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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Thanks for Not Dumbing It Down

Last weekend, I had the privilege of teaching leadership to the sharpest high school students in Gwinnett County. They are part of GSLT: Gwinnett Student Leadership Team. I love these students. They are bright, alert, grateful, energetic and hungry to grow and learn.

At the end of the training session, one girl approach my colleague and said something we hear students say from time to time:

“Thanks for not dumbing down the principles you teach. Thanks for not making this easy, but expecting us to rise to the challenge and actually apply what you share with us.”

This junior in high school was simply saying she appreciated adults who spoke to her as an adult, who relayed life-changing principles her and the other teens in the room and believed they could actually go back to their campus and practice it.

I have said for years that we, adults, under-challenge students today. They are capable of so much more than we expect. And they want to achieve more, but often fail to because mentors don’t pull it out of them.

We dumb it down.

In our desire to make sure everyone gets it, that everyone feels like a winner and no one ever feels left out—we over-simplify; we introduce a world that is far too syrupy and unreal…and kids know it. Sadly, we prefer a happy student who may be oblivious or numb to the tragedies around the world. We leave them unchallenged. Consequently, they live “down” to our expectations.

I have a deal to make with you. How about we stop that? Instead, let’s believe in these students and challenge them to rise to their potential. My guess is, they’ll do it and surprise us with their gifts, ingenuity and influence. I’d like to give it a shot. What do you think?



  1. Jackie Brewton on August 5, 2011 at 7:43 am

    I LOVE this article. I have been teaching an abstinence curriculum for the past 10 years and hear something very similar from male and female students in middle & high schools ALL the time.  What they normally say is, “Thanks for believing in us that we DO have the discipline and self-control to make the right choices!”  I believe students will live up or down to our expectations and unfortunately, they are giving us EXACTLY what most adults expect from them!  Thanks for all that you do!

    • Tim Elmore on August 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Jackie! Great example of an area where holding students to higher expectations is so important!

  2. Justin Simmons on August 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Excellent thoughts Tim. As a student pastor I try not to dumb anything down but communicate culturally with students. If we reduce what are saying to make it easier to swallow… why would anyone want to commit to it? I believe you set the bar high and you’ll see students rise to the challenge.

    Good words… clipping to my evernote as a reminder!

    • Tim Elmore on August 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm

      Thanks, Justin! Keep raising the bar!

  3. Jamie O'Donoghue on August 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Great post Tim,

    I completely agree with you on this. My wife and I work with young adults every week and we have always believed that this generation has a poor work ethic.

    The blame for this though is placed more on us rather then on them. If we expect less, we get less.

    I do have one question though. What do you see as being some real life examples of us “dumbing something down” for these young adults?

    It’s often hard to see your own blind spots so I was curious of what you have seen first hand from experience.

    • Tim Elmore on August 9, 2011 at 3:06 pm

      I often see examples of how parents have done a great job preparing the path for the child but not the child for the path. Parents are too quick to go ahead of students and make things easier for them, rather than letting them learn life’s lessons. One specific examples I see are when parents negotiate grades for students rather than letting the student have the hard conversation with a teach about what is required to earn the grade. Parents think they are making life easier for their kids – and they are – but helping them bypass hard lessons is a shortcut that doesn’t help them in the long run.

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Thanks for Not Dumbing It Down