Three Big Mistakes

[deleted account] ( 10 moms have responded )

I thought this was a very good parenting article. What are your thoughts? I do find that it is sometimes a struggle sometimes not to rush in and "rescue" our child--over-protect them, solve their conflicts, and especially over-praise them because that is what we've been conditioned to do over the past 30 years or so. That said, while I can see that trend reflected in many of our 20 to 30 year old children, I think most of the parents of today have been able to find their "middle ground" that the article describes and suggest, thus I think this next generation--the children and teens of today will probably have the best adjustments yet. I felt the article gave some good, succinctly stated ideas to keep in mind while parenting on a daily basis. We know the big picture that we want, but it's the details where we get lost, you know?

Of course, I do still know many parents who are extreme in their efforts to protect their kids and many who are on the extreme end of not protecting their kids. How do you feel about parenting? Where is your "Happy Medium" so to speak?

Recently, I read about a father, Paul Wallich, who built a camera-mounted drone helicopter to follow his grade-school-aged son to the bus stop. He wants to make sure his son arrives at the bus stop safe and sound. There’s no doubt the gizmo provides an awesome show-and-tell contribution. In my mind, Paul Wallich gives new meaning to the term “helicopter parent.”

While I applaud the engagement of this generation of parents and teachers, it’s important to recognize the unintended consequences of our engagement. We want the best for our students, but research now shows that our “over-protection, over-connection” style has damaged them. Let me suggest three huge mistakes we’ve made leading this generation of kids and how we must correct them.

1. We Risk Too Little

We live in a world that warns us of danger at every turn. Toxic. High voltage. Flammable. Slippery when wet. Steep curve ahead. Don’t walk. Hazard. This “safety first” preoccupation emerged over thirty years ago with the Tylenol scare and with children’s faces appearing on milk cartons. We became fearful of losing our kids. So we put knee-pads, safety belts and helmets on them…at the dinner table. (Actually I’m just kidding on that one). But, it’s true. We’ve insulated our kids from risk.

Author Gever Tulley suggests, “If you’re over 30, you probably walked to school, played on the monkey bars, and learned to high-dive at the public pool. If you’re younger, it’s unlikely you did any of these things. Yet, has the world become that much more dangerous? Statistically, no. But our society has created pervasive fears about letting kids be independent—and the consequences for our kids are serious.”

Unfortunately, over-protecting our young people has had an adverse effect on them.

“Children of risk-averse parents have lower test scores and are slightly less likely to attend college than offspring of parents with more tolerant attitudes toward risk,” says a team led by Sarah Brown of the University of Sheffield in the UK. Aversion to risk may prevent parents from making inherently uncertain investments in their children’s human capital; it’s also possible that risk attitudes reflect cognitive ability, researchers say.” Sadly, this Scottish Journal of Political Economy report won’t help us unless we do something about it. Adults continue to vote to remove playground equipment from parks so kids won’t have accidents; to request teachers stop using red ink as they grade papers and even cease from using the word “no” in class. It’s all too negative. I’m sorry—but while I understand the intent to protect students, we are failing miserably at preparing them for a world that will not be risk-free.

Psychologists in Europe have discovered that if a child doesn’t play outside and is never allowed to experience a skinned knee or a broken bone, they frequently have phobias as adults. Interviews with young adults who never played on jungle gyms reveal they’re fearful of normal risks and commitment. The truth is, kids need to fall a few times to learn it is normal; teens likely need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. Pain is actually a necessary teacher. Consider your body for a moment. If you didn’t feel pain, you could burn yourself or step on a nail and never do something about the damage and infection until it was too late. Pain is a part of health and maturity.

Similarly, taking calculated risks is all a part of growing up. In fact, it plays a huge role. Childhood may be about safety and self-esteem, but as a student matures, risk and achievement are necessities in forming their identity and confidence. Because parents have removed “risk” from children’s lives, psychologists are discovering a syndrome as they counsel teens: High Arrogance, Low Self-Esteem. They’re cocky, but deep down their confidence is hollow, because it’s built off of watching YouTube videos, and perhaps not achieving something meaningful.

According to a study by University College London, risk-taking behavior peeks during adolescence. Teens are apt to take more risks than any other age group. Their brain programs them to do so. It’s part of growing up. They must test boundaries, values and find their identity during these years. This is when they must learn, via experience, the consequences of certain behaviors. Our failure to let them risk may explain why so many young adults, between the ages of 22 and 35 still live at home or haven’t started their careers, or had a serious relationship. Normal risk taking at fourteen or fifteen would have prepared them for such decisions and the risks of moving away from home, launching a career or getting married.

2. We Rescue Too Quickly

This generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did thirty years ago because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them. We remove the need for them to navigate hardships. May I illustrate?

Staff from four universities recently told me they encountered students who had never filled out a form or an application in their life. Desiring to care for their kids, and not disadvantage them, parents or teachers had always done it for them.

One freshman received a C- on her project and immediately called her mother, right in the middle of her class. After interrupting the class discussion with her complaint about her poor grade, she handed the cell phone to her professor and said, “She wants to talk to you.” Evidently, mom wanted to negotiate the grade.

A Harvard Admissions Counselor reported a prospective student looked him in the eye and answered every question he was asked. The counselor felt the boy’s mother must have coached him on eye-contact because he tended to look down after each response. Later, the counselor learned the boy’s mom was texting him the answers every time a question came in.

A college president said a mother of one of his students called him, saying she’d seen that the weather would be cold that day and wondered if he would make sure her son was wearing his sweater as he went to class. She wasn’t joking.

This may sound harsh, but rescuing and over-indulging our children is one of the most insidious forms of child abuse. It’s “parenting for the short-term” and it sorely misses the point of leadership—to equip our young people to do it without help. Just like muscles atrophy inside of a cast due to disuse, their social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual muscles can shrink because they’re not exercised. For example, I remember when and where I learned the art of conflict resolution. I was eleven years old, and everyday about fifteen boys would gather after school to play baseball. We would choose sides and umpire our games. Through that consistent exercise, I learned to resolve conflict. I had to. Today, if the kids are outside at all, there are likely four mothers present doing the conflict resolution for them.

The fact is, as students experience adults doing so much for them, they like it at first. Who wouldn’t? They learn to play parents against each other, they learn to negotiate with faculty for more time, lenient rules, extra credit and easier grades. This actually confirms that these kids are not stupid. They learn to play the game. Sooner or later, they know “someone will rescue me.” If I fail or “act out,” an adult will smooth things over and remove any consequences for my misconduct. Once again, this isn’t even remotely close to how the world works. It actually disables our kids.

3. We Rave Too Easily

The self-esteem movement has been around since Baby Boomers were kids, but it took root in our school systems in the 1980s. We determined every kid would feel special, regardless of what they did, which meant they began hearing remarks like:

“You’re awesome!”
“You’re smart.”
“You’re gifted.”
“You’re super!”
Attend a little league awards ceremony and you soon learn: everyone’s a winner. Everyone gets a trophy. They all get ribbons. We meant well—but research is now indicating this method has unintended consequences. Dr. Carol Dweck wrote a landmark book called, Mindset. In it she reports findings about the adverse affects of praise. She tells of two groups of fifth grade students who took a test. Afterward, one group was told, “You must be smart.” The other group was told, “You must have worked hard.” When a second test was offered to the students, they were told that it would be harder and that they didn’t have to take it. Ninety percent of the kids who heard “you must be smart” opted not to take it. Why? They feared proving that the affirmation may be false. Of the second group, most of the kids chose to take the test, and while they didn’t do well, Dweck’s researchers heard them whispering under their breath, “This is my favorite test.” They loved the challenge. Finally, a third test was given, equally as hard as the first one. The result? The first group of students who were told they were smart, did worse. The second group did 30% better. Dweck concludes that our affirmation of kids must target factors in their control. When we say “you must have worked hard,” we are praising effort, which they have full control over. It tends to elicit more effort. When we praise smarts, it may provide a little confidence at first but ultimately causes a child to work less. They say to themselves, “If it doesn’t come easy, I don’t want to do it.”

What’s more, kids eventually observe that “mom” is the only one who thinks they’re “awesome.” No one else is saying it. They begin to doubt the objectivity of their own mother; it feels good in the moment, but it’s not connected to reality.

Further, Dr. Robert Cloninger, at Washington University in St. Louis has done brain research on the prefrontal cortex, which monitors the reward center of the brain. He says the brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through. The reward center of our brains learns to say: Don’t give up. Don’t stop trying. “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards,” Cloninger says, “will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”

When we rave too easily, kids eventually learn to cheat, to exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality. They have not been conditioned to face it. A helpful metaphor when considering this challenge is: inoculation. When you get inoculated, a nurse injects a vaccine, which actually exposes you to a dose of the very disease your body must learn to overcome. It’s a good thing. Only then do we develop an immunity to it. Similarly, our kids must be inoculated with doses of hardship, delay, challenges and inconvenience to build the strength to stand in them.

Eight Steps Toward Healthy Leadership

Obviously, negative risk taking should be discouraged, such as smoking, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc. In addition, there will be times our young people do need our help, or affirmation. But—healthy teens are going to want to spread their wings. They’ll need to try things on their own. And we, the adults, must let them. Here are some simple ideas you can employ as you navigate these waters:

Help them take calculated risks. Talk it over with them, but let them do it. Your primary job is to prepare your child for how the world really works.
Discuss how they must learn to make choices. They must prepare to both win and lose, not get all they want and to face the consequences of their decisions.
Share your own “risky” experiences from your teen years. Interpret them. Because we’re not the only influence on these kids, we must be the best influence.
Instead of tangible rewards, how about spending some time together? Be careful you aren’t teaching them that emotions can be healed by a trip to the mall.
Choose a positive risk taking option and launch kids into it (i.e. sports, jobs, etc). It may take a push but get them used to trying out new opportunities.
Don’t let your guilt get in the way of leading well. Your job is not to make yourself feel good by giving kids what makes them or you feel better when you give it.
Don’t reward basics that life requires. If your relationship is based on material rewards, kids will experience neither intrinsic motivation nor unconditional love.
Affirm smart risk-taking and hard work wisely. Help them see the advantage of both of these, and that stepping out a comfort zone usually pays off.
Bottom line? Your child does not have to love you every minute. He’ll get over the disappointment of failure but he won’t get over the effects of being spoiled. So let them fail, let them fall, and let them fight for what they really value. If we treat our kids as fragile, they will surely grow up to be fragile adults. We must prepare them for the world that awaits them. Our world needs resilient adults not fragile ones.


Cecilia - posted on 02/25/2013




I guess most of my rant was based off this sentence “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards,” Cloninger says, “will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.” Which I personally, don't agree with.

I think there is a balance to it all. All reward and no punishment is just as bad as all punishment and no reward. Yes how you praise has a big impact on it also. Which i did understand and read.

i will admit i used to throw out praises like they were worth nothing. As my children got older i did realize it wasn't right. when you praise someone and they are able to question it and you have to think, it's not being done right. My daughter was having a hard time with homework and she called herself stupid. I told her she wasn't stupid. (not a full praise or anything but we can admit i didn't do this right) She asked me if she wasn't why was she having a hard time. So then i had to explain that no one is good at everything. I was proud of her for working at the homework and trying to understand it and that is why she would never be dumb.

It's the same as blankly saying i love you. I can say i love you all day long but after awhile it will lose impact. Now I will say things like I love when you help me by rinsing dishes. Or I love you because you are kind to other people. It lets them know they are going in a direction that we approve of. ITs better than I love you ( which would never kill anyone to hear it just the same) So yes i agree with the general idea with the praising. I just really am bothered by the one part i posted.

in some ways yes he/she is right. When the reward is something like money for grades. I do believe that once the money is gone so will motivation. I do think verbal praise is not equal to money.


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Cecilia - posted on 02/27/2013




Kristi, I allow my children to do so many things other people would have a heart attack over. My kids used to try to ride laundry baskets down the steps. Instead we compromised, they could use blankets to ride down the steps (it lowered the flip over risk in my head). Sometimes one would pull the other one's blanket to get them going. It was an accident waiting to happen. No one ever died doing it. (yep sometimes someone got hurt) Sometimes as teens they still do it. They have taught the 2 year old to do it. Which actually works out great for me, she will slid down the steps on her bum all the time. Already being on her bum means she is less likely to slip and fall down uncontrollably.

Another case My daughter used to hang upside down from the swing set ( you know the top bar) My neighbor at the time would yell at her for it. I told her to leave her alone she was fine. (it was our personal swing set) She would tell me i was a horrible mother and I would be responsible for my daughter's death.

I don't see them necessarily as risk taking activities. I see them as kids being kids. Like not caring about dirty hands while eating ice cream :)

[deleted account]

I must have missed that thread, Kristi. Sounds interesting though...

I actually cheer harder for my son's team when they are struggling and this seems to give them an extra boost to improve, whereas if I point out what they are doing wrong when they are struggling during a game, they seem to do much worse. I think they KNOW what they are doing wrong, and they are all beating themselves up a little on the inside already, so hearing those positive cheers--pointing out what they are doing right as opposed to where they are messing up--balances out their negative internal monologues. Does that make sense? Sorry, sometime I don't know how to phrase things.

I've tried to weed out most of my negative reinforcement, but it's easy for me to fall back on. If J falls below an A (yes, I know, my standards are high, but I know he can do it) I want to lash out and take away his pleasure activities, but that doesn't really help the grade come up unless I can insure he is spending his newly freed up time studying and not just sulking about missing his video games. So now, I just say, we are going to work on this subject an extra 15 minutes every day before you play your game. This actually helps the grade come up because he knows that with a little extra practice he can succeed, and he has me cheering him on.

We haven't had any behavior problems at school yet, but to be honest, that subject scares the crap out of me. I have no idea how I will handle it when it happens because I don't know how I will know who to trust. I'd love to think my child is a perfect angel and would never lie to get out of trouble, but the truth is, I know he will. He doesn't like to be in trouble, and while most of the time his behavior itself keeps him in the clear, sometime s he gives into temptation and makes mistakes, and when he does, he's not ALWAYS 100% honest about it. We're working on honesty and how it is always better, but it's a tricky subject.

Kristi - posted on 02/26/2013




It's ironic to see this post now. There was another conversation asking are there things you would allow your child to do that other parents wouldn't?

I started out half joking, half serious with things like ride their bike without full riot gear, eat ice cream with dirty hands, drink from a hose, hit back, etc. Things we did as kids. I believe in a balance between material rewards and praise for a job well done. I believe in discipline and consequences. My daughter was dog sitting, she made a mistake that could have had serious reprecusions. We decided she had to donate part of her earnings to the family's favorite charity. When she is playing in a game (basketball, etc) I cheer her whole team on, even if they aren't doing the greatest. This is their first year and they're just learning so I offer encouragement. But I do think we've gone too far with everybody gets a ribbon or a trophy. That sets the bar at ankle level, really. It says, I don't have to work harder or try my best...I'm going to get an award no matter what.

My daughter knows if she doesn't keep her grades above a B+, she doesn't get her iPod back until everything is back up. She knows if she gets in trouble at school, she gets in trouble at home. But on the same note, she is rewarded for above average work or a particularly good game. I also trust her and if she says something happened, I believe her and will go to the mat for her.

Cecilia - posted on 02/25/2013




"I love that you help me with dishes", and "i love you 'because' you help me do dishes" are two different things. Better yet would be " i love spending time together doing dishes" I only use the word "because" when going over personality traits.

To me. the truth is, saying i love you is a great thing. Even if it is just said for no reason all the time. Maybe it is just me but when my husband even says "I love you" I do sometimes wonder why? To me, it would be nice to know why. For a child if they ask why and your answer is "because i'm your mom", it just doesn't seem like that is enough right?

Like you, i did lack in the love department as a child and maybe my own perspective is also skewed and others might not agree with me. It is simply the way i see it. I didn't take your comments to be judgmental or anything of the sort.

[deleted account]

I will honestly admit that I praise my child's cuteness WAY more often than I am comfortable with--He's just so cute!! I catch myself glancing over at him and before I can even think the words slip out of my mouth "You're so cute!" "You're eyes are so pretty!" "Your hair is so bright!" I know I shouldn't put value on those physical attributes, but I can't stop myself. And I can't take them back or say "but that's not important" once I've said them :/ So I'm glad I have a boy because if I had this weakness with a girl, that on top of society's already heavy values on physical appearance would just be awful.

The "I love you" perspective is interesting too. I have to admit everything I know about love and human relationships has come from books and research (My mother was taken from us when I was 6 years sending my father into a drug induced comatose. I somehow fell through the cracks of social services and ended up living on the streets for 9 years with no family or real human connections. No ones' fault or anything, and I'm fine now, but I always feel I need to explain that to explain why my perceptions on things like love, interaction with other people, and such are a little skewed....or missing entirely). Anyway, most of the research I have read (and I'm not saying this is right or wrong, just what I have read--and it is a BIG subject that most people learn during childhood so I am definitely still learning) has said that a parent should love their child "unconditionally". I took this too mean that the parent should love the child and affirm that love no matter what the child does, so I often tell my son that I love him, just because he is my son--no reason. I think if we put conditions on the love, like "I love you because you are helping me with chores" the child would think that he needs to help with chores in order to keep your love.

Am I missing something here?

(I hope this doesn't come across as attacking or bickering, I'm really, honestly very confused about how to love a child, so I'm asking for more insight on your perspective here. If you've been around you will have seen other posts by me on the subject).

[deleted account]

I think that your perspective on praise is very interesting, Cecilia, because i took something completely different away from that part of the article.

I did not interpret the article to mean we should not praise our children, or even that we should limit praise. Instead, I took the meaning to be that we should praise their efforts as opposed to their effortless accomplishments. Using the potty training example (great example btw!), when J was potty training, I didn't just tell him "You're a big boy!" or "You are so smart!" whenever he got it right. Instead, I praised his efforts. When he would go to the potty, but not pee, I would say something like, "That was a good try, You're getting lots of practice learning how fast you can find the bathroom, soon you will learn when you really have to go." When he did go, I praised his efforts with phrases like "It took a lot of practice to learn when you needed to go, didn't it? It was hard, but you kept trying and now look what you can do!"

I use the same methods for praising him in academics, sports, and other activities where he struggles. Even if something does come easily to him, it is best to praise his efforts because at some point, he'll come across an aspect of that area that does not come easily. For example, guitar. He is really not good at all with the guitar. He knows it too--I mean, I could tell him he's doing great, but he can hear himself play, so he would know I'm lying. Instead, I praise his efforts. If he plays for 20 minutes, even if he sounds just as bad at the end of the 20 as he did at the start, I tell him I am proud of him for working through the whole lesson and remind him that the only way to get better is to keep trying. When I do notice improvement, I tell him "Hey, your chords sounded a lot better today! All of that practice is making your fingers strong and you are getting much better!" Basically, I try to focus on WHY he is getting better, rather than just the fact that he is getting better.

DeeDee mom, I struggle with letting J learn on his own from his bad decisions as well, but luckily he is still young and consequences will not be life altering. Sometimes I know he is making a bad decision, and I want to stop him, but he hasn't listened to my research or done any on his own, so I let him make the decision and fail. Next time, he knows to ask me for help or to do his own research. He is only 8 now, but most of the time, I can depend on him to make the proper choices.

Dee Dee - posted on 02/24/2013




I like cecilla's idea about praise. D is 18 now. she is very driven person. the thing she wants to do. she works very hard to perfection. She sometime gets snappy and close to meltdown. Praise is my best west way to slow her down back to reality. I would bring up all the things she has accomplished and did very , very well. The things left could be optional, icing on the cake. That really lower her axiety and finish her project carmly. There are some of the things she doesn't care for, like take out the trash/clean the apt. I would remind her how well she did last time. the apt is so clean and nice. it movtivates her to get up and clean the apt.

Cecilia - posted on 02/23/2013




I personally do not feel it is a bad or negative thing to praise away when the child is young. It tells them they are doing what you wanted. One great example is potty training. When they potty you are jumping and cheering and praising them on being a big boy/girl. What happens if the parent does as asked here and treats it as no big deal and it is not special because everyone else does it too? The child loses motivation. The reason? Toddler stage ( and in my opinion the teenage stage too) seeks that approval from parents.

I do think the writer took it to a bit of an extreme, Yes only praising can be bad. But negative actions = negative consequence works here too. Here is an example- I tell my 12 year old she will have her room cleaned before dinner or she will lose her ipod. She knows there is a negative for not doing as asked. This does not mean that i shouldn't tell her the room looks great and i'm proud of her for doing it so well. Do you see how this is a better option?

Mind you with all this said i do believe that the whole no one loses thing helps. Losing at sports gives opportunity to learn how to lose with grace. The truth is as an adult sometimes you lose. I was never one who babied them and always let them win at candyland. Sometimes you don't win and it's okay.

Dee Dee - posted on 02/23/2013




Hi Kelly
This article is very challenging to me. My daughter,D is 18. I have tried some of the steps. The result is very challenging.
1. Help them take calculated risks. Talk it over with them, but let them do it. Your primary job is to prepare your child for how the world really works.—she would rather try her own way and not to talk about it.
2. Discuss how they must learn to make choices. They must prepare to both win and lose, not get all they want and to face the consequences of their decisions.—she made some choices so quickly, I have concerns; some, she doesn’t know how to choose. Unfortunately, neither do I. She doesn’t seem to have the patents to do the research with me, or hear the research I did.
3. Share your own “risky” experiences from your teen years. Interpret them. Because we’re not the only influence on these kids, we must be the best influence.—she has fun, making fun of my risky experiences.
4. Instead of tangible rewards, how about spending some time together? Be careful you aren’t teaching them that emotions can be healed by a trip to the mall.— I believed this step all these years. I would rather spend time with D talk about things in our life, but D moved out of house the minute she turn 18. And she love to go shopping with her boyfriend’s money, the expensive ones. Sometimes, I feel so cheap.
5. Choose a positive risk taking option and launch kids into it (i.e. sports, jobs, etc). It may take a push but get them used to trying out new opportunities.--- I feel very positive about this step. We had a meltdown that D may lost her value in material things. I override my husband and give D a paid job working for M to pay her new car. She is doing very well, so is our business.

6. Don’t let your guilt get in the way of leading well. Your job is not to make yourself feel good by giving kids what makes them or you feel better when you give it.—this one is very hard, but I am glad someone said it. A few weeks ago, we had a meltdown. I can’t talk to D or M to figure things out. I send an e-mail to ask D’s male friend some info. He didn’t like it and tell me to leave him alone. Without his influence, D actually calm down and work out the issues with us. We are getting alone really well. From time to time, I have guilt that I might mess up her life or cost her a friend. They haven’t spoken to each other since. D has accepted the reality and move on quietly. I told her, He has to talk to her eventually. Nothing that bad happened to cause the break up last that long or forever.

7. Don’t reward basics that life requires. If your relationship is based on material rewards, kids will experience neither intrinsic motivation nor unconditional love.—sound good but tough to do. I give D $50/month, if her friend didn’t give her money to pay the car. She can pay the car payment from her paycheck, but it may be tight. So, I help her a little bit with grocery, car payment or just have some savings. It put smile on her face and make our communication much smoother.

8. Affirm smart risk-taking and hard work wisely. Help them see the advantage of both of these and that stepping out a comfort zone usually pays off. --– This one is very tricky. D has her way doing business. Smart to me, may not be smart to her. It just annoys her. I don’t like to step out of my comfort zone unless I have to. It is crazy for me to tell D to step out of her comfort zone. She wants to do it, she can make her own choice. She can take her own smart risk taking and hard work. There is no way I would know what/when/ how to do it.
O well, now I am exhausted. Talk to u guys later.


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