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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Correcting Mistakes Adults Make With Students-1

Kids are growing up in a very different world than the one I grew up in. Both teachers and parents have changed the way they approach leading students. Some of these changes are great—but some have had unintended consequences.

Thirty years ago, we changed the way we led, taught and parented our children. It all began with the Tylenol scare in September, 1982. The next month, as kids trick-or-treated, taking candy from strangers—it was as though adults rose up, launched hot-lines and determined we’d safeguard our kids from harm, boost self-esteem, give them a head-start with Baby Einstein and insure they grew up confident and comfortable in this very uncertain world. Well—it worked. At least, partly.

Social scientists agree that kids today are highly confident, and believe they can change the world. Unfortunately, there have been some unintended consequences to our new leadership style. Over the next four days, let me suggest four of them, and what we must do to balance the negative impact of the following:

  1. Adults often won’t let kids fail.
  2. Adults often won’t let kids fall.
  3. Adults often won’t let kids fear.
  4. Adults often won’t let kids fight.

Let’s take a quick look at this first mistake we make.

1. Adults won’t let kids fail.

Think about this change. In the past, when a student got in trouble or failed a class, parents would reinforce the teacher’s grade and insist they study harder. Today, parents often side with their child and the teacher gets in trouble. Moms and dads have made their child their “trophy”; children are a reflection on the success of parents. So, every kid is a winner; they all get trophies; we pass them on to the next grade even if they’re not really ready for it; we will graduate them even if they didn’t learn a subject and we give them money even if they didn’t earn it. Obviously, this is not how life works after childhood.

What can we do? Identify experiences where you will allow your young person to take calculated risks and experience failure at a project or class. Coach them, but don’t intervene and do it for them. Build an emotional muscle that is capable of enduring a failure and seeing there is life afterward. My teenage son, Jonathan, recently double booked himself on the calendar. He made two commitments for the same time. He asked if I would call his supervisor and negotiate it for him. I said, “JC, I would love to—but that won’t help you in the long run. I want YOU to call and determine a win/win solution.” He made the call and lived to tell about it.

Talk to me. Do you see this reality? Do you or adults you know hesitate to let kids fail in school, projects, sports or whatever they set out to do? What are the results?


  1. Stephanie on February 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    The college coaches I work with talk a lot about how their athletes struggle with adversity on the court/field. College athletes who have earned scholarships have experienced mostly success athletically, and for years have been told how great they are in their sport. 

    Coaches tell me that their athletes play well as long as things are going well on the court, but when the team gets down on the scoreboard the athletes fold mentally. They don’t know how to press through it (maybe this has more to do with not being able to fight, which you’ll address on day 4). But it seems that they also don’t know how to handle losing and have an inability to see how it can help them become better.

    Obviously this is a generalization and there are some athletes who know how to handle adversity/losing. But I’ve heard it from so many coaches that it seems to be common in this generation. 

    • Tim Elmore on February 9, 2012 at 10:32 am

      Thanks for sharing that important insight, Stephanie. The best college coaches I’ve come in contact with consistently focus on preparing student athletes for life beyond sport. Learning how to overcome adversity is important on the field but it is a skill that serves students well for life!

  2. Jryan3 on February 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Failure is part of life, kids need to learn how to accept that it happens and learn to bounce back. Getting cut from sports teams when I was younger made me work harder and look for other opportunities, not dwell on my deficiencies. It actually made me better!

    • Tim Elmore on February 9, 2012 at 10:32 am

      Thanks for sharing, Jimmy – great example!

  3. Tim Carpenter on February 7, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Excellent Post! I am looking forward to being a part of this conversation. I’ll always remember the feeling I had after we had lost the little league championship two years in a row. I wanted to quit, but my dad came along side of me and inspired me to take this loss, move on and be even better next year.
    Remember the “Life Savor” commercials where the dad walked with his son after the basketball game loss?
    Parents, the “Life Savor”, is coaching and encouraging your kids not to identify with the loss or failure, but use it as fuel to grit your teeth and get back in the fight. The Champion is who they are on the inside, this never changes no matter what the score. Never allow them to call themself a “loser”. Champios sometimes lose, but they never quit.
    Unless kids taste the bitterness of failure, the sweetness of victory will soon turn bland.
    Be like a Weeble – “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down!”
    THANKS Tim, I appreciate this blog and your passion.
    Favorite books on this subject:
    Boundaries for Kids – Townsend/Cloud
    Failing Forward – Maxwell

    • Tim Elmore on February 9, 2012 at 3:06 pm

      Thanks so much for adding to the conversation, Tim! Great illustrations!

  4. Jlepetri on February 17, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Totally true.  As an educator in  Scripps Ranch California. I strongly recognize this misguided parenting strategy. 

  5. Jlepetri on February 17, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    As an educator in Scripps Ranch, California, I recognize this misguided parenting strategy, and   I see the tragic results.  Kids need to fail, fall, fear, and fight in order to develop into resilient,  healthy, responsible adults.  We  damage children when we protect them too much.  Frankly, I find it reprehensible if what you suggest is true — that parents “have made their child their “trophy”; children are a reflection on the success of parents.” 

    If this is the motivation, parental narcissism is to blame.  I think this needs to be addressed because it’s a pretty tricky labyrinth. Parents often have little self awareness and cannot see their own motivation. They do not recognize that they, the parents, experience humiliation if their child fails, so they fight vehemently to prevent their child from “failing” because they feel like it’s their own failure. 

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