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on Leading the Next Generation


Correcting mistakes adults make with students-4

This week, I have blogged about the changes adults have made in the way we lead, teach and parent kids, over the last thirty years. Kids are definitely growing up in a more controlled—yet more paranoid—environment than I did.

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 a four-day period I am suggesting four of them, and what we must do to balance the negative impact they bring:

  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.

Today, let’s take a look at the fourth item we must correct.

4. Adults won’t let kids fight.

Let me clarify what I don’t mean by this term. I’m not suggesting parents, teachers and coaches should allow young people to get into fights with each other. That’s just sadistic and unhealthy. In fact, we need to teach the opposite to our kids—how to collaborate and work as a team.

However, life requires a certain struggle in order to grow and feel good about ourselves. Facing and overcoming adversity builds self-esteem and conditions us to be strong enough for what lies ahead. Opposition and hardship force us to reach down and pull out the very best that lies within us. Conflict can actually make us stronger.

Sadly, I hear of more and more schools that are removing this necessary element from the classroom. I spoke with a teacher who said she was no longer allowed to use the word “no” in her classroom. It was too negative. Another faculty member from the Midwest said he was not allowed to grade papers with red ink. It was too harsh.

This week, I had a school superintendent ask me what I thought about parents who’ve asked him to do away with all grades in school. No zeroes, no “F’s”…in essence, no negative input in the lives of his students, all the way through the eight grade. I could hardly believe my ears. While I understand the intent of parents and teachers who suggest such moves—I cannot help but be burdened by the fact that this shrinks the very emotional muscles kids must build to make it in life. If the butterfly could talk, he would tell you it is the struggle to break out of the cocoon that furnishes him the strength to later fly.

What can we do? Pause and think before you talk to or provide direction for your students. While it is normal to want to remove hardship from our kid’s lives today, it is not in their best interests. They need us to be responsive to them and demanding of them, at the same time. When they face conflict or adversity, don’t remove it. Talk them through it. Encourage them that it’s within them to overcome it. Brainstorm a game plan to beat it.

I know a high school girl who got a bad grade on a science test. She wanted her mom to contact the teacher and ask her to change the grade. Instead, the mom explained how that wouldn’t help her in college. Then, she told her daughter how she’d gotten a couple of bad grades in science and how it led her to seek out a tutor. The plan worked. She then told her daughter she’d be glad to help her find a tutor to help raise her grades. Simple response. Brilliant, common sense.

OK. Do I sound old-fashioned? Where am I missing it? Any suggestions on how you think we should lead our students today?


  1. Brad Harris on February 9, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Very good Tim.  Around where I am at in High School sports you are allowed two failing grades in two class before you cannot participate.  I know because I coach High School Cross Country & Track.   

    • Tim Elmore on February 9, 2012 at 10:14 am

      Glad to hear that there are still some schools using definitive standards 🙂 Seriously though, having to miss a game or part of a season is a hard lesson but can be extremely valuable for the student.

  2. Patrick McHugh on February 9, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Tim, I would be interested in your thoughts on the Pawngo Butterfinger marketing prank. I was upset — not that I am a Patriot fan — but I thought it was a cheap shot to make light of what was a tough ball to catch. As well, I thought it was a bad image for kids as it plays into the theme of not allowing people to fail. I wrote the following piece about my reaction.

    • Tim Elmore on February 9, 2012 at 10:20 am

      Enjoyed reading your analysis of the situation. Unfortunately failure is often public. I love the Michael Jordan quote you end with that reminds students (and us) that it’s not about how many times we fail or how big our failures are. Keeping going in spite of failure is what ultimately leads to succes.

  3. Denton Sederquist on February 9, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Edison reportedly failed 1000 times before he invented the light bulb.  Failure is an event, not a person….just fail forward and not backward.

    • Tim Elmore on February 10, 2012 at 4:57 pm

      That’s a great reminder to keep trying until you succeed! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Fiona_saxby on February 11, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Perfect wisdom. I work with a lot of young people in similar situations. Measured testing brings life and strength.

    • Tim Elmore on February 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      So true! Thanks for commenting!

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