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on Leading the Next Generation


The Rules We Create When We Lack Emotional Intelligence

Consider the strange new “rules” our society has created over the last two decades when it comes to managing kids. First, we decided to not keep score at games. We felt losing would become too traumatic for them to handle. Then, it was kids getting to swing at the ball as many times as they want until they hit it. (I understand this move, but it cultivates wrong assumptions and low ambition in kids). Then, we decided to declare everyone a winner—all kids get a trophy just for playing. We have constructed such an artificial world that by the time kids become teens, they often cannot control themselves at sporting events. The state of Kentucky recently declared that high school athletes cannot shake hands after a game. It might start a fight. Really? Yep. They never learned to manage their emotions as a child. They never lost.

Crazy School Rules

Now, we have rules for the grown ups.

According to the Washington Times, “Parents at one Idaho high school were warned if they don’t stop cheering for their child basketball players, they’d be sent to the penalty box for a time out.” Justin Brown, the Recreation Coordinator for Post Falls, said some basketball events are touted as “Silent Cheer Day,” where parents are allowed to hold up signs to support their children on the court—but are banned from yelling. If they are caught, they get a “red penalty card” which sends them to a designated spot in the gym for a full minute. Ouch.

My guess is, you are smiling like I am. At the same time, however, you can understand why a rule like this would surface. Obviously, some over-zealous parents just couldn’t control themselves, and over-did the cheering and screaming. Now adults are treated like kids because some acted like kids. According to Mr. Brown, “cheering can lead to negativity. And it’s a problem.”

What Does This Tell Us About Our Culture?

Frankly, I believe it’s one gigantic commentary on the pitiful state of our emotional intelligence. While America’s IQ has continued to grow over time, our EQ has dropped. Emotional intelligence is the sum total of four ingredients:

  • My self-awareness.
  • My self-management.
  • My social awareness.
  • My relationship management.

Decades ago, you didn’t hear about such rules for parents…or kids, for that matter. People embodied a higher level of self-awareness. As a whole, people didn’t want to be seen as obnoxious. They were socially aware—they recognized how others perceived them. Today, people either don’t care or they just don’t know.

So we need more rules.

Instead of equipping a child to handle the cheers of an opponent’s parents, we cut the verbal communication off altogether. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

When a society lacks internal virtues, we require more external boundaries. We need behavioral guardrails imposed upon us. The answer isn’t internal fortitude—it’s external censorship. After all, we don’t know better. Stories like this should light a fire inside of us to depend less on external “rules” and more on equipping students to cultivate emotional intelligence; to be self-aware and socially aware; and to care about others and live as part of a larger community.

Sadly, when we create rules like this, it only pays off today. Tomorrow, our kids grow up without the emotional strength to handle adversity. We prepare them for a world that only works if everyday is fair, tranquil, and in their favor. Too bad it’s not like that.

Consider these questions:

  • What are you doing to develop the self-awareness of your students?
  • What could you do to help students manage their emotions and behavior?
  • How can you create a vision for students to become socially aware?
  • How do you cultivate relationship skills in your students?

When your training is effective, your need for rules diminishes. What do you think?

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  1. Ross Andrews on April 2, 2014 at 9:15 am

    “When a society lacks internal virtues, we require more external boundaries.” Yes! I say this to everyone who will listen. Why is our federal government so big? Because we ASK for it by not governing ourselves and our own relationships. Great article

  2. KGLevine on April 2, 2014 at 11:28 am

    thank you. Pinned this which meant it was also tweeted and shared on Facebook. Keep up the good work.

  3. David Patrick Maurer on April 2, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    i don’t disagree that many adults act like children, but there’s plausible evidence that intelligence is actually declining, not growing.

    • Tonika Stricklin on March 24, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      I do some what agree! We have so much access at our finger tips that we don’t have a need to commit many things to memory anymore.

  4. Ian Abbott on April 3, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    In Australia, we play a game of football called “Australian Rules”.
    Now, children under 11 years old will be banned from playing to win, keeping score and best and fairest awards under Australia-wide changes to junior football ­developed by the Australian Football League (AFL).
    Thousands of junior footballers will be forced to play with no scoreboard, ladders or match results under the shake-up designed to promote participation rather than competition.
    Too bad that business encourages achievement, and life doesn’t reward us for just showing up. What are we doing to our kids?

    • Tim Elmore on April 4, 2014 at 8:03 am

      That is sad to hear, Ian. Thank you for sharing. Adults need to start preparing kids for what awaits them after they leave home.

  5. Sheila on May 1, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    On a recent trip to Wales, my American teenage daughter noticed that wherever we went there were no safety rails next to cliffs or castle walks, or any safety features at any of a variety of hazardous, truly dangerous spots we visited. She casually mentioned this within earshot of our Welsh tour bus driver, and his remark summed up what’s wrong with the American attitude, “If you’re dumb enough not to be careful, you deserve a cracked head.”

  6. Suzanne Grizzard Brown on August 10, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    When my son was 8, I found all of his basketball trophies in his closet. When I asked why he had put them in there, he replied, “They’re not real”…He was in an “Everybody plays, everybody wins” league. He was not only not proud of those trophies, he was embarrassed by them. The one he did want displayed was the one that he actually earned.

    • Tim Elmore on August 13, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      Great example showing that kids are smart and know what accomplishment is and what it is not.

      Thank you for sharing, Suzanne.

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The Rules We Create When We Lack Emotional Intelligence