Archives For Parenting


Let’s start a conversation about one of the most controversial issues today—at least for coaches, teachers and parents of young performers.

First, let me introduce you to Megan. Megan is a gymnast. Or, should I say, was a gymnast. She’s been into gymnastics since she was four years old. Like many who are gifted in the sport, it became her obsession. Partly due to the coaching she got, and partly due to extreme parents—she overdid it. After thirteen years of balance beams, floor routines and uneven bars, she quit. She became overwhelmed, over-committed, over-extended and burned out.  Nearly every adult around her tried to persuade her to keep going. They told her she had what it took to compete at the highest level, but she was spent.

I bet you know someone like Megan. A kid who becomes completely absorbed in something—performing on stage, on the field, on a court, you name it—until finally they wilt emotionally. We live in a society that pushes us to be obsessive:

  • Sports seasons have gotten longer since I was a kid.
  • Travel teams and multiple seasons are now available.
  • We can watch cable television channels for food, golf, baseball, you name it.
  • Go online, and you’ll find websites and videos targeted as specific topics.
  • Netflix has all kinds of genres and series that keep playing until you say stop.
  • Commercials constantly harass us to be dissatisfied with our current reality.
  • Facebook and other social media sites allow for intrusive, focused messages.

No one likes to see kids become emotionally brittle or soft and wither under the pressure. Unfortunately, however, we’re seeing it in record numbers today. We live in an extreme culture that strains and shoves all of us. And we’re suffering for it. More than nine in ten college students say they are absolutely overwhelmed with their life. Almost half say it’s almost impossible to function. In student-athletes, stress levels are even higher due to the pressure to perform. Depression levels have risen in the last twenty years among athletes, which can lead to physical injuries, not just mental health problems. The emotional health of our kids today is at stake. Why? It’s often us. In our effort to encourage them to “be their best” or “reach their potential,” we frequently push them too hard, failing to read the signs in their lives. We cross a line between commitment and obsession. On the one hand, we believe kids must find their strengths and play to them. We all do better when we’re performing in our sweet spot, our gift area. On the other hand, ancient wisdom has taught for years: “Moderation in all things.” This means we don’t cross a line where our commitment to something becomes unhealthy. When it grows into an obsession, we can’t make wise decisions with our time, our relationships, and our future.

Where Do We Draw the Line?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” So how do we read a student athlete or performer and help them navigate their health and potential? How do we recognize when stress (which can be good) becomes distress? The American Psychological Association just released a report saying that teen stress is on the rise. A full 27% of adolescents now say they live with extreme stress. That’s a higher number than the adult population.

I’m very aware you have student-athletes in both categories. On one hand, you have ones who want to quit because they are wimping out on you. They need to get acquainted with the real world where navigating demands are part of the territory. On the other hand, there are student athletes who are trying to please too many leaders and are over-committed, leading to mental health problems.

Some Guardrails and Questions

As a coach, here are some guardrails to use to stay on a healthy track. When an athlete begins to falter, and wants to quit their commitment:

  • Check their emotional health: are they close to burnout? Has their stress level become evident in their behavior? Are they experiencing anxiety attacks?
  • Check your motives: are you pushing them because of your reputation? Are you living out your unlived life through this young athlete?
  • Check their skill level: are you pushing them beyond their talent and ability? Do they truly have the gifts, depth and desire to push to the next level?
  • Check their workload: have they made too many commitments? Do they have too many conflicting bosses—parents, coaches, faculty, trainers, etc?
  • Check their lifestyle: do they have a life outside of the sport? Do they have friendships, social outlets and other interests?

Here are the questions I’m asking—and challenging you to ask:

  • What does moderation look like for a young performer?
  • Is a large portion of athletes’ emotional problems due to obsession?
  • How can we help them build a life outside of sport or stage—and still excel?

Let’s discuss this. Where do you draw the line between commitment and obsession?


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


I find myself challenging adults to call students back to fundamentals today. It’s not that I’m against progress; technology is not going away and most of us don’t want it to. Our world is growing at a fast pace, and change always comes with growth. But I am concerned we adults are not helping young adults navigate their lives. We are losing what I consider to be timeless qualities. May I suggest four lost characteristics we need to be intentional about instilling in kids:

1. Vision – This is the ability to see a goal in the future before it is reached. A vision is a picture of a better tomorrow. Many students must simply envision themselves graduating; others must envision what their career might look like; or how a committed relationship would work in their lives. Those who are already self-actualized must see themselves adding value to the world. Vision is a blueprint for the future that prevents youth from merely existing; to keep them from maintaining instead of growing and improving.

2. Virtues – Virtues are character qualities that separate humans from animals. When animals fight, they don’t fight about who’s right or wrong, but who’s strong or weak. Remove virtues and people begin acting like animals. Ironically, the Greek root for “virtue” means strength. But it refers to moral strength. A person of virtue is honorable; they don’t act merely out of self-interest, as a reptile does when it seeks food to eat, but in the interests of others. People of virtue act with civility in the face of adversity; they can be poised because they act instead of react to situations.

3. Values – Values today are either lost altogether in young people or they are products of individual taste or personal convenience. Studies show that college students say anything can be right and values come and go. I believe we must instill a set of timeless values that govern conduct—values such as honesty, service, trust, character, dependability and so forth. Values are like a compass that reveals your true north: they’re the guardrails to keep you on the right road and the horsepower behind every major decision you make.

4. Valor – Valor is rarely spoken about today. It literally means strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness and personal bravery. The true mark of valor is the absence of indecision even in the face of death. In the past, we spoke of soldiers or knights who acted with valor. Today, I believe we need to regain this quality that empowers young people to have clarity about what must be done and the courage to act on it.

How Can You Cultivate Them?

Coaches can build these character traits using teams and sports as a platform. Teachers can do it using subjects, classrooms and service trips. Parents can develop them in their homes and by creating family experiences that spark them.

In your setting, how could you create environments and experiences where you begin developing these lost qualities in the students around you? Ask yourself:

  • What contexts or people could I expose them to that would kindle vision?
  • What needs could I help them spot that could entice them to serve?
  • What conflict could I help them discuss and begin to cultivate values?
  • What problem or crisis could I resource them to courageously address?

Do you see the need for these qualities? Are they irrelevant or too old-fashioned in our 21st century, postmodern world? Is it possible to build them in students today?

Let’s talk this over.


Looking to develop leaders? Check out

Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes


Two View Points to Avoid

February 27, 2014 — 1 Comment

Much has been written about the self-absorption of high school and college students today. Narcissism and self-esteem is on the rise, with 80 percent of middle-school students scoring higher in self-esteem in 2006 than the average middle-school student in 1988, according to one study (Review of General Psychology, Vol. 14, No. 3). Among college students, subclinical levels of narcissism have steadily risen since the 1970s, other studies suggest. And though the diagnosis may be dropped from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (see Narcissism and the DSM), young people are much more likely than older adults to have ever experienced Narcissistic Personality Disorder, according to a large-scale epidemiological study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (Vol. 67, No. 7).

 Full length of young men and women holding cellphone

“You can look at individual scores of narcissism, you can look at data on lifetime prevalence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you can look at related cultural trends, and they all point to one thing,” says W. Keith Campbell, PhD, head of the University of Georgia psychology department. “Narcissism is on the rise.”

Monitor writer Sadie Dingfelder challenges us: Imagine a country where everyone acts like a reality show contestant — obsessed with power, status and appearance, and is comfortable manipulating others for their personal gain. “I’m here to win, not make friends,” would be the national motto.

“This society would have high crime rates — white collar and violent — as people take whatever they feel entitled to,” says Christopher Barry, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Southern Mississippi and lead editor of “Narcissism and Machiavellianism in Youth” (APA, 2010). Cosmetic surgery would be routine, materialism rampant, and everyone would seek fame or notoriety, he adds. It would also be a place with high rates of anxiety and depression. That’s because narcissists — people with an inflated sense of their importance and abilities — have trouble keeping friends, even though they are good at making them, Barry’s found.

“A narcissistic society would be a deeply lonely place,” Barry says. And according to some researchers, that is precisely where America is heading.

Perspectives We Must Avoid

If there’s even a kernel of truth in this research, what can adults do? This seems to be the question on the minds of faculty, coaches, youth workers and employers across the U.S. Is contemporary culture destined to move this direction?

I don’t think so—but let me offer two perspectives that won’t help:

1. “The Sky if Falling!” – Do you remember Chicken Little? She ran all over town screaming, “The sky is falling” until no one listened to her anymore. She was so plagued with fear that listeners didn’t know what to do with her. So they avoided her. When we assume a fear-based attitude—believing kids today are worse than ever and have no hope to grow up, work hard and see the big picture—they won’t. Those kids will live up (or down) to our expectations. Fear is contagious.

2. “Kids will be kids!” – This is the other extreme, where adults believe all kids are just into themselves; in fact, we were into ourselves when we were adolescents. Sadly, this assumption fosters complacency in us, believing somehow these kids will mature in the end, with or without our help. That things will be fine no matter what we do. I just don’t believe that, in light of our world of portable devices, pop culture and poor parenting in the home. Complacency is contagious.

I relay some disconcerting realities in my books Generation iY—Our Last Chance to Save Their Future and Artificial Maturity—Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Becoming Authentic Adults. But in both of them, I clearly communicate I don’t believe we are destined for a dismal future with our kids moving back home after college, incurring debt, and refusing to grow up. I have hope. However, it will only happen if we adults re-think the way we lead, teach, coach, parent and manage this young generation. In the very least:

  • We must be pro-active, not just reactive to their challenges.
  • We must focus on relationship, not just results during the process.
  • We must be about preparing, not jut protecting them from a tough world.

May I share a healthy perspective with you?

You are not leading or teaching a child. You are leading a future adult. Everything you do and say will either serve to prepare them or prevent them from being ready. The more you maintain that focus, the better choices you’ll make as a mentor.

Artificial Maturity

We are at the end of the Sochi Olympics, and as you’ve probably witnessed, there have been an incredible assortment of stories and achievements that have made these games special. One specific story from this past week reminds me of a leadership skill we can instill in students called Small Sprockets.

Mikaela Shiffrin was once like any other kid who liked to ski. She is that no longer. The girl who once lived in Vermont  prepared herself to compete in the Sochi Olympics, and she sought perfection like few other athletes do.


Let me explain.

First, she’s watched other skiers since childhood—not mindlessly, as she was tugged up the cable to the top of the mountain, but carefully, intentionally looking for what she could learn from them regarding mistakes to avoid or skills to replicate. She determined early on that she would always be a growing, lifelong learner.

Second, she has a camera on herself when she skis so she can constantly watch her changes and growth. Almost sadistically, she focuses on what she’s done wrong so she can push to improve. She has a harsh eye when it comes to herself. Kids often want affirmation or reinforcement; Mikaela has always craved criticism. She wants to see her ugliest slide, jump or turn. When she loses, she scrambles to see how it happened and learn.

Third, she works to always be ready by staying current in her strength and conditioning. This has enabled her to be the youngest American slalom world champion ever, as well as the winner of seven World Cup races at age 18. She embraces not just the adrenaline rush of competing or winning, but the process, the stuff no one else sees. That’s her differentiator: she loves the process. The grind doesn’t grind her down—it energizes her. She adores the daily journey. Johann Wolfgang Goethe once said, “Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life.”

“That is what makes her able to sleep at night,” her mother Eileen says.

“She’s working toward mastery,” said Kirk Dwyer, the headmaster at Burke Academy. “You recognize that perfection is never attainable. You could work toward that, but if you achieved it, you’d probably switch and do something else.

To summarize what makes her so unique as a competitor, leader and person:

  1. She loves the process
  2. She embraces criticism
  3. She’s into her sport, not herself

The Small Sprocket

One of our Habitudes is called, “The Small Sprocket.” (Habitudes are images that form leadership habits and attitudes.) Consider a small sprocket. This tiny gear must spin many times against a big one in order to get it to spin just once. If the big sprocket is a hundred times bigger than the small one, that little gear must turn a hundred times to get the larger one to revolve just once.


Leaders know—this goes with the territory. They’re like small sprockets and must turn and turn many more times than their teams to do. Great leaders love the process, just like Mikaela. They also recognize the good news, too. Once you’ve rotated enough times, momentum becomes your best friend. The small sprocket actually creates momentum in the big gear and now can receive energy back.

Reflect and Respond

In the world of nature, we can learn a lot about the small sprocket principle from another small creature, the ant. Their highly organized colonies often consist of millions of individual ants, yet they appear to operate as a single entity. They work in teams to move extremely heavy things. They gather food during harvest and store it until the winter months. Without an administrator, they perform specific jobs as workers, soldiers, drones and queens. Yet, when a catastrophe occurs, the ants quickly adapt their duties to overcome the problem. Here are some questions to consider:


Summarize the characteristics that enable the ant to succeed.


Contrast the ant’s initiative and perseverance with our own human laziness. Why do we often fail to persevere? What prevents our “spinning?”



Evaluate yourself on the following qualities that we find in an ant’s work ethic.

1. Integrity: The ant doesn’t need supervision. It works out of pure instinct.


Have you been in a program that was stagnant? What kept it from making progress?



2. Initiative: The ant starts to gather food without being pushed or incentivized.


In your activities, do you ever feel alone in doing all the work? How do you respond?



3. Industry: The ant has a spirit of industry. It works and works until the job is done.


How do you stay inspired when you don’t see results nor feel any gratification?



Choose a cause you believe needs to be promoted on your campus or in your organization. Determine to take six months and actively promote this cause. Choose two or three actions you can take that would strategically help people understand and support the cause. Then—do them. Spin like crazy. Evaluate at the end of six months. Do you see any improvement? Will it take more time?



Mom and Dad…on the Job?

February 24, 2014 — 11 Comments

By now, most of us have heard stories of a parent who’s accompanied Junior to the job interview. If not, it’s usually a sad story of a mom or dad who can’t let go and won’t let their child grow up. What’s more, some parents visit their adult-child at work and even request pay-raises for them. The apron strings remain tied tight. With an increasing number of parents who join their son or daughter on employment interviews, some companies are banning such a practice.

Other organizations, however, have decided to go with the flow. When in Rome…


The fact is, parents today tend to engage with a helicopter-style strategy, and it often extends into their children’s careers. Some companies are now questioning how much they want to fight it. As I mentioned above, while some push back on this, other firms have begun embracing parental involvement and using it to attract and retain talent, as well as boost employee morale. Northwestern Mutual does everything it can to accommodate the parents of college-aged interns, including regularly inviting them to the office for open houses, according to Michael Van Grinsven, Field-Growth and Development Director at the Milwaukee-based financial firm. Some managers notify parents when interns achieve their sales goals, and let parents come along to interviews and hear details of job offers.

I suppose it stems from our society, which has come to accept the fact that kids really aren’t grown up until their mid-twenties (and sometimes later). The vast majority of college students are “boomerang” kids who move back home after school. Health insurance for children now extends until age 26. It seems we’ve all gotten used to it.

But should we?

The companies who’ve allowed parental involvement believe they may be finding it has enhanced community and productivity. That sounds good to me. Yet, one has to wonder, is it at the expense of the young employee learning to be autonomous and responsible?  Are we trading empowerment for engagement? Here is the way I see parent involvement play out in a young team member’s job:

1. Happy parent and employee 1. Less autonomous employee
2. Highly engaged employee 2. Strings attached with the parent
3. Increased productivity 3. Potential irresponsibility
4. Less stress for the employee 4. Less strength in the employee
5. Happier young team member? 5. Healthier young team member?

Let’s have a conversation. Have you seen this scenario? Is it better or worse to invite parental involvement with a young employee?

Looking to develop career-ready students? Check out

Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes