One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn as a parent is how to step back. As parents, we have a difficult time seeing our children frustrated, nervous or hurt. We feel compelled to step in – to protect, comfort and rescue. But is this always the best approach? In the following guest post, Growing Leaders Founder Tim Elmore offers advice on how to empower our children to problem solve on their own; and how parents can facilitate their children's growth as independent individuals.
Three Mistakes We Make Leading Kids and How to Correct Them
By Tim Elmore, founder/president of Growing Leaders (www.GrowingLeaders.com)
I recently read about a father who built a camera-mounted drone helicopter to follow his son to the bus stop. While the gizmo is show-and-tell worthy, this gives new meaning to “helicopter parent.” While I applaud the engagement of today’s parents and teachers, it’s important to recognize the unintended consequences. We want the best for our students, however research shows that “over-protection, over-connection” has damaging effects.
We Risk Too Little
“Back in my day, I walked 5 miles to school—in the snow.” Ever heard grandpa say this? Nowadays, it would be considered unsafe for children to walk to school or the bus stop alone. While statistics prove it isn’t more dangerous today than it was back in the “good old days,” society has created pervasive fears about kids taking risks. We feel that we are protecting our children, but when we cross the fine line into over-protection we are then depriving them from risks that are imperative to the awareness and acceptance of a world that will not be risk-free.
According to a European study, children who don’t play outside and experience a skinned knee, for example, are more prone to adult phobias. Minute physical and psychological pain is part of healthy maturity. Kids must fall down to learn to get back up. Teens need to experience a break-up to appreciate the emotional maturity of lasting relationships. Pain is a teacher—if you burn yourself, often you are less likely to inflict pain from the same source again.
We Rescue Too Quickly
We don’t want our youngsters to feel alone during pivotal times, and as a result we remove their ability to navigate hardships independently. Then, they learn to play parents against each other, or negotiate with faculty for lenient rules, extra credit or easier assignments. This isn’t how the world or workforce works. Rescuing our kids too quickly disables them. A college president recently shared that one of his student’s mother called him saying she’d seen the weather would be cold and wondered if he would make sure her son wore his sweater that day. She wasn’t joking. Rescuing our children is “parenting for the short-term” and misses the point of leadership—to equip our children to do it independently.
We Rave Too Easily
Attend a little league awards ceremony—you soon learn everyone is a winner and gets a trophy. We mean well, but research indicates this method has unintended consequences. The self-esteem movement took root in the 1980s when we wanted every kid to feel special, which meant they were hearing remarks like, “you’re awesome,” “you’re smart” and “you’re gifted.” Eventually, kids learn that mom is the only one who thinks they’re awesome because no one else is saying it. They begin to doubt the affirmations because they are not consistent with reality.
Steps Toward Healthy Leadership
Negative risk taking should be discouraged. There will be times our young people do need our help or affirmation, but healthy teens are going to want to spread their wings and to try things on their own. We must let them. Here’s how:
- Discuss learning to make choices, while letting them attempt to make their own.
- Help them take calculated risks.
- Choose a positive risk taking option and launch kids into it (sports, jobs, etc).
- Share/interpret your “risky” experiences from your teens.
- Affirm smart risk-taking and hard work.
- Don’t reward basics that life requires.
Don't let your guilt get in the way of leading well; your child does not have to love you every minute. He or she will get over the disappointment of failure, but they won't get over the effects of being spoiled. So let them fail, let them fall and let them fight for what they value. If we treat our kids fragilely, they will grow up to be fragile. We must prepare them for the world that awaits them. Our world needs resilient leaders, not fragile adults.
Tim Elmore is founder and president of Growing Leaders (www.growingleaders.com), an international non-profit created to develop young leaders who can impact and transform society. He works with parents, teachers, coaches and mentors across the globe on how to create a balanced environment that enables children to lead themselves well and influence others in a positive way. Tim latest book is Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Becoming Authentic Adults.