Archives For Parenting

I’ve been writing for years about the shift in parent-styles that’s taken place over the last few decades. Growing up today looks very different than it did when I was a kid. It began in the 1980s with the Tylenol scare, and photos of missing children on milk cartons. Since then we’ve watched reports of school accidents and shootings. This all led to fearful parents who changed policies and playground equipment to insure greater security for their kids. Later we made the decision to give trophies and ribbons to every little league baseball player and post bumper stickers about our offspring on our cars. Each has led to all sorts of related changes that scream to our children that they’re the center of our world. Parents have become consumed with the safety and self-esteem for their kids. As a father, I adore my children. I too want my kids to be safe and to enjoy healthy self-esteem. Those are noble desires. Our problem is—they make poor goals. They should be a means to an end, not the end.


Yet, we pursued them with a vengeance.

Today, the numbers are in. These kids who’ve become teens and twenty-somethings are often narcissistic (thanks to our constant rewards) and risk-averse (thanks to our sheltering them). This has caused millions of them to stall as they enter adulthood, with 80 percent of them moving back home when they finish school. Some, frankly never move out.

If you are a teacher, coach, youth worker or employer and watched this shift over years, you’ve likely noticed changes in the young people you lead. Let me summarize what you’ll find and suggest what you can do to make up for the lack of readiness you may find in your students. The primary adults in kids’ lives have focused on now rather than later. In millions of cases, it’s about their happiness today not their readiness tomorrow. I suspect it’s a reaction. Many parents today had moms and dads who were all about getting ready for tomorrow: saving money, not spending it, and getting ready for retirement. In response, many of us bought into the message: embrace the moment. You deserve it. Enjoy today. And we did. For many, it resulted in credit card debt, and the inability to delay gratification. This may be the crux of our challenge. The truth is, parents who are able to focus on tomorrow, not just today, produce better results. The columns below summarize this reality.

1. We Protect
We make sure they are safe.
1. We Prepare
We get them ready for life later.
2. We Provide
We give them all they want and need.
2. We Provoke
We foster ambition to become an adult.
3. We Promote
We offer them perks, praise and benefits.
3. We Position
We equip them to not need any perks.
4. We Program
We structure their lives for them.
4. We Pronounce
We’re able to say: You have what it takes.

Parents who focus on tomorrow don’t fail to prioritize safety or self-esteem. They simply put it in perspective. They know that our world really isn’t any more unsafe than it was decades ago (i.e. playgrounds, schools, workplaces) and that self-esteem is more about helping our kids achieve than it is about affirming them.

What Can We Do?

Whether you’re a parent, educator, coach or employer, begin interacting with kids in light of tomorrow. Care for them enough to train them, not merely treat them to a good life. If we really love them, we must coach more than coddle. Here’s a start:

      1. Talk over the issues you wish you would’ve known about adulthood.
      2. Allow them to attempt things that stretch them and even let them fail.
      3. Expose them to professionals and workplaces in their fields of interest.
      4. Encourage them to work part-time jobs or internships while in school.
      5. Discuss future consequences if they fail to master certain disciplines.
      6. Aid them in matching their strengths to real-world problems.
      7. Furnish projects that require patience, so they learn to delay gratification.
      8. Teach them that life is about choices and trade-offs; they can’t do everything.
      9. Initiate (or simulate) adult tasks like paying bills or making business deals.
      10. Introduce them to potential mentors, from your network.
      11. Help them envision a fulfilling future, then discuss the steps to get there.
      12. Celebrate progress they make toward autonomy and responsibility.

Besides their parents’ love, when a child leaves home, what they need more than anything is to know they have what it takes to be a man or woman: they can earn the respect of their peers; they are desirable to a potential spouse, and they can add value on a job that pays them for their talents. This usually comes from a parent whose focus is tomorrow not just today.

The further out I can see into the future, the better decisions I make for the kids.


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As students graduate from high school or college—they’re getting a later start in their career. In response, moms and dads are welcoming their kids back home, to help them experience a safe haven as they seek out a steady income. Many find jobs, but they don’t actually start careers—until eight years later. This has far-reaching impact on these young workers.

Young Employees Get a Slow Start on a Career

Recent research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce reported in The Wall Street Journal shows that Gen Y workers are 30 years old, on average, before they hit median earnings of $42,000 per year. The study examined data from 1980 to 2012, and found that only a third of adults in their early 20s work full-time. By their late 20s, that figure rises to about half. Labor force participation among younger workers is at its lowest point in 40 years, the study finds. The recession, combined with trends toward Americans working longer into what used to be the retirement years and jobs that require advanced skills, have created an environment in which younger workers start their careers later.

What This Means to Young Adults

According to economists, the impact of this late start is tangible:

  1. Generation Y workers will lose a minimum of 3 percent in lifetime earnings.
  2. These workers who were assured great careers may fight disillusionment.
  3. They are not ready to move away from home for six to ten years after school.
  4. A bit gun shy, they may be less apt to take risks or venture out.

“The combination of structural change plus this particular recession has been devastating for Millennials,” study co-author Anthony Carnevale said. “It has really knocked them back, and some of these losses are permanent.”

Steps We Can Take

  1. Communicate that tough times don’t last but tough people do. Help them keep their emotions and attitude healthy.
  2. Broaden their perspective, helping them see opportunities beyond the realm they first expected to be employed. Help them go where the need is.
  3. Work with them on the two most valuable assets they can build:
    1. Resilience – The ability to bounce back from a setback.
    2. Resourcefulness – The ability to create something useful from small, seemingly useless items. To see opportunity even in obstacles.

Let’s commit ourselves to inspire resilience, resourcefulness and hope in the young adults we know. Remember—they are our future.


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Managing the Toughest Generation


Carol S. Dweck, Ph. D., is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her book Mindset is based on the truly groundbreaking idea that achievement and success can come from our mindset. She has spoken to many adults (faculty, parents and coaches) on how our minds work and how we can better lead students.



Your book Mindset has been a groundbreaking piece that has helped so many teachers and parents, and adults rethink how they lead students, but the book’s main idea isn’t limited to kids. Talk about the major theme of the book.

The major theme of the book is that some people think of their most basic traits as a fixed amount. It is a fixed and limiting mindset. People are so worried with how much they have, how they will look and whether or not they are able to do something, that they don’t take on challenges. They don’t learn as much as they could.

Other people believe that their most basic talents can be developed. They can grow through their efforts, perseverance, strategies and mentoring from others. This growth mindset leads people to take on more challenges. They stick to things, which helps them to accomplish more in the long run.

The two terms you’re using are a fixed mindset, which basically says “I only have so much”, and a growth mindset which says “The sky’s the limit”.

A growth mindset doesn’t promise you that you can be Einstein or Michael Jordan, but it does say that you can improve, and asks the question, “Who knows how much I can improve?”

We work with teachers and coaches, and very often they get stuck in this fixed mindset. They would never say it this way, but theses kids are dumb, they’re limited, they’re just not gonna make it. Kids usually live up to the expectations of those around them, don’t they, the ones that lead them?

It’s really important for a teacher or coach to recognize that a student may be struggling now, but once they get through this, who knows what they are capable of? I see what is lurking under the surface and release what the student is capable of. Teachers need to have growth mindsets themselves. Teaching is an incredibly difficult profession, and your skills will grow throughout your entire career. Every student can teach me something. Every student can make me a better teacher.

Share what led you to research young students. You had a hunch that we were saying the wrong things and praising the wrong things. Talk about what you did at Columbia that really got this thing moving.

I was motivated to research young students when I was at Columbia at the height of the self-esteem movement. They have shown in over 15 years of research that praising intelligence and ability puts kids into a fixed mindset, and it backfires. It limits them. It makes them afraid of challenges. It makes them feel dumb when they’re not succeeding. Some of the most high achieving students are suffering from this. When things aren’t easy, they assume that they aren’t smart. What’s the alternative?

Praising and encouraging the process that the child engages in is really productive. By “process” I mean the strategies the child uses, the effort put in, the persistence, or even taking on a challenging task is admirable. The more you focus kids on the process of learning and improving, the more they will welcome challenges and stick to them.

Talk about why you believe adults get this concept wrong.

There are several reasons that parents get this wrong and praise for the wrong things:

  1. We have been brainwashed to think that this is the right way to give kids praise, that this praise is the biggest gift we can give our kids.
  2. Dishing out these compliments has become synonymous with being a good parent.
  3. We want to think that our kids are brilliant, special geniuses; by extension we then are wonderful because we spawned them. It reflects beautifully on us.

When you were at Columbia, you placed kids into groups. One group was told, “you must really be smart”. The other group was told, “you must have tried really hard.”

The students that were told they were smart after completing a task chose the easier task when offered a choice of tasks. They didn’t want to risk their “gifted” label. But the students that were praised for their process and strategy overwhelmingly wanted the challenge. They had nothing to risk. They only had things to gain. When both groups were given a difficult set of problems, those that were praised for process thrived. Those who were praised for their intelligence started to crumble. They lost their zest for the task. Their performance suffered even when going back to the easier tasks. Later, when they were asked to report their score to another child, 38% of them lied. Because they have a fixed mindset: it is humiliating to struggle. The students that were praised for the process, told the truth and thrived under the difficult tasks.

For parents and teachers, it comes down to conveying a new values system. When students complete an easy task instead of praising them say something along the lines of, “Oh, this is too easy. I’m sorry you wasted your time. Let’s find something else that will help you grow.” It’s the whole idea that easy is boring. We should be teaching our kids to do things that are interesting and worthwhile.

Give me some things we can say instead of “You must be smart.”

  1.  “Interesting strategy! Tell me about what you’re doing.”
  2. “Wow, you really stuck to that, and look!”
  3. “You took on that hard project. You’re gonna learn a lot.”
  4. “Yes, when you stick to hard problems, your math brain gets smarter!”

You’re still affirming through this, you’re just changing where the affirmation goes. And, the student is accomplishing something.

What are your recommendations on how to correct ourselves as we lead young people?

Put the emphasis on learning and improvement, not on results. They are utilizing a new study on the word “yet.” It is a growth mindset word. A student may be struggling at math and may say that they are no good, but your response could be that they aren’t good yet. It is very trajectory and gives a lot of hope. It is a parent or teacher saying, “I have confidence that you can do it.”

Finally, never tell kids, “you aren’t a ‘math-person.’” This is fixed phrasing. We rush in to make our kids feel good because we don’t want them to experience self-doubt. Essentially, you are saying that the student doesn’t need to be good at this. You are saying that you are giving up on them, they can give up on themselves and that’s ok. It turns out that some of the kids that struggle in math are just struggling temporarily. Once they get past that, they become very good at math, and then we have no idea where they could go if they persevere. Guide them toward strategy, get them help, and keep them in the game.

Keep your child focused on growing their brain through doing hard things and sticking to them. This is the greatest gift you can give them. It will serve them throughout their lives.


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Artificial Maturity

Today’s blog is a guest post from Erica Fener, who shares some tips for building discipline into young people. I hope you enjoy it.

Erica—you work with students of all kinds, in addition to your own children. Talk to us about how teachers, coaches and parents can cultivate self-control in kids. Give us some strategies that could work with kids of almost any age.

One of the most valuable lessons we can teach our children is to exercise a bit of restraint. While you don’t want to deny your kids or have them think of you as just arbitrarily “mean,” we must employ strategies to teach our children self control, if they’re going to be the most well-rounded people that they can be.

1. Be Reasonable: Maybe one of the biggest tips for teaching your children self control is through the magic of leading by example. But just like you do with your older kids, your spouse, your parents, and everyone else you come into contact with, you need to be reasonable in your expectations and in your demands. If you had a plumbing issue you wouldn’t yell at the mailman to come and fix your pipes, right? If your kids see you making unreasonable demands on others, then they are likely to exert the same behavior in their own lives. So even if you might like for your children to be perfect little tykes straight out of the gate, that is neither reasonable to demand nor expect.

2. Offer Rewards: It’s often parents who haven’t learned the reward system who have the brattiest kids that act out in public and have no filter on what they say or do. You don’t just throw money or material things at a problem. When you give your kids “things,” they are likely to keep throwing tantrums once they have stopped finding use for your gift. One of the best tips for teaching your children self control is giving them your attention. Give them hugs and your time rather than plopping them down in front of the TV or a video game.

Five ways to teach your kids self control

3. Think Like a Kid: Another great way to reach out to your kids is to think like your kids. How did you first learn how to behave? It’s useful to hearken back to the ways that you learned things. Simple playing, exercises, games, and other juvenile interaction are the ways by which we all learned how to carry ourselves in the world. Your kids need to do the same thing in order to lead a well-balanced life.

4. Practice: Your kids are going to try things and they are going to “fail.” We all did when we were younger. Rather than ignoring that fact and filling your kid’s head with delusions of grandeur, or dwelling on these things and making your kid feel terrible, why not use this as a learning exercise? Those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. “Practice makes perfect” is what they teach our kids in school. Why did they not reach their goal and what can they change next time?

5. Don’t Cave: A final tip is to never cave and never let them see that all they need to do is wait you out to get what they want. This is maybe the most fatal flaw of all when kids are out of control. Parents’ time is valuable and they have so much else to do. Your kids, on the other hand, have all the time in the world. Don’t let this pressure weigh too heavily on you and your child’s relationship and cause your will to buckle. If you make a statement to them that one behavior is unacceptable, then stand behind it. Enforce your rules, make sure that your children are punished, and make sure they understand the consequences of ever repeating that behavior. If you cave once, your kids will think that they always have the upper hand. Keep the ball in your court and your kids will grow up well adjusted and balanced.

Author Bio:

Erica L. Fener, Ph.D., is Vice President, Business Development Strategy at Progressus Therapy


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May I share an observation with you? In my travels, I meet a variety of parents, educators, coaches and youth workers who lead kids differently. Often, one of two extremes occurs, depending on the students’ age. In their early years, it seems as if tens of thousands of parents and teachers “over-program” the children’s day, structuring it so tightly that kids don’t have much free time; there’s little chance for them to enjoy un-prescribed activities. We push them hard.


Ironically, as they become teens, it’s as if adults stall and become confused. We aren’t sure how to lead them in a relevant way. Parents fail to draw boundaries well; teachers become confused as to how to motivate high schoolers, and coaches are at a loss as to how to connect with athletes. These “screenagers” throw us a curve ball. In our confusion, many of us fail to lead them well.

But I don’t think it’s the kids alone who challenge us.

Let’s consider the life of an adult in our culture today. We are aging in a society that worships youth. We all want to “stay young.” Wrinkle free. Forever 21. To look and feel young is often a spoken goal. After all, Facebook allows everyone to see what we now look like, twenty years after graduation. Can we still fit into those skinny jeans? Do we still have a full head of hair?  If not, there’s cosmetic stuff you can do.

On top of that, we’re now relating to our children who’re fast entering their teen years. In fact, I believe kids often want to enter adolescence in about third grade, visiting teen websites, getting something tattooed or pierced on their body. The last thing we want to communicate is that we’re “over the hill.” We don’t want to send a message that we don’t get it, or that we’re not hip. And we definitely don’t want kids to see us the way we saw our parents when we were teens.

Further, nostalgia has become a big business, since the Baby Boomers began turning forty in the mid-1980s. Adults spend millions of dollars buying comic books, trading cards, sports jerseys, toys…you name it. Quietly and gently, culture pushes us to hold on to our younger days. Dozens of movies have come out the last twenty years about this very subject—from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to “Old School” to “Grown Ups.” Think Uncle Rico in the film, “Napoleon Dynamite.” Let’s face it—we loved those younger days and we don’t want to let go.

Maybe I’m making too big of a deal over it all, but this has me thinking. I believe many adults struggle to lead kids well because we don’t want to be seen as “uncool.” Being the “bad cop” transforms us into that uncool adult who’s a Narc; we become the one who’s enforcing the rules instead of breaking them and tweeting about it. We don’t want to admit we might be ancient. I call moms and dads who fit into this category: Karaoke Parents, because like karaoke, they want to sound like their child, dress like their child, act like their child—they want to be a pal more than a parent. I have seen teachers who do this too. It’s quite pitiful. Sadly, the real victim—is the student.

If this thought has crossed your mind, may I toss you some ideas?

1. Embrace who you are and the life station you’re now in.

If you’re forty-eight years old, then act like it. Don’t attempt to be twenty-one. This doesn’t mean you’re irrelevant. It simply means you’re comfortable in your identity and can offer teens a picture of what a well-adjusted, mid-life adult looks like.

2. Live with passion.

Don’t try to be a teenager again, but show them what an adult looks like who is happy, fulfilled and passionate about their work and family. Many kids never get a healthy role-model in their lives like this. Show them what it means to not merely grow older but to grow up…and like it.

3. Be genuine when you interact with teens.

They don’t need you to be a buddy all the time. They do need you to be real and predictable. Consistency is a vital ingredient many teens are missing in life. When adults connect with them in an authentic way—it’s a gift. Remember the words of one student who said, “The only thing worse than being uncool is being unreal.”

4. Play the veteran card.

Once in a while, they need you to not only be a “friend” but a “bad cop.” It’s not fun, but boundaries actually foster security in kids. They need someone to lead them and enforce principles that will guide them through life. Even more, they need to hear from your experience—the wisdom and life lessons you’ve picked up over time.

In a focus group a few years back, a female student said to me, “I guess the reason I don’t want to grow up is that I’ve not seen any adults who’ve done it well. Most of them are trying to be like us, kids.”

It’s time to give students what they need, not necessarily what they want.


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