Archives For Parenting

A Definition for Bullying

November 1, 2013 — 26 Comments

Here’s a question for you: is it bullying when a high school football team beats another team 91-0? That’s quite a blowout — but what do you think?


The accusation of “bullying” is exactly what one parent claimed after the Fort Worth, Texas team, Western Hills High School, lost a lopsided game to Aledo High School. The parent filed a bullying complaint on the school’s website arguing that Aledo coaches should have let up at some point in the blowout.

The story is getting mixed reviews. Some agree with the parent saying folks should be nicer to each other, especially when one team has far more talent than another. Still another suggested these two teams simply shouldn’t be playing each other, as Aledo High School has graduates heading to colleges like Ohio State University. Yet another argued that calling a football game “bullying” is inappropriate given the real problems our country faces with school bullying.

May I chime in?

I do agree — we must find a way to cultivate empathy among students today, in a world where portable devices with screens on them has led to increased bullying and even cyber-bullying…as well as diminishing emotional intelligence. I have said it before, and I will say it again: as technology goes up, empathy goes down. I have spoken at countless schools about the bullying issue, and suggested that we must help kids see the big picture, envision the future and act like leaders.

However — take a moment and think about this parent’s comment.

To intervene and accuse coaches of “bullying” because of a game score is not unlike intervening and telling a teacher not to give an “F” on a paper, or not to criticize a student’s assignment. When our kids are young (under 12-years-old), it is helpful to tell them exactly how to behave, and perhaps even what to think. By the time they’re teens, however, this intervention is embarrassing. Here’s why:

1. Healthy teens don’t want adults to intervene for them as it relates to a peer. It’s embarrassing. Some males have even compared it to shaving the mane off of a lion… the teen guys feel humiliated and weak. The parent may feel they’ve done a favor to the adolescent, but in reality, it’s quite the opposite.

2. A football score is nothing like a genuine bullying incident. Real bullying harms others. Losing a football game by a large score happens every week of the fall, in America. It’s all part of life. To safeguard teens from this kind of thing actually hinders the development of their coping skills as they mature.

I lost plenty of games as a kid athlete growing up. In fact, in one Little League baseball season, our team lost every single game by large margins. What I loved about the experience was our manager never tried to sugarcoat the losses, but instead discussed with us what we’d learned and how we could improve. This prepared me for the adult world I was growing up into at the time.

No one would have dreamed of calling our “blowout” losses “bullying.” It would have been an insult to real bully incidents that actually went on during the 1970s just like they do now. The difference between then and now is this: the adults in my childhood (from parents, to teachers to coaches to youth workers) all helped us navigate them rather than removing them from our lives. They knew that “hurt” does not equal “harm.” Today — I think many are quite confused about this.

So — I think schools need to create a guide for parents, teachers and students, defining just what bullying is. What do you think?

Do I sound like I lack compassion? What are your thoughts?

In October 2013, a surprising news report came out of Port Washington, New York. Worries about injuries at a Long Island middle school led to a ban during recess. Kids can no longer play with footballs, baseballs, soccer balls or anything else that might hurt someone on school grounds. In fact, playing tag and doing cartwheels without a coach has been banned as well. I assumed this was a joke at first. It’s not.

School administrators are concerned about injuries among students and replaced the athletic equipment with Nerf balls. Hmmm. Makes sense. I’m sure teenagers will love the challenge of playing with a sponge ball on the playground. Uh, yeah right.

common sense

This is both ridiculous and damaging. Let me explain why.

As a dad, I totally understand the desire to keep kids safe. In our effort to reduce injuries, however, we’re removing some of the elements that have long been a rite of passage for kids in the school community. Needless to say, most students were not thrilled with the news. One said, “You go for recess—and it’s our one free time to let loose and recharge.” Another student said, “That’s all we want to do. We’re in school all day sitting behind a desk learning.”  Another one jumped in: “I think we need the soccer balls, footballs and everything so we can have some fun.”

But, alas, students will have no such option anymore.

The school superintendent explained that there had been a rash of injuries which warranted this policy. After all, experts say without helmets and pads, kids can get hurt. Educators are simply concerned about the children. And, uh, the lawsuits.

Why is This Wrong?

Allow me to make a case for the fact that this policy may prevent kids from getting hurt, but it may increase their chances of being harmed. Both educators and parents must be aware of the long-term impact of such decisions.

Consider this. When we safeguard a kid from getting hurt, they often fail to learn to navigate risk at a young age, when the stakes are relatively low. I’m not suggesting putting helmets or pads on them is wrong, just that protection from hurt hinders them from perceiving the world as it is. And, dealing with it. One reason we see teens attempting ridiculous stunts is that many have been so protected as a child, they have no clue what harm can come from risky behavior. Many freshmen in college have never failed, they’ve never been hurt, they’ve never shared a room with anyone, and now they don’t know how to cope. We did a great job of intervening to protect them from the real world. Not so great a job of preparing them for the real world.

The Price of Our Intervention

When adults intervene like this, we solve short-term problems. I have no doubt, injuries will go down on the playground in that Long Island middle school, and all the other schools who’ve jumped on board with the policy they initiated.

I also have no doubt, that preventing hurt today leads to more harm tomorrow. As kids mature into young adults, they won’t be equipped for adulthood. I predict one of two outcomes will emerge:

1. The first time they are autonomous, they will try terribly risky behaviors, because they’ve never calculated the negative consequences of stupid conduct.

2. They will fear any risk, because it’s all so new. They never learned to navigate it as a child on a playground. And they become paralyzed.

Both of these are far more harmful than the hurt of a skinned knee or broken arm as a child. In our effort to prevent hurt, we’ve accelerated harm. It’s now showing up as they become adults. The majority of students today move home after college, feeling ill-equipped for life without help from mom or dad. Psychologists in Europe say that some experience phobias, as they never faced risk as children. Many even face what therapists are calling “quarter-life crisis” at twenty-five years old.

My exhortation is simply this: we must stop leading our kids with short-term vision, and see the long-term impact of our decisions. Hurt is far better than harm.

It’s common sense.


HabitudesForAthletesWant to prepare athletes for excellence in sports and life? Check out Habitudes for Athletes.

Help me Choose a Book Cover?

As we’re finishing up the Top 5 Articles week, can you please do me a favor? I am finishing the manuscript for a new book that will be released early next fall (2014), based on our blog post that has been shared over 1.1 million times, Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How to Correct Them. Many thanks to you, for inspiring me to write this book, and for helping me realize the importance of sharing these common parenting mistakes. I value your feedback. The title is: “Twelve Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid.” The publisher sent me two possible covers and I’m not sure which is better. I like and dislike elements in both. Simply comment with a “1” or a “2” to let me know which you like best. Thanks!

OPTION ONE                                                      OPTION TWO

12 Huge Mistakes-2                      12 Huge Mistakes-1

I will let you know which one is chosen, when we make the decision in November. Thanks for staying connected. I appreciate our partners and all you do.

Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How to Correct Them

Recently, I read about a father, Paul Wallich, who built a camera-mounted drone helicopter to follow his grade-school-aged son to the bus stop. He wants to make sure his son arrives at the bus stop safe and sound. There’s no doubt the gizmo provides an awesome show-and-tell contribution. In my mind, Paul Wallich gives new meaning to the term “helicopter parent.” While I applaud the engagement of this generation of parents and teachers, it’s important to recognize the unintended consequences of our engagement. We want the best for our students, but research now shows that our “over-protection, over-connection” style has damaged them. Let me suggest three huge mistakes we’ve made leading this generation of kids and how we must correct them.

three huge mistakes

Continue Reading…

I am thankful for the great feedback I have received as a result of this article that I originally posted in April, 2013. I hope you continue to find it helpful as you lead kids and build up authentic leaders.

stealing ambition

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.


Host an event for parents or faculty & staff that will help define a realistic model for coaching and guiding kids to true maturity.


I appreciate everyone who reads, comments, and sparks continued research through our blog articles. I wanted to take this week to post the top 5 articles that have helped leaders like you over the last 10 years. Today’s article is “The Secret to Raising Emotionally Healthy Kids.”


We live in complex times. As I work with thousands of parents and faculty each year, I’m increasingly convinced we have a more engaged set of adults who care about kids today than at any time since I began my career in 1979. Simultaneously, however, I am observing a more troubled population of kids, especially by the time they reach their teen years. It appears at first like an oxymoron. How can such a cared-for generation experience such emotional difficulties?

Today, more kids struggle with depression and anxiety than at any time in modern times. In The Price of Privilege, Dr. Madeline Levine argues America’s newly-defined at-risk group is preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families. In spite of their economic and social advantages, they experience the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders and unhappiness of any group of children in this country. Adolescent suicide has quadrupled since 1950.

Diagnosing the Emotional Health Problem in Many Kids Today

As I speak to psychologists and career counselors, I’ve begun to hear a term over and over, as they describe the emotional state of young people. This term appears to be a paradox, but it aptly defines perhaps millions of adolescents in America:

“High Arrogance, Low Self-esteem”

How can someone be cocky, yet not have a healthy sense of identity? Consider the reality they face. In a recent undergraduate survey, Dr. Art Levine reports that grade inflation has skyrocketed. In 1969, only 7 percent of students said their grade point average was an A- or higher. In 2009, it was 41 percent. In that same time period, students having a C average dropped from 25% to 5%. But with grade inflation at an all-time high, it’s surprising to note that 60 percent of students believe their grades understate the true quality of their work. They believe they deserve a higher mark. One has to wonder — are kids that much smarter than forty years ago, or do we just give them higher grades to keep the customer? The fact is, while student scores continue to decline when compared to other nations, the one statistic that remains constant is that our kids continue to assume they’re awesome.

Sheltered by parents, teachers and coaches who fear that unhappy kids are a poor reflection on them, we have rewarded them quickly, easily and repeatedly. Kids naturally begin believing they are amazing. Case in point: My son recently took part in a theatre arts competition. Parents paid dearly to enable their kid to get on stage, and now I know why. Every single student got a medal, just for showing up. When they performed, they received extra medals. The medal levels were: gold, high gold and platinum. (Did you notice that gold was the lowest award possible?) Here’s the clincher. If your kid didn’t get the award he wanted, trophies were on sale after the competition. This is not uncommon. Kids today have received trophies for ninth place in Little League baseball. They get fourth-runner up medals at competitions. Ribbons and stars are given out routinely. Of course they are arrogant. With little effort, they’ve been awarded a prize.

The problem is, as they age, they begin to suspect this affirmation is skewed. In fact, mom may be the only one telling them they’re “special” or amazing. By college, kids meet all kinds of other “special” students, who are as smart or athletic as they are. Between the ages of 17-24, kids now experience their first real “failure.” They bump up against hardship and difficulty and often aren’t resilient enough to bounce back. Truth be told, when a kid has been told they are “excellent” without working hard or truly adding value to a team, it rings hollow to them. We must realize that our affirmation must match their performance. Low self-esteem hits them at this point (often their freshmen or sophomore year in college) because they suddenly recognize their esteem may be built on a foundation of sand.

Solving the Emotional Health Problem in Many Kids Today

My point is not to suggest your child isn’t special in his own right. My point is that this is only part of the story. In preparing our young people for adulthood, we must give them a sense of the big picture. We must drip doses of reality with all the praise. When I see troubled kids from upper-middle class homes, it makes me wonder:

• Question: Are they fragile because they’ve been sheltered?

• Question: Are they unmotivated because they’ve been praised too quickly?

• Question: Do they get anxious or fearful because they’ve never taken risks?

• Question: Are they self-absorbed because they’ve been rewarded so often?

• Question: Do they move back home after college because they’re ill-prepared?

I believe two sets of messages must be communicated to students during the first two decades of their life. Sadly, very often only one set of messages gets through. The first ten years, we must communicate childhood messages. If we have done this well, they are prepared for necessary adolescent messages that prepare them for a challenging adult world:

Childhood Messages 

1.You are loved.

2. You are unique.

3. You have gifts

4. You are safe.

5. You are valuable.

Adolescent Messages

1. Life is difficult.

2. You are not in control.

3. You are not that important.

4. You are going to die.

5. Your life is not about you.

I recognize this may sound harsh, but I find myself having to communicate the second set of messages far too often to a college student. If we love these students, we will relay both messages. They deserve the truth from us and they deserve a childhood that prepares them for the life that awaits them as adults. Whether they are emotionally ready as they enter adult life… will be up to us.


Want to learn more about how to raise emotionally healthy kids?  Bring home a copy of Artificial Maturity to drill deeper.