuity, mental illness, and believe she needs them to watch her. It won’t surprise you that Aubrey is an only child.

Helicopter parents aren’t new. For years now they’ve ignored boundaries, neglected boundaries and embarrassed their kids. Sometimes they even do this at their child’s workplace. This past year, researchers at the University of West Virginia conducted a study of 340 students and discovered that many just get used to parent’s constant involvement. My research tells me the average college student is in touch with mom or dad eleven times a day. Almost 70% say it is “somewhat or very appropriate” to receive help from parents on papers, resumes or letters. One fifth of students believe its fine to have their parents contact a prospective employer. Wow.

Why Do Parent’s Hover Over Their Kids?

As a dad, I understand the desire to want the best for my kids, to want them safe and to have all the advantage possible as they leave home. But “hovering” is too much. Why do we do this?  Let me speculate. Could it be…

  1. We are control freaks.  We don’t trust things will work out without our help.
  2. We fear they’re unready. We feel we’ve not prepared them to be on their own.
  3. We have our own emotional needs. Our baggage makes us need to be needed.

But what do you think? Let’s converse about why we adults obsess this way and become helicopter parents.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how to be a caregiver without hovering. See you then.

Males, Minds, Meds and Media

December 19, 2012 — 7 Comments

What Fosters School Violence Like the Sandy Hook School Tragedy

It seems everyone’s talking about it, and perhaps millions have blogged about it. The shooter that took the lives of 27 people (twenty kids and seven adults) has captured the imagination and the hearts of America. We grieve over the loss.

So, here’s my big question: where do we go from here? How can we reduce this?


photo credit: BuhSnarf via photopin cc

Let’s consider what we can learn from this tragedy, as it compares to other shooting incidents over the past fifteen years. Did you know we’ve experienced 59 shooting incidents in the U.S. alone that have involved multiple victims, just since 1997? These include big ones like Littleton, CO (Columbine High School), Richmond, VA, Santee, CA, Blacksburg, VA (VA Tech), Conyers, GA, Tucson, AZ, Aurora, CO (the cinema) and this one. Consider the common patterns in most of these cases:

1. It was perpetrated by a young male.

Our boys are especially at-risk today. While I believe in investing in all students, males are falling behind in school at a faster rate than ever; more college students are female now than male, which likely means women will be the primary bread-winner in fifteen years. A full one-third of males between 22-35 years old still live with their parents. And three-fourths of them don’t even qualify for the military, due to a criminal record, failure to graduate high school or obesity. We have to figure out a way to engage our guys in school, in culture, and in activities that challenge them to use their gifts and skills in a redemptive way. (There’s got to be something better than doing target practice alone).

2. He had become isolated from mainstream culture.

Nearly every incident we’ve grieved over was committed by a guy who lost his way and removed himself from a supportive and accountable community. To be sure, males are more prone to be loners than females, but these crimes weren’t merely committed by an independent spirit. It was a renegade spirit. Leading psychologists report this is far more prevalent in males, especially after the age of 17. Crime—or anti-social behavior—is often committed by guys who are silent; defiant; distant; cold, marked by avoidance and afraid of being controlled or violated. We must find ways to gently include them in projects that involve community and accountability but allow them to work independently. Healthy relationships mark healthy people.

3. He was on some form of drug for mental or emotional illness.

Prescription drugs are everywhere. Most of us—including me—are glad they’re around. Many young males need them to navigate their lives. I fear, today, however, we have over-medicated our boys. If they were around today, Charlie Brown would be on Prozac and Dennis the Menace would be on Ritalin. The U.S. makes up 5% of the world’s population, but we consume 90% of the prescription drugs for ADHD and depression. Boys are taking 30 times more drugs today than we were in 1987. Are the males really that much worse? That much more needy? Certainly, a kid with ADHD can benefit from proper drugs and even reduce the likelihood of criminal behavior. But for many, boys continue to take meds after their bodies have matured and as a young adult, drugs have aided in the reduction of his coping skills. We must figure out a way to balance prescription drug use with healthy mentoring so males can self-regulate and enter adulthood as healthy young men.

4. He’d been impacted by some example of violence, either real or virtual.

The media gives attention to all kinds of cultural heroes who are violent. It’s normal and appealing to males. I know—I’m a guy. I love Jason Bourne movies. I love James Bond movies. But the strong, distant, “unfeeling” stereotype has to be modified. After researching this issue, it appears that nearly all criminal activity like we’ve described above began with a loner in front of a screen, virtually experiencing the crime he would later commit. For example, extensive use of video games provides input to our minds that may actually influence our behavior. Technology is changing the way we think and act. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine produced landmark findings drawing a direct correlation between violent input on a screen and activation of the “reasoning and emotional control area of the brain.”

A statistical analysis of 130,000 students (elementary school through college) published by the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University “strongly suggests” playing violent video games increases violent and aggressive thoughts and decreases empathy. The truth is, images on a screen do affect us. If they didn’t no retailers would advertise on TV.

The problem with violence in video games (or TV for that matter) is that we can interact in the virtual experience with no consequences. Think about it. In Halo or Grand Theft Auto, you act violently—but the only ramification is your point score.

We all know the term: Garbage In, Garbage Out. GIGO. This works with technology, but it also works in life. As a rule, you only get output, based on the input you have provided. Our minds are like personal laptops. Do you lead young men? I suggest:

  1. Let’s GUARD what we allow our boys and adolescents to consume mentally.
  2. Let’s GUIDE them into meaningful work and activity that engages them.
  3. Let’s GAUGE how connected they are with real face-to-face relationships.

What would you add to the list?

If you’re a parent, teacher, coach or youth worker—you’ve likely had a conversation already with your kids about the Sandy Hook school shooting. Everyone is processing this massacre at their own pace and on their own level. I’ve seen tears, anger and knee-jerk reactions on what to do about it from both adults and children.


But just like after 9-11, many adults aren’t sure how to have a conversation about the tragedy. So, they avoid it altogether. I believe we must understand how to not only talk about events like this, but to transform them into “teachable moments.” I think there’s a way adults can help students debrief what happened in a practical yet heartfelt manner; in a way that includes both wisdom and empathy and that turns an “evil” into a “good.”

Over the next three days, I plan to help leaders who work with elementary school students, middle school students and high school/college students “unpack” what happened, how we can respond in a redemptive way and how we might prevent tragedies like this in the future. Kids will return home from school this week and ask parents about the extra police officers on campus or the principals that are acting extra cautious in the hallways.

What is Your Role?

As you talk to your students about the Newtown, CT shooting, I hope these principles are helpful:

1.  Host Not a Guest

Just like a host, initiate the conversation. Don’t be a guest where you wait for them to do something. Limit media exposure but watch the news together. (Be age appropriate.) Spark conversation on current discoveries. Engage instead of avoid.

2.  The Indian Talking Stick

The Talking Stick was used by Native American tribes to confront conflict. The one holding the stick got to talk. Let them express themselves first—how much do they know? How deeply do they feel?  What are they ready to process?

3. The Mirror Effect

Your students will look to you for an example of how to respond. Model empathy. Speak deliberately and carefully about what happened. People do what people see. I remember learning this lesson after terrorist attacks on 9-11. This is vital.

4.  The Waldorf Principle

Mr. Waldorf awarded a motel clerk named George Boldt the opportunity to run the finest hotel in the world—because he knew how to serve. With your kids, find a way to serve people in your community who are marginalized and may need empathy. This is one primary way we can turn evil into good—by doing the reciprocal of the violence we all just witnessed.

What is Their Response?

As you work with your kids, provide these images that illustrate their role:

1.  Thermostats and Thermometers

You know the difference: thermometers only tell you the climate; thermostats set the climate. Enable your student to be thermostats, who set the tone and attitudes of their peers. I believe we can reduce bullying and violence this way. School violence can be reduced greatly by even a fraction of students who lead the way.

2.  Build a Bridge Not a Wall

Often when we meet people who are different than us—we build a wall, because we prefer the familiar and comfortable. We like others like us. Students must learn to embrace peers who are marginalized or different and build a bridge of relationship.

3. Baggage Fees

Just like when we travel by airplane, the more bags we have the more it costs us. Kids (and adults) must address emotional baggage that leads to violent outbursts—things like resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, jealousy…you get the idea. This is baggage that may cost all of us if we don’t check it.

4. Driver not a Passenger

In life, just like in cars, there are two kinds of people: passengers who want a ride and can blame others when they don’t get to their goal, or drivers who take responsibility to get to the destination. This kind of violence isn’t just the problem of the police or the school principal. It’s all our responsibility.

We all must be looking for signs around us and be aware of anyone who may withdrawal or feel deep anger toward authorities or other students. Why not start a little movement of turning “evil” into “good” playing offense not defense.

I was in shock, as you likely were, when you heard about the Sandy Hook school shooting that took place on Friday. Ugh!  Another one, and this time—twenty of the twenty-six victims were young children. They, along with the shooter’s mother, were shot by what seemed to be a very mentally disturbed young man.

Herein lies the topic of my blog today.


photo credit: via photopin cc

My friend and learning expert Pat Wyman reminds us, “virtually all of those who responsible in the last two decades for mass shootings in the U.S. were taking some form of medication. For some it was Ritalin, for some it was anti-depressants, for others anti-psychotics and for several it was a combination of many drugs.”

“What could cause that kind of rage? Could this school shooting be a side effect of medication? Police say 20-year old Adam Lanza committed the crime and so far, there are indicators he had personality disorders. These are the very type that lead to taking controlled substance medication. Just a couple of the many side-effects of these drugs are suicidal and homicidal tendencies.”

I’ve been warning parents and educators for years that kids today are often over-medicated, or perhaps given prescription drugs when what they really need is wise leadership in their home and at school. My own son, Jonathan showed all the signs of being ADHD at age eight, but my wife and I decided to make drugs our last resort. I am glad we did. After adapting our parenting style at home, we all endured that season and Jonathan never took any drugs. He’s now a well-adjusted adult at 20.

Stephen Guffanti, M.D. (practicing physician and author of the book, Does Your Child Really Have ADHD, says, “Students in today’s schools are practically required to belong into the “one size fits all” curriculum club. When they don’t and they struggle, we label them, blame the label and the drug the label,” he continued. “These kids take the drugs we give them and while they are children, many seem to do ok. But when they turn 18, the drugs can only go so far to make them behave as we want them to. Drugs have a maximum dosage and by the time a child is an adult, the problems are still there, but the dosage doesn’t seem to work well any more.”

“In other words, the adults have the same set of problems we drugged them for as kids, but now have 5 year old coping skills as an adult. The drugs did not solve the problems behind their behavior – they simply masked them. As adults, they either take even more drugs in the wrong combination, stop taking them, or mix them with all sorts of things that cause horrific side effects given the combination,” he continued in almost an angry tone. “It is no wonder that the shooter today experienced such rage that he actually shot his mother in the face. And then he went on to shoot innocent little children deliberately while wearing a gun vest. How much worse does this medication problem have to get before we take it more seriously and require better physician care management and warnings,” he asked.

So, here’s my question to you:

If drugs were part of the rage of last week’s Sandy Hook school shooting, what kind of steps can we take to prevent this kind of outrage? Drugs are obviously not going away—but are there steps we can take if they’re part of the problem?

You knew it, didn’t you?  Over the last twenty years, adults (both teachers and parents) have been on a track to eliminate failure and risk from our children’s lives. We are afraid our kids are too fragile, and may diminish their self-esteem, or worse, their happiness if they take risks.

Well, I have news for you. It didn’t work.


photo credit: prodigaldog via photopin cc

“Children of risk-averse parents have lower test scores and are slightly less likely to attend college than offspring of parents with more tolerant attitudes toward risk,” says a team led by Sarah Brown of the University of Sheffield in the UK. Aversion to risk may prevent parents from making inherently uncertain investments in their children’s human capital; it’s also possible that risk attitudes reflect cognitive ability, the researchers say.”  The Harvard Business Review posted this report, but alas, it won’t help us unless we do something about it. Adults continue to vote to remove playground equipment from parks so kids won’t have accidents, to request teachers to stop using red ink as they grade papers and even cease from using the word “no” in class. It’s all too negative.  I am sorry—but while I understand the intent to protect students, we are failing miserably at preparing for a world that will not be risk-free.

Taking calculated risks is all a part of growing up. In fact, it plays a huge role. Childhood may be about safety and self-esteem, but as a student matures, risk and achievement are necessities in forming their identity and confidence. Because parents have removed “risk” from children’s lives, psychologists are using a term as they counsel teens: High Arrogance, Low Self-Esteem. They are cocky, but deep down their confidence is hollow, but it’s built off of watching YouTube videos, and perhaps not really achieving something meaningful.

Bottom line? If we treat our kids as fragile, they will surely grow up to be fragile adults. And our world needs resilient adults not fragile ones.

May I suggest some steps?

1. Create ways for your students to assume calculated risks in their daily activities.

2. When they fall or fail at anything, talk them through how to navigate the blunder.

3. Tell them stories of your own failures and how you built resilience through them.

4. Celebrate successes, but also the lessons that come from failure. This is huge.

What are your thoughts? Should we be risk aversive?