Archives For Parenting

I just spent time with some middle school students, after an assembly. I’d spoken on the topic of how we must develop character to be trusted by others in life. The young teens I spoke with afterward were visibly confused. I could see it in their faces. I had given them a new “compass” and it didn’t fit their worldview.

The conversation was about the celebrities they follow, who’d exhibited “poor character” decisions. May I give you some examples?

* Johnny Manziel, quarterback from Texas A and M, had just been tossed out of a game because he couldn’t manage his emotions or his mouth. He’s been accused of signing autographs for money and he’s not handling the bad press very well. He was penalized in the game and may be penalized beyond that.

* My guess is—you heard about or even watched Miley Cyrus dance on the VMA’s. This Disney diva has now gone to another extreme, attempting so hard to be Lady Gaga, or Madonna. She obviously wants to strip off the Disney “nice girl” image, but when we saw her bump and grind on stage, it made most us feel sorry for her.

* Justin Bieber has been accused of smoking marijuana or using illegal drugs after posting a video on Instragram. He’s giggling like he’s drunk and can’t complete a paragraph. Why is it when new technology comes out, it happens on a day when a young celebrity is not fit to record?

* Lindsay Lohan is back in the news, sober this time, after spending time in jail. She confessed to addictive behavior on an Oprah interview. Drugs and alcohol make us behave badly. We all fell in love with this young actress in “The Parent Trap” fifteen years ago in 1998. Today, she is attempting to get control of her life again.

* Three years ago, we all heard about Tiger Woods’ multiple affairs with women. He was a married man, but decided he could live above the rules—as a lifestyle—and do whatever he wanted. He even said so. It’s been a while since his confession and he’s still trying to get his game back.

What Do You Say to Your Kids When Their Idol Goes Astray

As I listened to those young teens talk about these celebrities or “idols” I realized they needed help interpreting what was going on. They loved the talent in each of those idols, but were now seeing the “underbelly” of their lifestyle. Here’s what I said that might be helpful as you discuss this topic with kids:

1. We must separate the gift from the person.

This was the most helpful insight. We must always maintain the ability to separate a performer’s gift from their person. By this I mean, we can enjoy watching their gift for music or throwing a ball—without buying into it all; making them an “idol.”

2. We must develop a moral compass that enables us to evaluate conduct.

It’s key to keep our priorities straight. Most fallen celebrities failed to do this. They got caught up in the fame and fortune, and lost their way. Students must decide what their values are and not swerve from them as they watch others gain notoriety.

3. We can learn from their strengths, but not emulate their life.

I try to always appreciate and admire the strengths of others—and learn every lesson I can from how they leveraged it. However, this does not mean I imitate that person in other areas. We can learn something from any person if we try.

4. We must find mentors who can help us mature in well-rounded ways.

Especially when we’re prone to worship a celebrity, we must find mentors, older veterans who can help us as we grow, to provide perspective to us. Mentors can give us wisdom to think straight when everyone else is swooning over a fad.

5. We must remember that money can’t buy love or happiness.

Most of the celebrities who’ve gone astray would admit that they misplace a value they once embraced and now looked to money (or some other cosmetic tool) to furnish what they wanted. You cannot buy stuff that really matters in life.

6. We can celebrate their talent without endorsing their lifestyle.

I hope I never stop celebrating the talented people I meet. However, as I mentioned before, we must separate that from an endorsement of the lives of those people. This is why I can read books from authors I don’t agree with, or listen to speakers whose style I don’t completely appreciate. The key: eat the fish and spit out the bones.

I hope this sparks some of your own insights as you converse with students.

photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

I’ve been watching a trend that I believe every teacher, parent, coach, youth pastor and school administrator should be watching these days.

It’s the changes toy makers have made in board games to engage today’s kids.

students today

Recently, Hasbro — the toy and game maker — reported it lost more than $2 million last quarter, compared to a $17 million profit in the same period last year. That’s enough to make any executive re-think their product.

So — like many others — Hasbro has begun adjusting their toys and games to fit today’s generation of kids, who are… well… different than past generations who grew up in a slower, less convenient and “play outside” period of history.

The Rules of Engagement are Changing

For example, when I was growing up, the game of Monopoly could go on for hours, maybe even days among family members. Families would leave the board out on the kitchen table so they could pick it back up the next evening. Consumer research reveals that kids want to play Monopoly faster these days. So, Monopoly is making some changes. First, “Monopoly Millionaire” is now in stores. The first person to accumulate a million dollars wins the game. Second, Monopoly is doing away with their “Jail” and the “Go to Jail” card in the game. Kids don’t have the time or patience to spend time in jail — they want to keep moving forward.

Recently, Lego’s made some changes, too. Do you remember playing with Lego’s when you were growing up? I do. I had a big box of those little bricks and built “stuff” for hours in my room. Today Lego’s has undergone a change. Seeing a dip in sales, the makers of Lego’s decided to include “instructions” in the product, telling kids exactly what to build and how to build it. They’ve found it fits the “I need you to spoon-feed me the answer” mindset adults have created in kids today. They now need us to be more prescriptive, not just descriptive in our instruction.

A new version of the game of “Life” allows players to use iPad’s touchscreen as a high-tech spinner, and then watch a video to see the results of their “life decision.” John Frascotti reports introducing several new gaming innovations this year that will feature this convergence of analog and digital play — both a board and a screen. You already know that the toy “Transformers” has transformed itself into two box office hit movies over the last five years. It’s now both in a box and on a screen.

What’s Our Take Away?
Today’s student, from Generation iY, wants an experience that includes:
• Speed — I get bored easily. Keep the pace of change high.
• Screens — I am visual. I’m more comfortable looking at pixels then people.
• Stipulations — I need you to prescribe what you want me to do.
• Stimulation — I need quick rewards and outside pay-offs to keep me engaged.

While it’s important for us to exegete today’s young person, it’s also important to recognize what we’ve done to them. Have we done too much? In our effort to keep them happy and entertained, have we sabotaged their ability to persevere, bounce back, learn soft skills and find internal motivation? Perhaps its time to re-ignite their imagination, ask them to make up the game and learn to wait for prizes that come from being committed to a goal.

At Growing Leaders, we’ve begun to explore what it means to “gamify” the life skills our kids desperately need for life. We’re excited about building a bridge from their world to the world they’ll soon enter.

So, here’s my assignment for you. When you examine the young people around you, what skills sets are they missing? Is there a way to somehow create an engaging game to begin to develop those skills instead of diminishing them?

This week, I’ve been blogging about “outliers” in Generation iY. These are teens or twenty-somethings who are exceptions to the rule: they aren’t slackers, they are not narcissistic, and they have a good work ethic. You and I both know—you can find these kids everywhere, but they are different than their peers.

generation iY

Today, I want to introduce you to a book written by historian and educator Ken Bain. This book, What the Best College Students Do, draws a road map for students who want to stand out, not just blend in.

Bain believes there are three types of learners:

  1. Surface Learners: who do as little as possible to get by
  2. Strategic Learners: who aim for top grades rather than true understanding
  3. Deep Learners: who leave college with a real, rich education

Bain then introduces us to a host of real-life deep learners: young and old, scientific and artistic, famous or still getting there. Although they each have their own insights, Bain identifies common patterns in their stories. Below are a few of them:

Pursue passion, not A’s. When he was in college, says astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, he was “moved by curiosity, interest and fascination, not by making the highest scores on a test.” As an adult, he points out, “no one ever asks you what your grades were. Grades become irrelevant.” In his experience as a student and a professor, says Tyson, “ambition and innovation trump grades every time.”

Get comfortable with failure. When he was still a college student, comedian Stephen Colbert began working with an improvisational theater in Chicago. “That really opened me up in ways I hadn’t expected,” he tells Bain. “You must be O.K. with bombing. You have to love it.” Colbert adds, “Improvisation is a great educator when it comes to failing. There’s no way you are going to get it right every time.”

Make a personal connection to your studies. In her sophomore year in college, Eliza Noh, now a professor of Asian-American studies at California State University at Fullerton, took a class on power in society: who has it, how it’s used. “It really opened my eyes. For the first time in my life, I realized that learning could be about me and my interests, about who I was,” Noh tells Bain. “I didn’t just listen to lectures, but began to use my own experiences as a jumping-off point for asking questions and wanting to pursue certain concepts.”

Read and think actively. Dean Baker, one of the few economists to predict the economic collapse of 2008, became fascinated in college by the way economic forces shape people’s lives. His studies led him to reflect on “what he believed and why, integrating and questioning,” Baker says: ”I was always looking for arguments in something I read, and pinpointed the evidence to see how it was used.”

Ask big questions. Jeff Hawkins, an engineer who created the first mobile computing device, organized his college studies around four profound questions he wanted to explore: Why does anything exist? Given that a universe does exist, why do we have the particular laws of physics that we do? Why do we have life, and what is its nature? And given that life exists, what’s the nature of intelligence? For many of the subjects he pursued, “there was no place to ‘look it up,’ no simple answer.”

Here’s to equipping your students to be exceptions to the rule.

Are We Control Freaks?

August 19, 2013 — 4 Comments

I just spoke at a parent conference, and held an informal focus group afterward. I decided to ask them what they were hearing and seeing in other parents, as they sent their kids to school. The stories were both entertaining and sad:

  • Mothers were asking faculty if they could take the “test” for their child in school, as their kids were too stressed out to take it themselves.
  • A dad stepped in to argue with a baseball umpire when their son had “struck out.”  The boy actually struck out swinging.
  • Parents pushed other children out of the way, as they hunted for Easter Eggs to fill their children’s baskets. They didn’t want their kid to go without.
  • Moms and dads refused to tell their kids the soccer game score when they lost, as it would depress them. They reported it was a “tie.”

control freak

At the root of each of these episodes is the pursuit of control. If we’re honest, many of us are just plain control freaks. Parent engagement is not bad. But when it becomes parental control—we do more damage than good.

Much of our problem, as parents, is the result of our pursuit of control. We are the most controlling population of parents in recent history. Often, we feel our public schools aren’t doing a good enough job; the local soccer team doesn’t give our kid enough playing time; the theatre arts program didn’t cast our daughter with enough lines in the play—and we feel we must step in and control the situation. What we must recognize is: control is a myth. We are not in control. Life is bigger than us, and the sooner we equip our kids to handle the ups and downs of it, the better they are.

Is This About Now or Later?

Perhaps, this is the biggest adjustment we must make: to stop pursuing control. To learn to trust and to enable our kids to navigate their way through life without the misconception that they can control it. Adaptability, not control should be our aim.

The fact is—very often, we live, lead and parent only for today. We just want peace right now. Forget the long-term impact on our kids.  In contrast, my mother and father modeled long-term parenting all through my growing up years. When I stole something as a young kid, I would have to march down to the store and give it back with an apology. If I lied, or if I cheated—it was the same thing. Consequences came even if it was a little white lie or cheating on a very small problem. Why? It was the principle of the thing. Long term, my parents knew I was forming patterns in my life every day. I learned a huge axiom over the years:

The further out I can see, the better decisions I make as a parent.

Author Hara Estroff-Marano writes, “Research demonstrates that children who are protected from grappling with difficult tasks don’t develop what psychologists call ‘mastery experiences.’ Kids who have this well-earned sense of mastery are more optimistic and decisive; they’ve learned they are capable of overcoming adversity and achieving goals.” Kids who’ve never tested their abilities, grow into emotionally brittle young adults who are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

According to one U.S. poll, the majority of parents admit their kids have too little responsibility. Compared to their parents or grandparent’s generation, we’ve busied them with soccer games and piano recitals, but not with real responsibility such as work, service or even chores around the house. While a kid can learn some disciplines from games or recitals, authentic responsibility comes from the real world, where we serve others who cannot help themselves or in exchange for a paycheck. The exchange has an internal affect on us, even as kids. Why? Because the consequences are real. Losing isn’t simply about a soccer scoreboard or messing up on a song in a recital, but about affecting real people. As our kids growing older, both benefits and consequences must become real.

What Happens if We Remove Consequences From Our Kids’ Actions?

If adults fail to learn this important truth, our kids will often grow up to be:

  • Irresponsible adults.

They won’t have ownership of their life; they’ll learn to blame others.

  • Lazy adults.

They have a poor work ethic, and perhaps low creativity levels.

  • Dependent adults.

They won’t be self-sufficient; they’ll be unready for autonomy.

  • Emotionally brittle adults.

They will have few coping skills; they won’t develop resilience.

What I Decided To Do…

When my kids turned twelve, I chose to illustrate the power of consequences and benefits in life. Every action brings one or the other:

1. Talk about the long-term outcome of their decisions.

When they face big choices, help them see “down the road” and what may come of it.

2. Tell your own stories of regret and reward.

Although they may consider it cheesy, talk about your past regrets and rewards.

3. Take them to interview a successful professional.

Find someone who’s succeeded at what they want to do and discover their choices.

4. Take them to a prison and interview an inmate.

I have taken kids to talk to inmates who made poor choices and suffered for them.

5. Have your children write down their “end game.”

After writing down their big goals, talk about the action steps required to get there.

The take-away? Your kids learn to navigate real world consequences. You learn to surrender control. That’s not a bad trade-off.

Lynn Austin learned the “price” of little, white lies.  She writes, “My five year old son had been looking forward to visiting the planetarium while on vacation, but when we arrived, we learned that children under age 6 were not admitted.”

“’Let’s pretend you had a birthday,’ I told him. ‘If the ticket man asks you how old you are, I want you to say, “I’m six.”

“I made him practice it until he sounded convincing, then bought the tickets without any problems. When the show ended, we moved on to the museum. There, a large sign read, ‘Children 5 and Under Admitted Free.’ To avoid the $5 admission fee, I had to convince my son to forget his pretend birthday.

“The consequences of my lie became apparent as we walked up the steps to our last destination, the aquarium. ‘Wait a minute, mom!’ my son said with a worried look. ‘How old am I now?’”

lead students

As sweet and innocent as this story is, Lynn puts her finger on something important for every adult. Eventually, our lies, which were intended to help our children get something, actually begin to confuse them. This is true with each of the lies we use.

For years, I have warned teachers, parents and coaches about how much we “lie” to kids today. We don’t mean to—but we do. Even to teens, we say things like:

  • You can be anything you want to be. (So they assume they’ll be the next American Idol).
  • You are awesome! You’re the best! (They assume they’re entitled and can act arrogant).
  • You are smart. You’re gifted. (They assume they shouldn’t have to try hard in school).

We mean well when we say these things, and they’re probably OK when students are young. By the time they reach middle school, they figure out someone’s not being honest with them. The difficult truth raises its ugly head.

There is a reason why these lies are dangerous. Each of them is built on a fallacy. The false foundations are not stable enough to build a life on, and will ultimately crumble. A young person who buys into a lie will eventually sabotage their future. What’s more, the lie will not allow them to become the person they are capable of becoming. Consider this. If the truth makes us free, then lies must put us in bondage. Emotional chains.  I believe part of the reason for Generation iY’s struggle to launch is their propensity to embrace lies about themselves and life in general. Examine below the fallacies upon which our lies are built.

Five Fallacies Our Lies Stem From:

a. Instant customization – The belief that I should have a customized experience in all that I do. This is damaging because life is about more than me and my needs. We will all have to compromise a bit on our preferences and fit into something much bigger than us. Life is about finding our role within the big picture and adding value.

b. Instant gratification – The belief that if I want it, I should have it now. This is damaging because I must learn to delay pleasures and be disciplined to work for them.  Generation iY hates this phrase, but they must learn to “pay their dues.” Patience and persistence are virtues. They must pay now so they can play later.

c. Instant socialization – The belief that I must stay in constant communication with others to be happy and fulfilled. This is damaging because contentment should not require someone provide it for us. Also, with “instant socialization,” I fail to build relational skills that come only through real life face-to-face time with people.

d. Instant affirmation – The belief that I need immediate, positive feedback from others to feel OK. This is damaging because life doesn’t always instantly reward what is right. In fact, our world may never notice quiet acts of kindness or deeds of service done from proper motives. We must do what is right not what gets applause.

e. Instant information – The belief that I must have all the available information on a subject right away.  This is damaging because educators and psychologists will tell you that young people are not emotionally ready for everything their brain can take in. There’s a difference between the ability to consume information and process it.

Do you see any other fallacies we’ve accidentally led from?