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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


A Missing Ingredient as We Teach and Parent Our Kids

A number of years ago, I made a plaque for my mom and dad. They were feeling a bit discouraged and wondered if they’d failed as parents in certain categories. The wall plaque was a framed piece I had written called: “What My Parents Did Right.”

Let me share with you one of the many gifts my mom and dad gave to me as a kid, that I included on that plaque. It won’t sound new to you—but it will sound rare. Most parents and teachers fail to do it today. Quite simply, my parents didn’t simply teach me WHAT to think, they taught me HOW to think.

They passed on their values in such a way, that I had a clear grid from which to make wise decisions, to evaluate leaders over me and society around me. Today, long after I have left the home belonging to my great parents, I still use that grid. I face new situations every day that I cannot ask them about—but I don’t have to. I know how to think critically and objectively. My folks didn’t just “give me a fish” so I could eat for the day. They “taught me to fish” so I could eat for a lifetime.

I don’t see this too often today. We are too busy with our careers, or payments, or golf games or whatever. But this may be the most important task we have. May I suggest a few action steps for you to take with your young people?

1.     Process everything that happens. When you see a movie, hear a news report, or listen to a song, talk it over. Debrief its meaning, and the worldview of the people involved.

2.     Plan meaningful experiences together. Don’t simply go to ballgames (though I love ballgames) but feed the homeless in a soup kitchen or travel to another country and absorb it together.

3.     Ask lots of questions. When your child tells you what they did, enjoy the story, but eventually (without sounding like a professor) ask them their opinion about what happened.

4.     Share principles you’ve picked up in your past. At the right time, in those teachable moments, pass along a nugget, a quip or a little phrase you’ve used to keep you on track. You’ll be surprise how they remember it.

I read recently that 70% of Americans do no thinking for themselves. They simply parrot what the commercials tell them, what their friends tell them or what Oprah tells them. How about we start a quiet movement with our kids? Here’s to a new initiative where we, adults, teach the next generation how to think for themselves.



  1. donhornsby on March 9, 2011 at 7:55 am

    Thanks Tim for a thoughtful and meaningful article. I believe that we, as parents, forget how important it is for us to be gently guiding our children in their lives. As a father to two daughters, I am learning to ask questions (as you say – ask lots of questions). Parenting is never easy. The rewards are bountiful – especially when one begins to see fruit in the lives of their young people.

    In a recent article, a noted Psychologist by the name of William Damon is quoted as saying “Raising self-centered kids is not good for society, but it’s also not good for their own mental health to be completely self-absorbed.” You might wish to check out the rest of the article as well:

    Thanks for your great article. Some good food for mulling over on a rainy morning…

  2. Claudia Looi on March 10, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    I have recently stumbled on your articles. Thanks for all that you write and stand for. The 4 action steps you outlined above are practical and relevant. We ,as parents, have to mobilize our kids to be thinkers like this quote given by Ralph Charell, “Do your own thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece.”
    Thanks again.

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A Missing Ingredient as We Teach and Parent Our Kids