Archives For Parenting

Thanks to all of you who weighed in on the look of my new book cover. It was so helpful, our publisher is creating new cover comps. It will be released early fall 2014. Stay tuned for more updates.

One of the chief challenges for young adults today is choosing a career. Millions are struggling to determine which path to take; what “mission” to pursue. Two thirds of college students change their major more than once; a full 40% of them wish they’d chosen a different major once they finish. As they wander through their university experience, most don’t finish, and those that do—take six years not four years to complete their degree. According to, approximately 80% of those students moved back home when they finished college. 

What’s happening? Is it just that there are so many options to choose from? Or, perhaps it’s the opposite—these undergrads are not finding enough options in our current economy. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s a missing piece to the puzzle.


Missing Pieces

You remember putting puzzles together as a kid don’t you? They’re impossible to finish if you don’t have all the pieces. Missing pieces result in incomplete pictures. I think I’ve discovered a missing piece when it comes to helping students discover what they’re supposed to do in life.

Consider the world we’ve created for them, the last twenty-five years. Most kids, regardless of whether they were from underprivileged neighborhoods or upper-middle class neighborhoods received a streaming message from culture. Even if it seemed unrealistic—they heard society say to them:

  • Listen to your heart.
  • Follow your dreams.
  • Find your passion.

From Disney movies they watched as children, to speeches they heard at their high school or college graduation, the message broadcast to today’s kid is to shoot for the stars and go after their dream: “If you can see it, you can seize it!”

Talk about a brand. Songs like “I Believe I Can Fly” and similar TV show themes on Nickelodeon or the Disney channel are ubiquitous. This message has been communicated loud and clear—and I’ve been one of those leaders who’ve shared it. Believe it and achieve it. You can be anything you want to be. Go for it. Just do it.

The problem is—it’s a horribly incomplete message. It’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Studies tell us that many students have shifted from ambitious to ambiguous about the future. You get stuck if your puzzle doesn’t have all the pieces. When surveyed, college students revealed their top two goals when finished with school:

  1. To be rich.
  2. To get famous.

Of course they’d choose this. That’s their passion. But riches and fame are hard to come by today. Millions are pursuing those two currencies: cash and followers.

So, along the way, we uncovered another puzzle piece. Thanks to the Gallup Organization and Marcus Buckingham, we began talking to students about and assessing their primary strengths. We helped them ask: what am I uniquely gifted to do? What ability do I possess that someone would pay me to do?

But even this isn’t enough. Millions of students found that they had gifts in acting, singing, song writing, poetry, psychology and other fields that are saturated. Sadly, loads of industries remain void of new talent—talent that’s desperately needed. In a recent nationwide survey, corporations reported that 50 percent of their job openings went unfilled last year due to the lack of prepared graduates. The young interviewees were ready to sing or do therapy—but not fill the jobs in computer science or engineering. In other words, the jobs were ready, the grads were not.

The Missing Piece

The bottom line is simply this. We must enable students to link their passion and their strength to a great need in the world. It’s incomplete to help students begin scratching an “itch” that doesn’t exist. It does little good to answer questions no one is asking. If we, however, can link their strength and their passion to a vision that genuinely fills a real void—we have a “win/win” situation. The world wins as a problem is solved…and they win as they experience the fulfillment that only comes when adding value to others. Their stock goes up. Value rises based on providing a scarce and needed resource. This is a missing piece.

Real purpose emerges when our strengths intersect with the world’s great need.

Passion alone can’t accomplish much if it’s not tied to purpose. And purpose only comes from the solving a significant problem.

In our work with schools across the U.S., we’ve seen several buy into this idea. Louisiana Tech has led the way by collaborating between the engineering, math and science departments. They help students connect their studies to real needs and address real issues. After enabling freshmen students to build a “bobot”, they launch them into their capstone project. They tell students: “Look around the world and find one problem that needs to be solved. Then, invent something to solve it.”

I love it.

So if need be, let’s help students shift their aspirations. Let’s help them find a problem, before we push them toward a vision or passion. Let’s match college majors with real job needs. Let’s move them from the pursuit of fantasy to the pursuit of fulfillment. If we really love them as we say we do—we owe them this.

It might just help them put their puzzle together.


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Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes


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.