Yesterday, I launched a two-part blog series on how leading kids has changed through history. I shared what’s changed and why I think we’ve shifted. It seems we, adults, really want the approval of our young people and we just won’t sacrifice their temporary happiness for anything—including preparing them to be disciplined adults themselves. It’s all about current happiness and pleasure not future fulfillment and wholeness. [caption id="attachment_5887" align="aligncenter" width="570"]parents photo credit: ~PhotograTree~ via photopin cc[/caption] This is not how it’s always been, nor how it is in some cultures today. A few years ago, Izquierdo and Ochs wrote an article for Ethos, the journal of the Society of Psychological Anthropology. They posed cultural questions like: Why do Matsigenka children “help their families at home more than L.A. children?” And “Why do L.A. adult family members help their children at home more than do Matsigenka?” With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty, contemporary kids in the U.S. may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world. Writer Elizabeth Kolbert notes, “It’s not just that they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff—clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. (The market for Burberry Baby and other forms of kiddie “couture” has reportedly been growing by ten percent a year.) They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority." “Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval,” Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, both professors of psychology, have written. In many middle-class families, children have one, two, sometimes three adults at their beck and call. This is a social experiment on a grand scale, and a growing number of adults fear that it isn’t working out so well. According to one poll, commissioned by TIME and CNN, "two-thirds of American parents think that their children are spoiled.” But who’s really to blame?  Hmmm. We can’t just say it’s the kids.

Child rearing. Education. Mentoring. It’s all changed in our lifetime, and especially when compared to cultures in history. How did parents in different cultures train young people to assume adult responsibilities? When you examine past cultures in America, Europe and Asia, you find a handful of common markers that describe how adults led kids:

  1. They led by principles – Guiding maxims or beliefs determined their leadership.
  2. They based their leadership on the belief there was right and wrong behavior.
  3. They felt that discipline was the first trait a child must learn.
  4. They built a desire in youth to interact with adults and to become adults.
  5. Their greatest hope was that children become adults who contribute to society.
[caption id="attachment_5876" align="aligncenter" width="570"]medium_4863381345 photo credit: Your Alter Ego (Angelica Lasala) via photopin cc[/caption]
Today, this is just plain rare. The New Yorker reports that in a recent study of families in L.A., no child routinely performed household chores without being coerced. Many of the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused. In one fairly typical encounter, a father asked his eight-year-old son five times to please go take a bath or a shower. After the fifth plea went unheeded, the father picked the boy up and carried him into the bathroom. A few minutes later, the kid, still unwashed, wandered into another room to play a video game.

Years ago, we began reading widely accepted research that girls were experiencing puberty at an earlier age than in the past. Now—we’re discovering the boys are facing their own challenges. Males in the U.S. are starting puberty six months to two years earlier than we did when I was a kid. Back in my day, puberty began at around 12 years old. Today, it’s now 10, according to the 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics. You say—so what? [caption id="attachment_5872" align="aligncenter" width="570"]young-boy photo credit: HAMED MASOUMI via photopin cc[/caption] Significant challenges accompany this reality. First, this research unveils that boys who begin puberty at about 10 years old, instead of 12 or 13, desire sexual activity sooner than their emotions know how to handle it. Their body screams at them to do something they are not ready to be responsible for emotionally, intellectually, socially or spiritually. Like a ten year old who wants to drive a car—they yearn for something they are just not ready to handle. For instance, they’re big enough to cause physical damage to people or property but are emotionally behind in curbing that appetite to do so. The bottom line? Their emotional maturity is not keeping pace with their physical maturity. In other words, they’re advanced in some categories of their maturation, but delayed in others. This causes parents, teachers, coaches and youth workers to struggle in how to teach and equip them. In some ways—they’re so ready for what’s ahead. In others, they are so behind. At times, we must treat them like adults; at other times, like little children. So what can we do?

I just watched this insightful video from David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, who described a significant shift that’s taken place in our culture. It’s about our collective demeanor. (Thanks to my friend, Jeremie Kubicek for posting this!) [tentblogger-youtube fzKP4-fb104] David listened to a NPR program that replayed a show airing just as World War Two ended. During the show, Bing Crosby announced that the Japanese had just surrendered. In a sober and humble manner, Crosby simply said, “I guess there’s no room for pride here. We’re just happy it’s over. We are humbled. We had brave soldiers. We had great allies. We’ve been blessed with great resources. Now we hope to be worthy of this peace.” Still mindful of this announcement, David Brooks returned to his hotel room, and turned on the TV in time to watch an NFL running back make a two yard gain, get up and begin to swagger and dance at his achievement. David remembers thinking—I have just watched a young man display more arrogance after gaining two yards on a football field than when America did after it won World War Two. [caption id="attachment_5865" align="aligncenter" width="570"]modesty-and-humility photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc[/caption] Herein lies a picture of this shift. Kids today are growing up after the shift occurred.

For many Lance Armstrong has been a hero. He is a world-class bicyclist and even continued winning tours after battling cancer. Then, with trophies everywhere, he began leading a non-profit, LiveStrong, to fight cancer everywhere. He appears to be squeaky clean. And we like it that way. For leaders, especially young leaders, his recent news can be disheartening. Many suspected he was using PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs), but we all hoped it wasn’t true. We like this guy. [caption id="attachment_5856" align="aligncenter" width="569"]lance-armstrong photo credit: bingham30069 via photopin cc[/caption] So what are the lessons we can learn from him about being people of influence?

Since releasing my last book, Artificial Maturity, I’ve been interacting with leaders nationwide to discover if this idea rings true to them. Do kids today seem to be experiencing a virtual maturity—built upon lots of data and games—instead of genuine maturity? [caption id="attachment_5848" align="aligncenter" width="570"]languishing-to-leading photo credit: rofltosh via photopin cc[/caption] Let me be clear, I do believe there is such a thing as “relative maturity”, meaning a six year old can be mature for their age. However, I’m talking about a phenomenon our culture has created—kids who know a lot, but have experienced very little, in terms of the real world. It’s produced millions of kids who fear entering adulthood and get stuck in adolescence, moving back home after college, with no job, no experience and very few life skills. I believe we should have been working on this issue long before they got to college.

It seems everyone is talking about mentoring these days. It appears to be the cry of a new generation. We’re all looking for a mentor. As I help churches, companies and universities to establish healthy mentoring communities—I am discovering something odd. Mentors and mentees begin well, but along the way, the relationship runs out of gas and evaporates. After researching this phenomenon, I think I know why. The mentors are offering information not life. They are not “life giving mentors.”


One of my favorite portraits of a life giving mentor went on display before the entire world at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Derrick Redmond, a British athlete, had qualified to compete in the 400 meter event despite the fact that he'd had 22 surgeries on his Achilles heel. It was a miracle he was able to qualify for the Olympics.

It was at the event, however, that tragedy struck. Midway through the race Derrick pulled up short and fell to the ground. He had pulled a hamstring and faced still another injury. At least one of the cameras stayed glued to this athlete as he got up and limped forward, wincing in pain. His hopes of winning were dashed, but he wanted desperately to finish the race. Watching him, however, even this looked impossible. Derrick wept as he hobbled forward, realizing it was all over for him. 

The way to the top with people is by serving them extravagantly and sacrificially.  A simple clerk did this for Mr. Waldorf, and the rich tycoon returned to make that clerk his first hotel manager in New York.  People expect good service from leaders.  They are surprised when we serve them sacrificially.



One stormy night many years ago, an elderly man and his wife entered the lobby of a small hotel in Philadelphia.  Trying to get out of the rain, the couple approached the front desk hoping to get some shelter for the night.

“We’d like a room, please,” they husband requested.  The clerk, a friendly man with a winning smile, looked at the couple and explained that there were three conventions in town.  “All of our rooms are taken,” the clerk said.  “But I can’t send a nice couple like you out in the rain at one o’clock in the morning.  Would you perhaps be willing to sleep in my room?  It’s not exactly a suite, but it will be good enough to make you folks comfortable for the night.”

There I stood in front of a crowd of one thousand students and faculty members, at a university in the Midwest. One instructor stood up with a question I get almost everywhere I go: “Is everyone a leader?”

The answer of course is yes and no. (How’s that for a politically correct answer?) It all depends on how you define the word “leader.” If you define it in the traditional fashion—that a leader is someone with a position, in charge of a group of people in an organization—then, the answer is no, in my opinion. Not everyone and certainly not every student is gifted to become the president, the chairman, the CEO or the key leader of a large team of people. Most will never occupy a top spot in a flow chart. Perhaps only ten percent of the population will.


I also hear loads of excuses as to why people just can’t be a leader. They are varied, but I’ve found one common thread in them. All of them fail to embrace what we at Growing Leaders consider to be an authentic definition for leadership. This leads to the following excuses for why people cannot lead.

Today is an exciting day in the life of our organization, Growing Leaders. After more than two years of dreaming, planning and working, we are launching a completely new website. Here are some benefits I think you’ll enjoy: * Clean layout, and easier navigation. * Lots of free content and videos. * Simple store interface—easy to find and purchase helpful resources. * Sections of the site designed specifically for you—whether you’re an organization leader, mentor, parent or student. GrowingLeadersNewSite Our Message We’re aware that depending on who you are, you perceive us differently. Some of you see us as parenting advisors; some see us as a leadership development resource, others see us as Generation Y experts, and still others as educational consultants. Our goal, in fact, is to resource each of these communities.  As part of this redesign, we have refined our core message at Growing Leaders:

I know, I know. One minute you think you're understanding Generation Y and the next, you feel you’re on a learning curve again. I get to spend a lot of time with university students these days and I’m amazed at one thing. The world they live in has produced a generational mindset—a shared paradigm—if you will.

Need a crash course in understanding this generation? Just look at the world the adults have created for them and you begin to get it. Let me summarize it in a few short phrases. I bounced this little set of phrases off of students and they said: “That’s me!” If you are from Generation Y... see what you think of this summary. understanding-generation-y

Yesterday, I blogged about the fact that kids today are overwhelmed yet under-challenged at the same time. This irony is due to the fact that they’re busier than ever, yet with virtual activities that don’t really prepare them for the world that awaits them as adults. My grandparent’s generation, for instance, modeled this reality—they were working the farm at 14, working jobs at 15, leading armies at 17 and getting married at 19. Even if you believe this was wrong—it proved that it was inside of young people to pull it off. They’re capable. [caption id="attachment_5724" align="aligncenter" width="570"]overwhelmed-under-challenged-2` photo credit: U.S. Pacific Fleet via photopin cc[/caption] Today—we excuse childish behavior in a sixteen year old, saying, “He’s just a kid.” Think Facebook, video games, texting, YouTube, Hulu, etc. It’s often busy-ness, yet superficial. Yesterday, I documented the fact that we dumb-down the teen world, and now expect far less than we did of kids two generations ago.