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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Helping Students Handle Disappointment and Pain

Have you noticed a slow trend happening in our culture over the last 30 years?

In nearly every area of life, we have attempted to remove discomfort and disappointment from our lives. I suppose I should have seen this coming. We have to work harder at being happy and content — and pain or disappointment just gets in the way. So — we can take medication over the counter for almost any pain we have. We give our children not only everything they need, but almost everything they want, for fear they’ll be seeing a therapist at twenty-eight-years-old because their parents or teachers failed them. (Am I over-speaking?)

My point is: We’ve raised this generation of students to avoid it at all costs. They are conditioned to get far away from it. Earlier this week, 2 teachers told me stories that illustrate this point. One said he had a young teen in his class that lost her family cat last month. This girl had a meltdown; she’d never lost anything in her life before. This was a big deal. I recognize that pets can become very close to us, but this teacher told me he couldn’t believe it. He had lost his mother as a teenager, as well as both his grandparents, and was floored that his student couldn’t even get past losing an animal. Another faculty member mentioned that a mother had approached him and said she wanted to see her son’s grades before he did. She wanted to make sure he was emotionally prepared in case he got some poor ones, and wanted to help him get ready for a B or a C. Hmmm. Wow. What TLC.

I am sorry, but this kind of leadership is hurting us. While I love students and spend time in front of 50,000 of them every year, part of growing up is learning to deal with pain and disappointment. Its what gets us ready for adulthood, when our boss doesn’t break bad news to us gently, or the stock market plummets and no one calls us to make sure we are OK.

May I suggest a few items to teachers, parents, youth workers, and coaches?

1. Talk to students about disappointment and pain. Let them know it is a part of life and a big part of growing up into healthy adults.

2. Share some of your own stories of past hurt or disappointments, and how you learned to deal with them.

3. Give your students perspective — big picture perspective — one what really matters. Help them separate the eternal issues from the temporal ones.

4. Do something together that may introduce sacrifice or hurt, and reflect on the experience along the way.

May I say it again? We have to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child. This is our job as we build leadership qualities in the next generation.

Your thoughts?



  1. on January 6, 2011 at 8:00 am

    Solid post Tim. I am personally in the middle of this as we speak. My oldest son came home the other day w/ his heart completely broken. My first reaction was to fix it and to try to prop his spirit up. I immediately realized that it is in the brokeness and pain that true character is forged. So I began to prop him up on God, giving him the tools to become dependent on God vs. dependent on his earthly fathers ability to “fix” it for him. You post was really timely.

  2. Guy Chmieleski on January 6, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Great post Tim! And no, you weren’t over-stating the state of most students today. I’ve been working with college students for the past 14 years and can confirm everything that you’re saying. I think, as parents, we need to reconsider our understanding of love and how we are shaping our children. As a campus minister I struggle to know how best to help students to face their pain, deal with it in healthy ways, and to learn from it.

    Thanks for posting on this!

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Helping Students Handle Disappointment and Pain