It seems I have almost always been interested in leadership. My parents modeled leadership as I was growing up through their active roles in community, church, and school. I joined 4-H at the age of eight, was call a “ring-leader” as an elementary student (which I don’t think this was a compliment) and continued to take on leadership roles throughout high school, college and beyond. But my most important leadership role is as a parent. Through this role I’ve learned that all the wisdom and love in the world doesn’t necessarily protect any of us from parenting in ways that could potentially hold our children back from thriving, gaining independence and becoming the leaders they have the potential to be.
I was recently intrigued as I read an article by Dr. Tim Elmore and learned about how we as parents are keeping our children from becoming the next generation of leaders that are needed in this world. Dr. Tim Ellmore is a best-selling author of more than 25 books, including Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenges of Becoming Authentic Adults, and the Habitudes® series. The article shared seven harmful parenting behaviors that keep our children from becoming leaders – of their own lives and of the world they will live in:
- We don’t let our children experience risk – We live in a world that warns us of danger and mistrust at every turn. The “safety first” preoccupation constantly reinforces our fear of losing our kids, so we do everything we can to insulate them from healthy risk-taking behavior and it’s had an adverse effect. Kids need to fail a few times to learn it’s normal. If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will likely experience high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders.
- We rescue too quickly – Today’s generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did 30 years ago because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them. When we rescue too quickly and over-indulge our children with “assistance,” we remove the need for them to navigate hardships and solve problems on their own. 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. Sooner or later, kids get used to someone rescuing them: “If I fail or fall short, an adult will smooth things over and remove any consequences for my misconduct.” When in reality, this isn’t even remotely close to how the world works, and therefore it disables our kids from becoming competent adults.
- We rave too easily – Kids quickly observe that Mom and Dad are the only ones who think they’re awesome when no one else is saying it. They begin to doubt the objectivity of their parents; it feels good in the moment, but it’s not connected to reality. When we rave too easily and disregard poor behavior, children eventually learn to cheat, exaggerate and lie.
- We let guilt get in the way of leading well – Your kids will get over the disappointment of you telling them “not now” or “no”, but they won’t get over the effects of being coddled. Let them fight for what they really value and need. As parents, we tend to give them what they want when rewarding our children, especially with multiple kids. When one does well in something, we feel it’s unfair to praise and reward that one and not the other. This is unrealistic and misses an opportunity to enforce the point to our kids that success is dependent upon our own actions and good deeds. Be careful not to teach them a good grade is rewarded by a trip to the mall. If your relationship is based on material rewards, kids will experience neither intrinsic motivation nor unconditional love.
- We don’t share our past mistakes – Healthy teens are going to want to spread their wings and they’ll need to try things on their own. We as adults must let them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help them navigate these waters. Share with them the relevant mistakes you made when you were their age in a way that helps them learn to make good choices. (Avoid negative “lessons learned” having to do with smoking, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc.) Also, kids must prepare to encounter slip-ups and face the consequences of their decisions. Share how you felt when you faced a similar experience, what drove your actions, and the resulting lessons learned. Because we’re not the only influence on our kids, we must be the best influence.
- We mistake intelligence, giftedness and influence for maturity – Intelligenceis often used as a measurement of a child’s maturity, and as a result parents assume an intelligent child is ready for the world. That’s not the case. Some professional athletes and Hollywood starlets, for example, possess unimaginable talent, but still get caught in a public scandal. Just because giftedness is present in one aspect of a child’s life, don’t assume it pervades all areas. There is no magic “age of responsibility” or a proven guide as to when a child should be given specific freedoms, but a good rule of thumb is to observe other children the same age as yours. If you notice that they are doing more themselves than your child does, you may be delaying your child’s independence.
- We don’t practice what we preach – As parents, it is our responsibility to model the life we want our children to live. To help them lead a life of character and become dependable and accountable for their own words and actions. As the leaders of our homes, we can start by only speaking honest words – white lies will surface and slowly erode character. Watch yourself in the little ethical choices that others might notice, because your kids will notice too. If you don’t cut corners, for example, they will know it’s not acceptable for them to either. Show your kids what it means to give selflessly and joyfully by volunteering for a service project or with a community group. Leave people and places better than you found them, and your kids will take note and do the same.
Raising children who are strong independent leaders is not about their happiness today, but about their readiness for their many tomorrows. The truth is, parents who are able to focus on tomorrow, not just today, produce better results. How can we as parents move away from these behaviors that are holding our children back? It’s important for us as parents to become exceedingly self-aware of our words and actions when interacting with children. Care enough to train them, not merely treat them to a good life. Coach them, more than coddle. And try these 10 ideas as a starting point:
- Talk over the issues you wish you would’ve known about adulthood.
- Allow them to attempt things that s-t-r-e-t-c-h them and even let them fail.
- Discuss future consequences if they fail to master certain disciplines.
- Aid them in matching their strengths to real-world problems.
- Furnish projects that require patience, so they learn to delay gratification.
- Teach them that life is about choices and trade-offs; they can’t do everything.
- Initiate adult-like tasks such as paying their own bills or making business deals.
- Introduce them to community mentors in an area of interest to them.
- Help them envision a fulfilling future, and then discuss the steps to get there.
- Celebrate the progress they make toward independence and responsibility.