The Inverse Relationship Between Sheltering and Ambition

photo credit: Historias Visuales via photopin cc

photo credit: Historias Visuales via photopin cc

A recent argument has emerged again on university campuses revolving around “trigger warnings.” Some schools have been accused by parents that they don’t provide warnings about disturbing content or sensitive material in courses. The debate is another illustration of how much adults are finding it difficult to navigate their children’s maturation process. How much is too much exposure? How early should students be exposed to content that is for “adults only”?

I have been a proponent that kids are exposed to too much too early in their lives. Kids watch sexual acts before they enter middle school on porn sites on the Internet. By adolescence, they’ve viewed over 10,000 murders on TV. Drug deals, theft and violence all happen in videos games they play every day. It’s overwhelming.

On the other hand, kids today remain the most sheltered generation in history. It isn’t just about what they watch. They’ve been sheltered from harm, from falling, from failing a grade in school, from missing out on a trophy when they lost a game. I believe it’s had a stunting effect on their growth. In fact, let me suggest the inverse relationship I see between our “sheltering” and their “ambition.”

As our provision increases, their incentive decreases.


I just had one of the most difficult, emotionally expensive conversations with my nephew. He’s a twenty-something who needed financial help to get by this month, and I have been known to provide assistance when he needed it. Lately, however, I have been weaning him from my help—hoping he would take responsibility for his bills. It’s clear that the more adults provide for him, the less he takes ownership of his own life. Why should he? People around him care more than he does. He has no incentive to push forward and reach his potential.

As resources go up, resourcefulness goes down.

I have a friend who grew up in a lower income family. They lived in a trailer, and on a meager income. She is one of the most resourceful people I know. She put herself through grad school, eating Top Ramen and cold cereal…and never once complained about it. Instead of feeling entitled, she simply got resourceful. Consider this: when kids have plenty of resources, they don’t have to learn resourcefulness.

As speed and affluence rises, their ability to delay gratification falls.

Part of our sheltering of kids today results in our feeling the need to provide them with their wants and needs quickly. It’s the sign of a caring parent or adult. The problem is, with this affluence, kids can fail to develop the “delayed gratification muscle.” Ours is a world of speed and convenience. And with it comes the atrophy of life skills that surface only with waiting and working.

As options expand, focus diminishes.

Frequently, our sheltered young people have loads of options in their life: where they go out to eat, the clothes they wear, the smart phone and tablet they use, the car they drive, you name it. We all love options, but with them comes a disproportionate capability to focus. Our attention is diverted quickly with so many alternatives. Too many choices can backfire. Like the circus lion that can’t attack the lion tamer waving a three-legged stool in front of him, we get paralyzed with so many possibilities. Like that lion, we withdraw.

As our sheltering rises, their understanding of the real world shrinks.

One of the clearest by-products of a sheltered generation of kids is their surreal understanding of the world. Millions enter their careers after college with an unrealistic expectation of how fast they’ll get that first raise and promotion or how soon they’ll be asked to manage a team. If we shelter kids from working a job in high school or college, they won’t really taste the working world until they’re ready to begin their career. Some employers won’t put up with their immature view of life.

As comfort swells, ambition shrinks.

This one is a second-cousin to the first item on this list. When any human is perfectly comfortable, they have little incentive to change or grow. I only grow when I know enough that I am able to, care enough that I want to, or am hurt enough that I have to. Very often, pain leads to positive change. In our effort to create a comfortable life for our wonderful young people, we may unintentionally be doing a disservice to them. Mother eagles stir up the nest to prepare their eaglets to fly. She knows if they remain cozy, they will never leave the nest…and never learn to fly.


Maybe sheltering isn’t the best way to show we care. I’m just sayin’…


graduation package

The Inverse Relationship Between Sheltering and Ambition