Archives For Parenting

What would you do if you found a wallet containing $50, a cell phone number, a business card and a family photo? That’s precisely what Reader’s Digest aimed to find out by dropping 12 such lures on sidewalks and in parks in 16 major cities in Europe, North and South American and Asia. Of the 192 wallets “lost,” 47% were returned. Hmmm. About half of them.

Passing on Character

Helsinki, Finland, wins the honesty test by giving back 11 of the 12 wallets, earning the designation “The Saints” from Reader’s Digest. “Finns are naturally honest; it’s typical for us, ” said Lasse Luomakoski, a 27-year-old business student who was one of the people who handed over the leather and the loot.

The “Shame on You” for least honest pointed fingers at Bucharest, Romania; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Zurich, Switzerland, whose locals returned four wallets; as well as to Prague, The Czech Republic, where three wallets were returned; and to Madrid, Spain, with two wallets. The city in which you should tightly clutch your cash is Lisbon, Portugal, where only one wallet boomeranged back to the owner.

What predicts whether the wallet was pocketed or turned in? Young and old, men and women, as well as those in wealthy and poor areas handed back the dropped goods. The deciding factor: upbringing and sometimes experience.

“People who returned the wallets, ” says Raimo Moysa, editor-in-chief, Reader’s Digest International Magazines, “told us over and over ‘This is the only right thing to do. I’ve been taught to do this.’ Occasionally, someone said that he or she had lost a wallet and it was returned, so that person decided to do the same.”

What Do We Learn About Character?

In the end, values and character are passed down to the next generation by example. I know, it’s old news—but this is key for us as adults to understand. The reason folks returned wallets was two reasons:

  1. They saw their parents model it and teach it.
  2. Someone returned their wallet when they lost it.

In other words, character is learned when it’s seen. Social scientists call this moral intelligence. It is like a language—it can be learned by watching others speak the language. It’s no wonder cheating is so rampant in schools today—look at the adults that students have watched in the news over the last ten to fifteen years. We have led the way in scandals ourselves, over money (Wall Street, Enron, Tyco, Worldcom) over sex (Tiger Woods, Anthony Weiner, et all),

This is encouraging to me. Now…all we have to do is practice it.


Host an event for parents that can prepare them to help kids meet the challenge of becoming authentic adults.

Artificial Maturity

photo credit: somegeekintn via photopin cc

dunce hat

Every teacher, coach, parent or employer has been tempted to come unglued at a young person, when they do or say something unwise or immature:

  • Drinking underage
  • Sending inappropriate texts
  • Driving while drunk
  • Showing disrespect
  • Stealing petty cash
  • Using illegal drugs
  • Bullying another student
  • Harming themselves or others

Results from a new study, conducted by psychologist Ming-Te Wang, at the University of Pittsburgh, reveal that shouting or yelling can not only be ineffective, it can be harmful. This study of 967 middle-class families and teenagers sought to discover the effectiveness of adult leadership with teens and their mental health. Thirteen-year-olds who were repeatedly subjected to harsh verbal communication were more likely to have symptoms of depression within one year, according to the study. They were also more likely to display problem behaviors such as anger, aggression, vandalism, and misconduct, according to the study. In short, aggression leads to aggression.

Often, a caring adult experiences this sequence of events: at first they lay down the rules calmly, hoping for the best. Later, they discover the rules have not been kept, and they sense insubordination or disrespect. When the teen exhibits no remorse for the misbehavior, emotions heighten, and soon, there is screaming and yelling on one or both parts.

This sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Discipline vs. Punishment

Our problem is, while we want to refrain from any violent or loud reaction, eventually, the emotion has been suppressed for so long, it erupts like a volcano, and displaces our logic. Rational leaders become irrational as they react to repeated problem behavior. It is punitive, not redemptive in nature.

It’s been said a million times, but let me remind you of an important distinction:

Punishment: Looks backward and penalizes a student for misconduct.

Discipline: Looks forward and attempts to correct a student’s misconduct.

The key to leading during problem behavior in students is to look forward not backward. We must establish boundaries up front and enforce equations when those students step out beyond them. There may be no need for high emotion at all. In the same way a police officer remains calm as he issues you a traffic citation, you can simply level the benefits or consequences based on the student’s conduct. It’s an equation both parties understood from the beginning. When you do this up front, your leadership is always looking forward in a redemptive hope, not backward in angry revenge. When leaders do this, they can have firm but gentle conversations, where the student can see that the leader is not merely at the “end of their rope” and erupting. Over time, the student recognizes the equations are real.

In their book Nurture Shock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman unveil research which shows that spanking kids within white (caucasian) parents has a worse affect than among African-Americans. For whites, the spanking is frequently a last resort, done in high emotion and anger. The parent has told themselves over and over they won’t spank their child, until finally, they give up and react. It’s not pretty and has negative ramifications, just as the study points out above. More often in minority families, the spanking was done as a routine part of discipline for a young child. The child never questions the parent’s care for them. This has less to do with whether spanking is right or wrong-it has to do with the leader’s self-control.

What Discipline Looks Like:

1. The adult talks over the boundaries and clarifies consequences and benefits.
2. The adult calmly clarifies and expresses belief that the young person will follow through.
3. If the young person steps out of bounds, the adult meets with them to discuss it.
4. When verified, the adult levels the consequences to the agreed upon equation.
5. The adult suggests action steps or accountability to prevent a repeat performance.

I recognize this sounds over-simplified. I admit that every case is unique, but I’ve seen first-hand this “discipline” verses “punishment” approach work well.

For example, increasing numbers of school principals and university deans practice this well. As students misbehave, they’re able to sit down and demonstrate empathy for the student. They say things like: “Wow. What you just did doesn’t sound like you at all. Are you OK? Is anything wrong at home?” Soon, the student is opening up and sharing the real reasons behind their explosion. The dean doesn’t remove the consequence, but in conversation, he or she fosters a transformation in the student. Life is full of equations, but adults are present to believe in their future.

Here’s to looking forward not backward.


Bring Tim to share the future of student development with your faculty and staff.



In the last podcast, we talked about “How to Stop Stealing a Kid’s Ambition“.  We went through three different types of incentives that we’re seeing in kids and how we can build ambition through that. Today we are talking about six practical ways that we can foster ambition in kids.


A recent story broke out in Paris, France about a young teenage girl who was stressed about an upcoming test. As a result of her anxiety over the test, her mother decided to dress up as a young 19-year old to go in and take her daughter’s test for her. Can you believe that? She was discovered and escorted out of the test location by police and her daughter is now banned from taking standardized tests for three years. Good intention, wrong approach.

Statistics are telling us that kids are showing less ambition and less drive than their parents at that age. There are exceptions to this of course, but the majority are lacking ambition and end up leaving college without knowing what path they want to pursue, often leaving them stuck post-college.

I believe we’ve cultivated entitlement through excessive trophies, awards, stars, and other rewards we’ve given because we want our kids to feel good about themselves as they grow up. By telling them they’re great, doesn’t actually build ambition or self-esteem. It builds good feelings, or maybe even narcissism.

I’m sure most everyone has seen at least one episode of the initial American Idol try-outs. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if they are doing a song or a comedy act. You listen to them, and wonder what kind of inaccurate feedback these kids are getting. Kids need to know what their gifts are.

Consider these two thoughts to give you wisdom as you lead students:

  1. I believe as a young person’s possibility of failure goes down, so does their value of success. One of the most valuable commodities we can cultivate is ambition (which is the result of incentive, deriving from internal motivation).
  2. I feel most valuable when I add value to others. Your reward should come from the value that you contribute. Whether that’s in sports, your community, or with chores at your family’s household, adding value gives you a sense of self-esteem.

How do we actually build ambition in students?

  1. Let our students fail. But when they do, interpret the failure with them.
  2. Tell them stories about your own failures. This is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our students, they want to know they’re not the only ones who fail.
  3. Help them identify what they really want to achieve. Ambition may start from curiosity.
  4. Establish rewards that only come as they work hard and make progress.
  5. Discuss your ambitions, and how you felt when you accomplished them. Kids lean in to stories and the power of narratives.
  6. Communicate your love and belief in them, regardless of what happens. They need to know they’re in an environment of unconditional love; whether that’s at home, school, or in sports.

A great example of this is the story of Zach Hunter. As a 14-year old, he developed a curiosity and passion for anti-slavery around the world. He found out there are more slaves today, than at any point in American history. Zach started raising money, through a movement he calls “LOOSECHANGE2LOOSENCHAINS“. He’s raised thousands of dollars to give to organizations that were helping to stop trafficking of children and adults in slavery. Zach ‘s passion was ignited not only because he was told he was great, but because he was doing great things.

I would love to hear your stories. How have you built incentive and ambition in kids today?



One of the clear signals of being overwhelmed or stressed is forgetfulness. We tend to forget basic items when our minds are preoccupied with data, angst or expectations.


Historically, research has equated forgetfulness with old age. In fact, when someone forgets or misplaces something, they admit to having a “senior moment.” But a new survey tells a different story.

A Trending Machine National Poll found that Millennials, ages 18-34 are, in fact, much more likely than those 55 or older to forget everyday things:

  • What day it is (Youth are twice as likely)
  • Where they put their keys (Youth are 40% more likely)
  • Forget to bring their lunch  (Youth are three times more likely)
  • Believe it or not…take a shower (Youth are three times more likely)

What’s behind all this? Therapist, Patricia Gutentag, says, “Stress often leads to forgetfulness, depression and poor judgment. We find higher rates of ADHD diagnosis in young adults. This is a population that has grown up multi-tasking using technology, often compounded by lack of sleep, all of which results in high levels of forgetfulness.” (Huffington Post)

Believe it or not, our young adults today are overwhelmed.

It’s interesting to note that the number one word college students use to describe their life is the word: “overwhelmed.” Approximately 94% of students say they are overwhelmed with life. 44% say they are so overwhelmed it’s difficult to function. And nearly one in ten admitted that they’ve thought about suicide in the past year.

Six Leadership Steps You Can Take

This is basic—but to lead a population of overwhelmed students, we can practice six action steps with them:

1. Simplify

Help them sort out their priorities and separate their “have to do’s” from their “want to do’s.” Often, they get these confused. Next, help them to simplify their complex agenda into a manageable amount of items. Help them say “no.”

2. Clarify

Help them to sort out what their vision is; ask questions to enable them to recognize what’s really important, so they can be about that business. I often tell students: you can do anything but you can’t do everything. Help them prioritize.

3. De-mystify

Sometimes, kids assume it is impossible to meet all the expectations others have of them. I suppose this could be true for some—but most students simply need a mentor to help them remove their fears and assumptions of what’s feasible.

4. Intensify

Perhaps you’ll need to introduce them to an old-fashioned method for preventing stress: a to-do list. Show them how to list all the actions they must perform, then position them on the list in the proper order, pursuing the top 20% first.

5. Gamify

This one works well with students, especially males. Turn the priorities that must be achieved into a game. They can be timed or scored with points and transformed into a competition. This enables the “work” to feel like play.

6. Rectify

Students need to know they cannot be disillusioned unless they are first “illusioned.” This means, we must reject unrealistic expectations (illusions) of life always being easy, quick or fun. We must help students rectify their faulty expectations of life.

As you teach and invest in young people—you’ll likely need to help them navigate this emotional challenge.

What else can we do to equip them?


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