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What Today’s Parenting Shift Means to Educators and Employers

I’ve been writing for years about the shift in parent-styles that’s taken place over the last few decades. Growing up today looks very different than it did when I was a kid. It began in the 1980s with the Tylenol scare, and photos of missing children on milk cartons. Since then we’ve watched reports of school accidents and shootings. This all led to fearful parents who changed policies and playground equipment to insure greater security for their kids. Later we made the decision to give trophies and ribbons to every little league baseball player and post bumper stickers about our offspring on our cars. Each has led to all sorts of related changes that scream to our children that they’re the center of our world. Parents have become consumed with the safety and self-esteem for their kids. As a father, I adore my children. I too want my kids to be safe and to enjoy healthy self-esteem. Those are noble desires. Our problem is—they make poor goals. They should be a means to an end, not the end.


Yet, we pursued them with a vengeance.

Today, the numbers are in. These kids who’ve become teens and twenty-somethings are often narcissistic (thanks to our constant rewards) and risk-averse (thanks to our sheltering them). This has caused millions of them to stall as they enter adulthood, with 80 percent of them moving back home when they finish school. Some, frankly never move out.

If you are a teacher, coach, youth worker or employer and watched this shift over years, you’ve likely noticed changes in the young people you lead. Let me summarize what you’ll find and suggest what you can do to make up for the lack of readiness you may find in your students. The primary adults in kids’ lives have focused on now rather than later. In millions of cases, it’s about their happiness today not their readiness tomorrow. I suspect it’s a reaction. Many parents today had moms and dads who were all about getting ready for tomorrow: saving money, not spending it, and getting ready for retirement. In response, many of us bought into the message: embrace the moment. You deserve it. Enjoy today. And we did. For many, it resulted in credit card debt, and the inability to delay gratification. This may be the crux of our challenge. The truth is, parents who are able to focus on tomorrow, not just today, produce better results. The columns below summarize this reality.

1. We Protect
We make sure they are safe.
1. We Prepare
We get them ready for life later.
2. We Provide
We give them all they want and need.
2. We Provoke
We foster ambition to become an adult.
3. We Promote
We offer them perks, praise and benefits.
3. We Position
We equip them to not need any perks.
4. We Program
We structure their lives for them.
4. We Pronounce
We’re able to say: You have what it takes.

Parents who focus on tomorrow don’t fail to prioritize safety or self-esteem. They simply put it in perspective. They know that our world really isn’t any more unsafe than it was decades ago (i.e. playgrounds, schools, workplaces) and that self-esteem is more about helping our kids achieve than it is about affirming them.

What Can We Do?

Whether you’re a parent, educator, coach or employer, begin interacting with kids in light of tomorrow. Care for them enough to train them, not merely treat them to a good life. If we really love them, we must coach more than coddle. Here’s a start:

      1. Talk over the issues you wish you would’ve known about adulthood.
      2. Allow them to attempt things that stretch them and even let them fail.
      3. Expose them to professionals and workplaces in their fields of interest.
      4. Encourage them to work part-time jobs or internships while in school.
      5. Discuss future consequences if they fail to master certain disciplines.
      6. Aid them in matching their strengths to real-world problems.
      7. Furnish projects that require patience, so they learn to delay gratification.
      8. Teach them that life is about choices and trade-offs; they can’t do everything.
      9. Initiate (or simulate) adult tasks like paying bills or making business deals.
      10. Introduce them to potential mentors, from your network.
      11. Help them envision a fulfilling future, then discuss the steps to get there.
      12. Celebrate progress they make toward autonomy and responsibility.

Besides their parents’ love, when a child leaves home, what they need more than anything is to know they have what it takes to be a man or woman: they can earn the respect of their peers; they are desirable to a potential spouse, and they can add value on a job that pays them for their talents. This usually comes from a parent whose focus is tomorrow not just today.

The further out I can see into the future, the better decisions I make for the kids.


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photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc


  1. Larry Darrell on November 22, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    Excellent article! The one thing I’d add is that in order to be an effective leader and influence the younger people in our lives, we need to be adults ourselves. If you have stalled on your own path to true adulthood, work on that too.

    • Tim Elmore on November 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      Great point Larry! Couldn’t agree more. I actually wrote an article on that recently. Thanks Larry!

  2. Chandra on November 23, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Absolutely superb. Thank you.

  3. Linda Ranson Jacobs on November 25, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Spot on! I loved reading your book and totally agree with all you say. Excellent perception and advice. I ran a therapeutic child care for years and I can attest to everything you are saying. Breaks my heart what adults have done to kids.

    Thank you.

    Linda Ranson Jacobs

    • Tim Elmore on November 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      Thank you for the comment Linda! It breaks my heart too, but am encouraged at the same time by seeing all the adults rising up to help these students.

  4. Daniel R. on November 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks for the post, is this a trend only in America or is this going on around the world?

    • Tim Elmore on November 26, 2013 at 2:58 pm

      From the studies I have read, the developed countries are experiencing this and the countries where technology has permeated the culture.

  5. Blane on November 25, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    How much would the application of this change if you were just a friend of the kid and not an employer, educator, parent, or a coach?

    • Tim Elmore on November 26, 2013 at 3:09 pm

      Great question, Blane. I believe these principles still apply. Everyone needs a friend that encourages and holds that person accountable to reaching his or her potential.
      You might not have all these conversations or activities directly with the friend, but you can encourage that person to have them with adults and mentors. Another way is to include them in the conversations or activities when you do them.
      Hope this helps! Thank you for your comment.

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What Today’s Parenting Shift Means to Educators and Employers