You may or may not have noticed it, but the lives of children today are nothing like the childhoods we remember. We used to ride our bikes to our friend’s house, get in trouble for coming home from school with bad grades, and play sports where we had to EARN a trophy.
But not anymore. Today, parents are too afraid to let their children out of their sight, they blame the teacher for their child’s bad grades, and they give participation awards so that their child doesn’t have to experience what it feels like to lose. We touched on this topic a while ago in our post No More Prizes for Participation—children today are being pampered by their parents, and it is creating adults who don’t know how to survive in the real world.
Thanks to Growing Leaders, there is hope. Growing Leaders is a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop young leaders who will transform society. This mission is accomplished by helping them discover their purpose, equipping them for leadership development and showing them how to use their gifts to serve the world around them.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Elmore, founder of Growing Leaders, to learn more about how instant gratification has become an epidemic and how we can cure it by accurately preparing our children for the future.
1. What is the mission of Growing Leaders?
Growing Leaders in an international non profit with a mission to equip and mobilize one percent of the world’s population under the age of 25 (30 million students) to think and act like authentic, life-giving leaders.
2. Do you believe that raising our kids with instant gratification sets them up to fail at an older age?
I absolutely believe that when parents raise their children by giving into their every wish, the kids have no context of how to take and learn from criticism, as well as no concept of the value of hard work. As young adults, when they get hit with their first dose of reality—perhaps criticism from their boss for doing a poor job on an assignment—they don’t know how to bounce back. They either run to mom and dad to stick up for them or shut down and stop performing altogether.
3. How should we accurately prepare our children for the future?
If we want to raise this generation of students to be independent, self-sufficient leaders, we must do four things. We have to let our kids:
As parents, we have to identify experiences where our young person can take calculated risks and experience failure at a project or class. Coach them, but don’t intervene and do it for them. Build an emotional muscle that is capable of enduring a failure and seeing there is life afterward. Trust me, they will live to tell about it!
As hard as it is as a loving parent, you must remember that you don’t rescue kids from all harm. Instead, you must guide them, coach them and advise them on how to handle difficult times—but allow them the struggle of working their way through the process. Give them some freedom. Just like a butterfly must fight its way out of the cocoon in order to be strong enough to fly—young people must build emotional strength through hardship. The old saying, “no pain, no gain” applies here!
The next time your young person mentions being afraid, encourage him/her to take small steps to overcome it. Further, the next time you’re tempted to remove a task or project because it scares a student, think again. Tell them and show them how to face fears. In fact, why not identify one and create a plan to overcome it by facing it head on.
Pause and think before you talk to or provide direction for your child. While it is normal to want to remove hardship from our kid’s lives today, it is not in their best interests. They need us to be responsive to them and demanding of them at the same time. When they face conflict or adversity, don’t remove it. Talk them through it. Encourage them that it’s within them to overcome it. Brainstorm a game plan to beat it.
4. What do you think triggered the shift from earning rewards to giving participation trophies?
I honestly believe that the obsession with our kids success and safety began in the fall of 1982, when seven people died after taking extra-strength Tylenol laced with poison. That year, with Halloween just around the corner, parents were on high alert. They began checking every piece of candy and trashing the homemade cookies and brownies. The Tylenol tragedies landing right before Halloween perpetuated the sense that kids have to be protected from the outside at all costs, and is likely the reason we are in the position we are today, not letting our kids out of sight and handing out trophies and ribbons just for their participation.
5. Is technology to blame?
For all of its benefits, I do believe that the amount of technology kids have access to these days does and will continue to play a part in their inability to function as mature and independent adults. Consider this: today’s young people are the first generation that doesn’t need adults to get information. They have everything they need at their fingertips on their iPhones, iPads and computers. Kids have access to this abundance of messages, many sexual and violent in nature, but lack the mental and emotional maturity to process it. They become overwhelmed and grow to be dysfunctional adults with an unhealthy outlook on relationships, conflict resolution and hard work.
6. Is there anything schools can be doing to try and prepare kids for the real world?
First and foremost, I believe that schools should follow the same advice above for parents. We have to let our students fail, fall, fear and fight. We can’t keep pushing them through the system when they are underperforming or lavishing them with awards and recognition they don’t deserve. Schools have to start preparing kids for life outside of the classroom, not just more school. While that kind of tough love isn’t easy or popular, it has to be done.
Dr. Tim Elmore is the founder and president of Growing Leaders, an Atlanta-based non-profit organization created to develop emerging leaders. He trains middle school, high school and college students with the skills they need to become authentic leaders with huge potential to transform society.
From the classroom to the boardroom, Elmore is a dynamic communicator who uses principles, images and stories to strengthen leaders. He teaches leadership to Chick-fil-A Inc., The Home Depot, HomeBanc, Gold Kist Inc., Home & Garden Party, Oti Consulting, Network TwentyOne International, and Purofirst, among others. He has also taught courses on leadership and mentoring at nine universities and graduate schools across the U.S. Committed to developing young leaders on every continent of the world, Elmore also has shared his insights in more than 30 countries.
Desert Rose Design likes to think that we are helping shape the future of today’s youth. We offer internships to help students learn what it is like to work in real-world situations. And our interns don’t just fetch coffee, they are actually put in charge of a real project.
What are your thoughts on this issue? What do you think about Tim’s idea of letting our kids fail, fall, fear and fight?
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