We must change our minds about kids. It’s time to rightsize our leadership. Perhaps one of these is a common scenario you’ve witnessed before:
Parents trying to control their children by filling their schedules with structure, rules and goals to meet. Their hope is—if they just push hard enough, their children won’t embarrass them or be underachievers.
Teachers trying so hard to be hip, cool and relevant in the classroom that they cause students to laugh at them. While the faculty members may be in midlife, they act as if they are “forever 21.” Everyone sees the incongruency except for them.
Coaches who try to lecture their way into the hearts of their young players. They often become frustrated that the attention spans of their student athletes are about four minutes long. It is the classic “old school” leader with a “new world” team.
These scenarios are far too common for my taste. It seems I find adults everywhere who throw their hands in the air in surrender. They don’t know how to lead, parent, coach, pastor or manage today’s “Generation iY” kids, who’ve grown up with iPods, iPhones, iTunes, iPads and the internet. So adults fail to lead at all. Since our world today is so different from the one we grew up in, we grownups frequently don’t make the jump to understanding and practicing good leadership with our kids.
So, what are we to do? How should we lead these kids?
May I talk straight? We have to change our minds about how to lead them. In fact, let me suggest six shifts we must make in our perspective in order to lead them well:
1. Don’t think CONTROL, think CONNECT.
Too often, our ambition as parents or teachers is to seize control. We want to govern every action and direct each step kids take as they play, study and work. Studies show that parents who over-program their kids’ schedules often breed teens who rebel. Why? They never get to truly be children. Let me remind you: Control is a myth. None of us are actually “in control.” Instead, effective leaders work to connect with students. Why? Because once we connect, we build a bridge of relationship that can bear the weight of hard truth. We earn our right to genuinely influence them.
2. Don’t think INFORM, think INTERPRET.
Consider this fact: This is the first generation of kids who don’t need adults to get information. It’s coming at them twenty-four hours a day, as they remain connected to their phones and laptops. They have lots of information; what they need from us is interpretation. Their knowledge has no context. They lack the wisdom that comes only from years of experience. Adults must help them make sense of all they know—help them interpret experiences, relationships, politics, work and faith via a wise, balanced lens. Discuss together what’s behind movie plots, books, technology. Teach them how to think. Our goal must be to provide them with a healthy worldview.
3. Don’t think ENTERTAIN, think EQUIP.
I’ve seen parents who become absolutely consumed with entertaining their children. There’s a website in my community that furnishes moms with places to go to keep their kids entertained and happy. I know teachers who approach their classrooms the same way. They want to be popular with students, so they do anything to keep kids entertained. I think a better perspective is this: How can I equip my young person for the future? If I give them relevant tools to succeed and get ahead, they’ll stay engaged. Happiness is a byproduct. We must move from busying them, so they’re happy…to enriching them, so they’re fulfilled. True satisfaction comes from growth.
4. Don’t think DO IT FOR THEM, think HELP THEM DO IT.
Adults have been committed to giving kids strong self-esteem for thirty years now. We wrongly assumed, though, that it would come from simply telling them they’re special and awesome. According to the American Psychological Association, healthy and robust self-esteem actually comes from achievement, not merely affirmation. In our attempt to provide everything they want, we’ve actually created a new kind of “at risk” child: middle-class and affluent children who are depressed because they didn’t really do anything to achieve their comfortable lifestyle. We must teach and parent for the long term, not the short term. Sure, it’s quicker for you as a parent to do things yourself—but it’s better to transfer a skill.
5. Don’t think PROTECT, think PREPARE.
Factors like child abductions, the Columbine High School massacre and the spread of terrorism have made adults paranoid about the safety of our kids. Schools, churches and homes take precautions to prevent anything bad from occurring: Helmets, kneepads, safety belts, background checks and cell phones protect kids from harm. Sadly, in our obsession over safety, we’ve failed to prepare them for adulthood. Most college students never graduate, and of those who do, most move back home. Instead of fearing for them, it’s better to recall your entrance into adulthood and discuss what you learned that helped you succeed. The greatest gift parents can give their children is the ability to get along without them.
6. Don’t think LECTURE, think LAB.
There’s no doubt about it—when our young people do wrong, the first thing we want to do is lecture them. It’s the quickest way to transmit an idea. It isn’t, though, the best way to transform a life. As adults, we must begin creating environments and experiences where young people can consider and process truths about life. There are life lessons to be found everywhere. Travel to new places, interaction with influential people, service projects, and even movies and amusements can be sources of discovery and discussion in preparation for their future. It works like science class—along with a lecture, there is a lab in which to actually experiment. This is what students long for.
Worldwide, psychologists are discovering the downside of our obsession over our kids’ self-esteem, safety and happiness. I am a leader, teacher and parent, and I want those things for all the young people I know. I am recognizing, however, that our strategies to reach these goals have been poor. I am suggesting that maybe, just maybe, we need to change our minds about how we lead our kids.