Archives For Parenting


A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog that went viral. Since it was posted, it’s been re-tweeted thousands of times and shared hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook. Interestingly, the comments continue to be made by readers to this day. I knew the topic was relevant, but I didn’t realize how much the piece struck a cord with our readers. The title of the article is: Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How to Correct Them. It illustrated to me there’s an overriding sense among parents and teachers in America that we’ve done something wrong as we raised our kids, but now…we are not sure what to do to correct it. People seem to be looking for insights at every turn. After responding to hundreds of comments, I felt I could do something more. So, our Growing Leaders team met and decided we should build this blog article out, add some practical solutions and provide it as a free eBook on Kindle until Sunday, April 29th (after that it will be available for $.99). Here it is. Feel free to share it with friends, neighbors, colleagues and fellow parents. It is our gift to you. Let’s join hands and equip these students to be great adults who are ready to lead our world into the future.



I visited the home of a friend of mine just after he’d coached another season of little league baseball. His son, Jacob, plays first base on the team. He is ten years old. As we were talking, my friend suggested to his son that he take me up to his room to show me the trophy he’d just won. Upon walking into his room, I was stunned. The room was filled with trophies and ribbons. It reminded me of the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York…only bigger. (OK—I admit, I’m exaggerating a bit). But, awards were everywhere. When I asked Jacob how many championships he had won—he looked blankly at the wall and said, “None.”

I soon discovered, every one of his awards was simply for playing on a team.

I realize this experience may not sound new to you. We are raising a generation of kids who are used to receiving recognition for participating. It started back in the 1980s, when moms and dads were determined to boost their kids’ self-esteem and encourage participation over conquest. I understand that; I am one of those parents. But I believe this works when a child is five; not when they’re ten or eleven. It has backfired, and we’re now reaping the consequences of this decision. I know a kid who gave the trophy back to his dad after the ceremony. He said, “This doesn’t mean anything.” These kids are not stupid. But I wonder if we are.

Reflect for a moment on the long-term impact of this kind of world. When a child gets to swing at a ball until he hits it (there are no strike outs), when coaches decide not to keep score (there are no losers), and when everyone gets an equal award in the end (we are all equal), it can begin to de-motivate kids, especially boys. It takes the steam out of their engine. They begin to think: Why try? I’m going get the same reward whether I put out any effort or not. And it’s easier…put out no effort.

This is not just about sports either. Adults so wanted these kids to feel special, we began to take away the possibility of failing a class. Students always seem to find a way to negotiate a grade or do some extra credit work to make up for failing to do what they’d been asked to do. Many parents have removed the possibility of failing at home; kids still get money or perks even if they failed to share the responsibilities around the house. As a result, college staff and faculty are reporting the comments that incoming students are making to them:

  • Why didn’t I get an A? I showed up to class every day.
  • You’re guaranteeing me a job once I graduate, right?
  • OK…so I flunked the test. What do I need to do to get the grade I want?
  • How come my suite mate got a scholarship and I didn’t?
  • If my parents pay the tuition, I deserve the grades I want.
  • I think the government’s job is to make sure I get a job and a house.
  • You can’t criticize me. I tried.

By wanting our children and students to be happy, we may have created the most depressed population of kids in recent history. By leading them in this way, we have all but removed ambition in them. We have most certainly diminished it. Below is the reason why this philosophy has holes in it:

As their possibility of failure goes down, so does their value of success.

Think about it. If I grow up in a world where almost everything has been given to me, or made easy—I start feeling entitled to it. In fact, I stop trying hard, because I know, somehow, an adult will insure I get what I need or want.

One of the most valuable commodities we can cultivate in this emerging generation of kids is ambition. By this I don’t mean selfish ambition, or some self-absorbed preoccupation. (Narcissism may or may not motivate a kid to try.) I am speaking of the internal drive to achieve and to grow. The motivation to excel in an area. Further, it is a motivation that comes from serving or adding value to others.

I feel most valuable when I add value to other people.

Self-esteem is not something we can conjure up with a few affirming statements, or by giving them a ribbon just because they’re pretty or showed up on time. It comes from them knowing who they are intrinsically, and using their gifts to contribute to a cause greater than them. I firmly believe ambition is part of the equation. Ambition builds self-esteem and vice versa. When I feel good about myself I tend to try harder. And when I try harder, I tend to feel better about myself.

So What Do We Do?

Here are some ideas for cultivating ambition in kids:

1. Let them fail, but when they do, interpret the failure with them.

Don’t rescue them, but if they fall or fail, talk it over. Show them it’s not the end of the world and is not a reflection on their identity. It is a chance to try again.

2. Tell them stories about your failures.

My kids love to hear me talk about my past flops, failure and fumbles. As we laugh together, they think: Wow, if you did that and still made it…there’s hope for me.

3. Help them put their finger on something they really want to achieve.

Goals are important. They are targets to shoot for, and either hit or miss. Once you identify a goal, help them create a plan to reach it.

4. Establish rewards that only come as they work hard and make progress.

Separate the idea of merely “showing up” from putting out effort. Big difference. Set a reward that they can get only if they really excel.

5. Discuss your ambitions and how you felt when you accomplished them.

Once again, it’s the power of stories. Talk about an ambition you had years ago, and how you felt when you pursued it; how rewarding it was inside to earn it.

6. Communicate your love and belief in them, regardless of what happens.

Love should not be a reward for performing. Caring adults must demonstrate belief regardless of their accomplishments. This is a solid foundation for ambition.


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Recently, Stephen Kellogg did a talk at the annual TEDxConcordiaUPortland event. My friend Brett Wilkes turned me on to it in a recent post. Stephen made a number of memorable statements about the joy of work, something we all desire, but few realize.  From his youth, he always wanted to be a touring musician, with albums and merchandise, fans and concerts. He loves what he now gets to do and feels fortunate to have the chance to touch audiences with his music. One of his sticky statements in the TED talk was:

“It’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb, than the top of a ladder you don’t.”

Like most artists, when Stephen first started, no one had heard of him and it took time to build a platform. It didn’t matter, however, that he didn’t have money or paying events. What mattered was he was working in the field he loved; he had the chance to do what he felt was important and was gifted to do.

I remember this same feeling when I first started my non-profit, “Growing Leaders.” No one was getting rich, and in the early days it was just me and one other team member, David Christie. We were cutting our teeth in the business of leader development and were climbing a steep learning curve. But we loved it. I’d wake up every morning and could hardly wait to get to work. At night, I found myself thinking about how we could do our work better. It wasn’t about the money; it was about doing something in our gift area and adding value to schools and students. We were at the bottom of a ladder…but we loved the ladder. I still do.

One of the great fears of graduates these days is that they’ll get stuck in a job they don’t like and they’ll feel claustrophobic.  It’s terrifying enough to start at the bottom and pay your dues in a cause you ultimately believe in. It’s still another to do it when your ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. This is the key I’d like you to pass along to the students you teach or parent. Identify the mission you believe in, then don’t work for the cash, but for the cause. Even playing a small part can make a difference. Next, make sure the mission is solving a problem or meeting a need. Thomas Edison’s first patented invention was a machine that tabulated votes for bureaucrats in government. He soon discovered that no congressman wanted votes to be counted quickly as they all wanted time to lobby for more influence while the votes were being counted. He was rejected. From that point on, Edison determined he would still be an inventor, but always work in response to a need or demand.

How Do You Choose Your Ladder?

When passion, need, strength and opportunity all meet—you are on a good ladder:

  1. Passion – the work represents something you love doing.
  2. Need – the work you do answers a “cry” and solves a problem.
  3. Strength – the work you do involves you using your primary strength.
  4. Opportunity – the work you do isn’t forced but is a prospect in front of you.

May I encourage you to have this conversation with a young person you know. Ladders are everywhere, and we must help students find theirs.


You’ve read it before. Kids from Generation iY have grown up in a world where they seldom delay gratification and they’ve been given things that earlier generations had to work for. Why? I believe it’s the messages permeating our culture. Moms and dads hear: “The more you give your child the better parent you are.” Kids feel entitled to have what’s advertised on TV and movies hearing: “This is the new cool thing. Everybody is getting it. If you don’t have it, you’re not cool.” At school, home, and on sports teams, students are rewarded for mediocre effort or for simply showing up. When they make a mistake, an adult often steps in and resolves it for them. Consequently, their awareness of consequences is down and their sense of entitlement is up. Now the question is—how do we correct this predicament?

In this kind of world, creating a bunch of “rules” hasn’t worked well. First, most students push back on rules. For that matter, the moment any of us are told we cannot or should not do something—the rebel inside of us wants to do it. Second, rules haven’t worked because we frequently fail to enforce them. We don’t follow through. We threaten kids with a rule…then reduce the consequence. It’s no wonder kids possess a sense of entitlement. We gave it to them.

Equations are Better Than Rules

Instead of a long list of rules, what if you began to share “equations” with your students at the beginning of a semester. Rather than saying, “No running in the hallway!” or “No cheating in the classroom!” an equation would be:

“Anyone who chooses to do ABC, this is the benefit. And anyone who chooses XYZ, this is the consequence.”

It’s all about behaviors and outcomes. And by the way, it works even better when both students and adults adhere to the same equation. I realize this may simply sound like a semantics issue, but it’s far more than that. It’s a way of helping students associate conduct with consequences; behavior with benefits. When a kid experiences a negative outcome, it isn’t that the teacher doesn’t like him, or the dean has a vendetta against her. It’s that they chose a course of action and courses always have destinations. Actions always bring outcomes. That’s how life works. If I jump off a 50-foot cliff, I will fall and get hurt. Maybe die. It wasn’t that my teacher doesn’t like me, or that my parents want to make things hard for me. Gravity is at work. When I jump, gravity will pull me down. It is an equation of life. We call it the Law of Gravity. It represents the relationship between action and outcome. Remember what you learned in science class? For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. You are simply teaching the science of life.

How To Start

Equations put the ball in their court: If anyone does this, then that will happen. It’s up to you. It’s your choice. So, in our home, my wife and I led things this way:

  1. We had very few rules. We cultivated a relationship with our kids that reduced the need for them. We had about three to four rules.
  2. We had very many equations we communicated to our kids. Scenarios that led them to always know what destination each course led to.
  3. When either of my two kids faced some options, we’d sit down and talk about the outcomes, teaching them to think about benefits and consequences.
  4.  When either of my two kids chose a behavior, we would sit down and debrief the action and the outcome.

For example, when my son Jonathan turned sixteen, he wanted to move out to Hollywood to pursue an agent and some television work, as an actor. I sat down with him and praised him for his ambition. Then, we had a sobering conversation about the price of such an endeavor. (There was a social, emotional, educational and financial price tag). Economically, I decided I would split the cost with him. He would either get work out there, or he would work when he returned home and pay for half the bills. He is twenty years old now, and just finishing his last payment. He is not angry with me about the payments; he is excited about what came of that venture. He got clear direction for his future. His sense of entitlement is low, his ambition is growing and he is happy with his life. Why? He understood the equation going into it. This is the only way to set kids up for the world they’ll enter as adults.

How about you? What rules could be transformed into equations for your students?


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Nine Questions to Ask Prospective Athletes Before You Bring Them on Your Team

After years of helping athletic directors and coaches better connect with young athletes, we surveyed them to see what they’ve concluded about “Generation iY” players. Both NCAA and high school coaches noted they’ve seen a measurable drop in their youngest athlete’s life skills and virtues. The top seven diminishing ones are:

1. Resilience – Practice goes well, but even minor adversity defeats them.

2. Empathy – Parent’s often push them into individualism and self-expansion.

3. Ambition – Their internal drive to succeed has been replaced by external ones.

4. Work ethic – Because of short attention spans, the daily grind is a turn off.

5. Patience – Due to texts, microwaves and Google, its hard to delay gratification.

6. Academic Stamina – Their ability to stick with studies when the novelty is gone.

7. Self-awareness – Often no one has been honest with them about their blind spots.

I believe the kids born since 1990 are different than previous kids. I call them Generation iY because they’ve grown up on-line in an “i” world. Technology, culture, parenting styles and medications have harmed them. And now, you must coach them.

In a recent coaches training event, I was asked a great question: What should we ask a young “iY” athlete to signal a potential problem? Below are questions I recommend you ask to tip you off about recruits, ward off trouble with potential players, and help you when screening your recruits for character.

Questions to Ask a Potential Athlete:

1. Tell me about a difficult experience you’ve had with authority.

An honest answer to this one will reveal their attitude and respect for leaders, and how they tend to deal with submission to authority. A “rebel spirit” can be contagious.

2.  What’s your biggest frustration about being an athlete? What really gets you down?

Their answer may furnish insight into their resilience level—how much does it take to discourage them or cause them to give up. Can they handle adversity and obstacles?

3. What’s the longest amount of time you’ve gone without your cell phone?

Generation iY is aptly named because many are addicted to technology. Their answer to this one will signal how much they depend on screens to motivate them.

4. What has been your greatest challenge with teammates?

This will reveal their emotional intelligence and specifically how much empathy they possess for teammates. Their answer will tell you how well they see the big picture.

5. Talk about your three biggest habits that you’d like to break.

This answer could be huge. Are they in bondage to bad habits they cannot break? Can they delay gratification? Do they lead themselves well or are they a slave to addictions?

6. On a scale of 1-10, how much does criticism bother you from a teammate? A coach?

Many in this generation have never really been chastised or criticized, so their tolerance for it is low. Ask them to be candid, but listen to how they handle confrontation.

7. How much are you willing to compromise your personal standards?

Even if they try to give you answers you want, they may not know how to reply to this one. Do they possess strong personal values they won’t compromise? Are they ethical?

8. What word would your teammates use most to describe you? Your past coaches?

This question allows you to hear how others view the recruit. If you can get an honest answer, listen for key words that reveal what kind of teammate and leader they are.

9. Should fans leave you alone off the field and let you live however you see fit?

Some athletes don’t feel they must be a role-model, and do whatever they want off the field. The recruit’s answer to this one will let you peek into how self-absorbed they are.

Remember, the better your questions in the recruiting process, the better you can screen your players and get the right ones. You know the issues you need to cover to gain the right athletic abilities. Through the questions above, I’ve simply tried to help you get acquainted with a recruit…as a person.

Any other questions you would ask when screening your recruits for character? Leave a comment.