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Two years ago, I was asked to speak at a high school, and arrived a day early for some meetings in town. While my colleagues got some work done, I chose to take an hour to visit the school, incognito, and observe a typical day on campus.

It was enlightening.

Most of what I saw was predictable—students and teachers going through routines, students taking exams in the classrooms, and often lethargic people in the hallways. There was one reality I spotted that I was not expecting: angry educators. Teachers who were at the end of their rope that day, frustrated at something and taking it out on their students. Perhaps they had valid reasons to be angry with their students.

I can certainly understand.

Today, I remind you (and myself) of the negative impact of our anger and frustration when taken out on young people and what we can do about it. Two years ago, research revealed that, “yelling makes kids more aggressive, physically and verbally. Yelling in general, no matter what the context, is an expression of anger.” It scares kids and makes them feel insecure. Even though they may put on a front, their defenses go up; they shift into survival mode (even if it’s irrational) and slip out of a logical paradigm where they can grow and learn. In other words, our anger often has the opposite effect on students that we desire.

This, of course, happens at home, at school and in extracurricular activities. We live in a day where we are less patient than we were 20 years ago; often intolerant of interruptions; at times we feel unappreciated and underpaid, almost like we are “victims” caught in a reality we can do nothing about.

So, what can we do?

Six Steps to Take in Response to Your Frustration at Kids

1. Talk over your emotions with a colleague.

When angry, we frequently migrate into silos. We are a little embarrassed because our anger does not represent us “at our best.” The last thing we want to do is talk about it. But that’s exactly what we must do. Talk to your spouse, to a fellow teacher, to a friend. Disclose what happened and ask for support and accountability.

2. Give yourself what you would give to your student.

Ask yourself: If my student or my child got angry like I am right now, what would I do in response? Maybe you need to give yourself a “time out.” If you can do this before you lose your temper, it’s even better. This models boundaries for your kids and lets them see an adult who manages emotions well.

3. Don’t freak out.

Sometimes, we get frustrated at students because they’ve done something for the shock value of it all. The worst reaction we can offer is to be shocked. We’ve given them exactly what they had hoped for—and now they can post it on social media. Staying calm is reassuring, which makes kids feel loved and accepted, in spite of bad behavior.

4. Use equations instead of threats.

Threats have been proven to have an adverse effect on kids. They will often test them to see if you’re serious, or worse, they become angry and resentful which results in more conflict. Instead, enforce equations you’ve unveiled beforehand: when they do this thing, then there is a consequence; if they do that thing, there is a benefit. Let the outcomes speak for themselves. You can remain relatively calm.

5. Set a sustainable precedent.

Remember—whatever you do in reaction to your frustration will likely set a precedent that will continue for both you and them. Do you want yelling to be the norm? How about angry arguments? How about revenge? Or—would you like to see apologies be the norm? If so, you should be the first to model the way.

6. Don’t be a starving baker.

Check your lifestyle when you feel angry. Are you getting enough sleep—enough down time—enough margins? Are you feeding yourself (emotionally and professionally) before feeding young people? That’s the most selfless act you can practice. The starving baker is the chef who spends time baking bread for others, but neglects to feed himself. It’s the number one occupational hazard of educators and leaders.

The “Starving Baker” is one of our Habitudes® images. It teaches leaders about self-care, which is usually our problem when we suffer from chronic anger and impatience. May I encourage you to use the plan I offer in that chapter to stay “fed” rather than frustrated? We owe it to ourselves and to our young.

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In order to get your free copy you must follow these instructions:

  1. Add books/resources that total $20 or more to your cart.
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The post When You’re Angry With Students: Six Steps to Take appeared first on Growing Leaders.

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Most of the high school seniors that I talk to tell me they aren’t sure what they want to do when they graduate. Some will declare a major course of study for college but even they will concede, “I’ll have to see if it feels right once I start.” Others tell me they’re not sure any college offers what they’ll need to do the kind of work they envision doing as an entrepreneur. In fact, they wonder if college is necessary.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Part of the problem is, the students I talk to are very aware that the job market will be different and ever changing when they’re done with college. What’s more, 18 years old is awfully young to know exactly what you’d like to do upon launching into your career. It makes for an expensive experiment for parents and students.

How Did We Get Here?

photo credit: HendersonStateU Heart Start 2017 via photopin (license)

Over a hundred years ago, the emerging industrial revolution required American colleges to evolve from the 19th century, where most focused on a handful of jobs or professions, such as law or ministerial work. The demand was for colleges to become universities and serve a broader vocational spectrum. Harvard University’s president, Charles Elliott, admitted in 1908 that schools must offer electives because one, single major could not possibly teach all that a graduate needed to know upon graduation.

I think we’re on the verge of another college revolution.

The system we set up over the last one hundred years can no longer keep up with the changing economy and marketplace, which has been introduced to smart technology. Marketplace analytics group, Burning Glass Technologies, published a 2015 report calling for schools to prepare students for “hybrid jobs” which require a set of skills much wider than a single major offers them. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “the future calls for something more radical: the elimination of academic majors as we have come to know them.”

What Might This Look Like?

I believe we need to come up with a system in higher education that allows for a “streaming” set of courses that adapts with the times, while simultaneously instills timeless skills and virtues graduates will need—regardless of the times they live in. Just like we now watch “streaming video” on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime, we need a more fluid offering of subjects that students can identify they’ll need as they graduate and discover they’ll get a job that didn’t exist their freshman year. So, what do we do now? Let me suggest some ideas for parents and students:

1. Look for schools that offer cross-pollinated courses graduates will need.

Most graduates who’ll become managers need to experience business courses, psychology courses, technology science courses as well as sociology courses—and perhaps even international business courses as we progress further into a global economy. Most of these subjects are not general education subjects. According to Jeffrey Silengo, “Arizona State University has created entirely new schools and colleges where students can earn bachelor’s degrees in innovation in society and the science of healthcare delivery.” Look for universities that do this kind of thing. We need more courses for upperclassmen that span across academic disciplines.

2. Look for schools that are quick to adapt as our marketplace demands it.

I totally understand that academic committees have played an important role in the past when new ideas for courses pop up. We need a filter for big decisions like this. Schools, however, must find a way to change quicker. Perhaps they can beta test a new course or major, while studying its long-term impact on the campus. I used to make fun of colleges that allowed students to literally make up their major, as I felt they might make a decision our economy won’t feed. Today, however, I believe students must find schools that are adaptable like this while offering guidance.

In his book called, Robot Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun suggests a learning model he calls “humanics.” It blends technical, social and data skills and, in the process, develops “higher-order mental skills, like critical thinking, systems thinking, cultural agility and entrepreneurship.” It requires professors and families to collaborate in order to prepare graduates for the new world they’ll enter. Sounds better than “silos” to me.

3. Look for schools who are able to hold funerals for certain majors or courses.

I have noticed over thirty years that schools are great at adding new courses and majors, but poor at ending them. Colleges cannot sustain this current model, as survival will demand change and administrators will need to make tough decisions by doing both “overhauls” on departments and “funerals” for certain majors. I know this isn’t politically correct, but higher education must operate like any other business: when a product isn’t working, you change it or stop selling it. You don’t keep it on the shelf for “old times sake.” Look for schools that run like a business, like Grand Canyon University or Georgia State University.

Last year, The Gallup organization and the Strada Education Network conducted multiple surveys with university students. They found a “disconnect between what students learn in college, their majors and their ability to find a fulfilling life and career.” We’ve got to find a way to change this.

This Week Only: Get a Free Copy of Marching Off the Map
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For this week only, you can get a copy of Marching Off the Map and the Marching Off the Map Travel Guide for free. All you need to do is add books or resources that total to $20 or more to your online shopping cart, then you are eligible to receive our newest book.

In order to get your free copy you must follow these instructions:

  1. Add books/resources that total $20 or more to your cart.
  2. Add Marching Off the Map to your cart.
  3. Use the promo code “freebook” at the checkout page.

Don’t miss out – this special ends on Sunday, June 17th at midnight!

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Did you hear the recent news, just announced on June 5th? The Miss America pageant is making some changes to its competition. It’s something people have been talking about for decades and now—it’s finally happening.

For the first time in almost a century, contestants are not required to strut across a runway in their bathing suits. While swimsuits will still be seen at many state competitions, the national competition is doing away with it, wanting the message we send to girls in today’s culture to be congruent:

  • Sexual harassment and assault is not OK. (#MeToo)
  • Crude remarks from others is inappropriate, anywhere.
  • Women have gifts, smarts and leadership abilities to be valued.
  • Judging others by their looks is not a good measure of their value.

Several past winners admitted they always felt “stress over my appearance. Did my figure measure up and do I look good enough?” It makes sense. When I’ve watched the competition, I’ve thought how awful it may feel to be distracted from sharing your talent, ideas or achievements because you must put on a small piece of clothing, and be gawked at and judged by millions of people. It’s a bit like visual social media.

Everyone’s making a comment.

Getty Images

The reason the swimsuit portion of the competition lasted so long is because former board members argued that audiences expected winners to be beautiful and physically fit. While I’m sure that will remain, the overwhelming majority of current board members (most of them women now) contend that it just did not send the right message to young girls. Some former contestants who’ve spoken out against the swimsuit competition, said it led to serious physical and mental problems. Kirsten Haglund, who was Miss America in 2008, wrote on Facebook that the swimsuit portion “perpetuated the objectification of women more than it empowered them.”

Think About the Messages We Send to Our Girls

Pause and reflect a moment about the messages we send to girls in our culture. For years (especially when I was growing up) the questions were:

  • Are you gorgeous?
  • How long are your eyelashes?
  • How tall are you?
  • What’s your waistline?
  • How do you look in a bikini?

While I understand some societal norms and media portrayals will feed females false expectations about how they should look, I am hopeful that girls growing up today may get a clearer message about their value than mere “looks” and “appearance.” (Now all we have to do is get rid of the “selfie” competition that seems to be perpetually gong on.) I realize there are flaws to every shift that happens in society, I just want to weigh in and say—I believe this shift is positive for females in our world today. Further, I’d like to challenge you to think about the “messaging” you or your organization is sending to girls by the things you say and do each day. Is it mostly comments about cosmetic or superficial beauty, or about substance and genuine value? I vividly recall when I changed my affirmation of my daughter Bethany when she was in middle school. While I still told her I thought she was beautiful from time to time, I began to talk more like this:

  • I love how compassionate you are with your classmates.
  • I am proud of the way you handled that conflict with your friend.
  • I value your sense of right and wrong when you took that last pop quiz.

My comments shifted from cosmetic issues to character issues.

Last year, 5.6 million viewers watched “The Miss America Competition” on ABC, down 10 percent from 6.2 million in 2016 and seven million in 2015. In short, viewership has dropped the last few years. One must wonder—will this change grow the television audience, or shrink it further. I think we, as parents, educators, counselors, mentors and leaders will have to decide that. We can start a new day where women aren’t seen as objects to judge by their outward beauty, but people to be evaluated by their character, their ideas, their talent and their intelligence.

This Week Only: Get a Free Copy of Marching Off the Map
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In order to get your free copy, simply follow these instructions:

  1. Add books/resources that total $20 or more to your cart.
  2. Add Marching Off the Map to your cart.
  3. Use the promo code “freebook” at the checkout page.

 Don’t miss out – this special ends on Sunday, June 17th at midnight!

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Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree—and I will spend the first four sharpening my axe.”

President Lincoln understood something that few leaders buy into and even fewer practice today. It’s the art of development. Even in his day, when change happened more slowly than it does today, Lincoln recognized the vital importance of improvement and preparation. Developing oneself. Getting better every day.

Call it the priority of growth.

I believe this is rule number one for leaders in the 21st century. Rule number two is a close second: develop the people around you. Leaders are like gardeners—they are best known for the kind of teams they grow in their environment. They are about “growing leaders,” knowing that if they practice this, goals will naturally be reached.

  • Not just doing programs—but developing people.
  • Not just distributing products—but developing people.
  • Not just discussing proposals—but developing people.

It’s been said, “When people know you have a vested interest in their success, tough discussions become easier, issues are addressed rather than avoided and solutions are presented by team members rather than prodded from them.”

Andrew Carnegie was an excellent example of this kind of leader. He came to America as a young immigrant from Scotland. He worked a variety of odd jobs and ended up as the largest steel manufacturer in the nation.

During his career, he became the wealthiest man in America. To illustrate how rich he was, he sold the Carnegie Steel Company to J. P. Morgan for $480 million in 1901. That would be almost $400 billion today. What’s more, he was a generous philanthropist, donating today’s equivalent of $79 billion to charities and schools.

I love telling one of the greatest stories from his career. At one point, Carnegie had 43 millionaires working for him. In the late 19th century a millionaire was very rare. A reporter once asked him how he managed to hire 43 millionaires. Carnegie replied that those men were not millionaires when they started working for him, but they had become millionaires as a result.

The reporter followed up with, “How did you develop these men to become so valuable that you’d paid them this much money?” Carnegie replied that people are developed the same way gold is mined. When gold is mined, several tons of dirt must be moved to get an ounce of gold, but one doesn’t go into the mine looking for dirt—one goes in looking for the gold.

So, how do we mine for gold in the people we lead?

Asking the Right Questions to Prioritize Growth

Let me pose ten questions to begin with as you invest in your team:

1. In what areas do they need to grow? (This answer is up to you.)

2. In what areas do they want to grow? (This answer is up to them.)

3. What will they need to see and do to improve in those areas?

4. What is standing in the way of their growth in these areas?

5. Who would they benefit from meeting in order to grow in those areas?

6. Where could they visit that would improve their perspective?

7. What new responsibility could they assume that would stretch them?

8. How could they profit from more time with you? Is that possible?

9. In what areas will the future require them to grow?

10. What is the first step they should take?

I always practice better leadership when I remember that my number one priority (as a leader) is growing the people on my team. This requires me to focus on the future, not just today and on others’ development—not just mine. Why? There’s gold out there in those people that needs to be mined.

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Growing up, my son loved participating in a community theatre program in Atlanta. He is a true thespian. He loves the drama of a Broadway show. He loves the drama of television or movies. He loves the drama of musical theatre. Unfortunately, he’s seen a little too much drama from the adults in his life. If a parent in this community theatre program feels their child wasn’t’ cast appropriately, or if someone doesn’t affirm their child’s talent when her self-esteem is low, or if they don’t spotlight their son’s abilities when the talent scouts are present—these parents can turn into guerillas. There’s nothing more intimidating than a mom or dad who’s determined to fight for their kid’s rights. I cannot tell you how many times parents have embarrassed me by their immature behavior. I find myself thinking: “Please…let’s keep the drama on the stage.”

It’s a sign of the times. I believe we not only have a new generation of kids today, we have a new generation of parents. I am one of them. This new generation of parents started with the Tylenol scare in 1982. During the rest of that decade, parents prioritized the safety and future of our children. That’s the good news. The bad news is—we didn’t know where to draw the line. We’ve wrapped them in cotton. We love them. We fund them. We defend them. Often, they are our trophies. We want to protect them and perfect them. Most parents I meet want to be a good parent. At times, however, we can’t draw the line between mothering and smothering; fathering and bothering. It’s a sad commentary on the most educated generation of parents in U.S. history.

But the real issue is not the education of us parents. Most of us have sound minds. Our problems are issues of the heart. While I am aware there are millions of healthy families across the U.S., most of us slip into habits that aren’t so healthy. I’ve spotted a handful of damaging parenting styles that have plagued our culture over the last decade. Let’s examine some of these styles and explore what we can do to correct them. Then, let’s look ahead as to what’s next. 

The Snowplow Parent

This type of parent was first called a “helicopter parent,” a term coined in 2002, as social scientists observed parents hovering over their kids, working to make sure they get every imaginable advantage. This parent style has been written up most widely in journals, but now it has been renamed as the “snowplow” parent. They are the parents who push, negotiate, intimidate and even manipulate others to ensure that doors open for their children, and that no negative incident affects their self-esteem or diminishes their chances at being accepted at an Ivy League school. Snowplow Parents are committed to helping their children make the grade, make the team, and make the money. “Snowplow” parents create unfair environments and unrealistic scenarios that students must recover from when they enter the real world as adults.

The Problem: They don’t allow their kids the privilege of learning to fail and persevere.

The Issue: It is very possible parents can be “snowplows” because they possess a controlling spirit. Adults who struggle with being “out of control”—or who find it difficult to trust others to deal with those they hold precious—tend to be over-functioning and even micromanaging in style. They mean well—but they feel it is up to them to make sure life turns out well for the kids. These adults, quite frankly, must learn to trust the process. I face this issue from time to time myself. I am not in control, and one day my children will enter an adult world. I must prepare them for it. Control is a myth—and the sooner we acknowledge that fact the better we’ll act as parents. We must switch our focus from “controlling the circumstances” to “connecting with the kids” and equipping them.

The Karaoke Parent

Like the karaoke bar, where you can grab a microphone and sing like Neil Diamond did in the 1970s, these parents want to look and sound like their kids. They want to dress like their child, talk like their child, even be cool like their child. They hunger to be a “buddy” to their kids and emulate this younger generation. They somehow hope to stay “cool” and “hip” so they can relate to their children all through their young adult years. They don’t like the thought of being out of style—and they work to maintain an image. Sadly, these karaoke parents don’t offer their kids the boundaries and authority they desperately need. Last month, I read about a mother who allowed her daughter to have a house full of friends over—all minors—then allowed them to drink alcohol, and even bought it for the kids. Several got completely inebriated, and they damaged the house and neighborhood. The police were called, and a colossal mess had to be cleaned up. The reason? Mom reported she wanted her daughter to feel like she trusted her. Mom didn’t want to be disliked by her daughter, and she was willing to take big risks to accomplish that goal. The children of these adults often grow up needing a therapist at 28, angry at their impotent parent.

The Problem: They don’t provide their kids the clear parameters that build security and esteem.

The Issue: Frequently, parents and teachers become karaoke in their style because of their own emotional insecurities. Adults may have an extremely high I.Q., but if their E.Q. (Emotional Quotient) is low, smart people begin to do dumb things. These adults will rationalize why they do what they do, but in the end, the only remedy is for them to embrace their own age and stage in life and relate to the students in an appropriate manner. When I began teaching students in 1979, I related to them like an older brother. In the 1980s, I moved to the role of an uncle. Some years later, I remember moving to the role of a dad. I could be a father to the students I teach today. I must embrace who I am and give them what they need, not necessarily what they want. Kids don’t need us to be cool; they need us to be real.

The Dry Cleaner Parent

We take our wrinkled or soiled clothes to the dry cleaners to have them cleaned and pressed by professionals. It’s so handy to drop them off and have them handed back to us looking like new. These “dry cleaner” parents don’t feel equipped to raise their kids, so they drop them off for experts to fix them. Although the home environment has spoiled or damaged their child’s character, they hope a school, or counselor or church youth group can fix them. Sadly, these parents forget that none of us are “pros” at raising kids. It is a learning experience for all of us, but we must recognize it is our most important task. Yesterday, I met a preschool teacher who reported that the mothers of her young students are all stay-at-home moms, but they drop their kids off (with a tennis racket in their hand) because they aren’t ready for the responsibility of caring for their child all day and night. They leave them at the preschool for eight hours each day.

The Problem: Dry Cleaner parents don’t furnish their kids the mentoring and authentic face-to-face time they require.

The Issue: For some of these parents—connecting with kids is just not their specialty. They may be dealing with an identity issue. Or, perhaps they don’t feel adequate for the task. Sadly, this parent has kids staring them in the face when they get home. It’s time for these parents to be what they need to be for their children. Sadly, it often seems like it is too much work for them to connect with their kids. Consequently, they hide behind the fact that they are busy with so many other priorities—even work—which enables them to pay for their child’s interests. These parents need to run toward the very challenge in which they feel they’re weak. Relationships make it all happen. Parents must build bridges of relationship that can bear the weight of truth.

The Volcano Parent

These parents can burst into a rage—like the Incredible Hulk—if they are backed into a corner. They erupt like a volcano. Why? Life has not turned out as they planned. They’ll write papers for their children, do homework, apply for jobs or colleges—just like the snowplow parent—but for a different reason. They do the work for their kids, attempting to live out their unlived life through their child. These parents can be seen on Little League fields, in theatre programs or in a principal’s office. When their child does poorly—they erupt. Why? It’s a bad reflection on them. They want so much for their child to make it, because that kid is their last hope of leaving some sort of name or legacy for themselves. They have unrealized dreams or baggage inside that they never dealt with in a healthy way. Sadly, they don’t provide the healthy model or environment young people long for.

The Problem: These parents have unrealized dreams from their past—at times an unhealthy past.

The Issue: The child represents the best way for the adult parent or teacher to accomplish the dream they gave up on years earlier, even if it is vicariously done. Their behavior is often the result of baggage from their past. The best step this adult can take is self-care. They must address their own emotional health; deal with their own issues, so they don’t’ further damage a child in their wake. Children have a much better chance of growing up if their parents have done so first. The best way we can help kids become healthy leaders is to model it for them.

What’s Next? – Two New Parenting Styles

Worldwide, social scientists are now measuring the newest population of kids, Generation Z. They are growing up in an entirely different world than the one I did. Most of these kids don’t remember a day without social media; they learn about the September 11th terrorist attacks as a story from history; they don’t need adults to get information, and they experience the same level of anxiety as a psychiatric patient did in the 1950s. They intuitively recognize today’s new realities better than their parents do. I believe this world has sparked two new types of parenting styles. I examined both of them in a detailed bonus video. Just fill out the form below to watch.

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The story made the national news over the last few weeks. I think it did because so many of us found it preposterous. Did you catch the story?

New York parents decided to sue their 30-year-old son who refused to move out of their house. Sound a little strange? Keep reading. Evidently, Michael Rotondo decided to remain in his parents’ home long after he turned 21, and just “hang out.” He was not employed full-time and in many ways continued to live like a teenager. While I am sure he, his mom and dad had conversations about his maturation and readiness to launch out on his own, it didn’t seem to stick. The reports said they continued to encourage him to “get a job” and to “take responsibility for his life.” In response, he felt it was “ridiculous” that they’d make such demands on him.

How does the saying go? 30 is the new 20?

The judge ruled in the parents’ favor and required Michael to move out and grow up. He couldn’t believe how cruel this was, even though they gave him two weeks to follow through on the ruling and gave him $1,100 dollars to get started.

Is It Really Essential For Young Adults to Move Out?

Photo Credit: New York Post

I recognize there are some who actually need to “boomerang.” Moving back home after college offers young adults time to ramp up for life on their own. Tuition debt is larger than ever and many find it difficult to find jobs that pay enough to cover expenses. In those cases, parents and adult-children should strike an agreement and set a mutual deadline for independence. Why? For the health of the young adult who desperately needs to strike out on their own and become the person they’re gifted to be.

Others argue that in many European countries, kids remain at their parents home well into their twenties (maybe even thirties) until they get married. It’s a cultural norm. Agreed. The difference, however, is that healthy European young adults who live at home—are contributing to the family, working full time jobs and playing an appropriate “adult” role. Too many young adults in America are merely playing video games, while mom makes grilled cheese sandwiches for them. Did you know that more 18 to 34-year-olds live with a parent than with a spouse, according to a new study by the U.S. Census Bureau?

Three Problems in This Situation

As I see it, there are three significant problems in our culture when it comes to this topic. These problems have evolved over the last twenty years: 

1. The young adult who somehow feels moving out is a punishment.

While I believe the story of Michael Rotondo made the news because it’s an exaggeration, I also know there is a growing population of young adults who see “adulting” (the process of becoming a mature adult) as almost a penalty. They had so much fun as kids and now they fear the fun might be over. My question is: why would anyone see maturation this way? It seems to me we have failed to relay to our kids that becoming autonomous is an adventure to anticipate, full of exciting choices, stretching challenges, ups and downs and definitely rewarding when lived well. Too many of us have failed at not only preparing our young for this adventure, but for describing it this way. Too many teens and twenty somethings are afraid of the opportunity, seeing adult life—life on their own—as a punishment to be avoided as long as possible. 

2. The young adult who doesn’t feel ready for adult life.

How did this begin to happen, that parents stopped preparing their children to become an adult—to pay bills, to purchase a car, to rent an apartment and to fully function on their own? The data is compelling. Fewer teens today are working jobs (half of what it was when I was a teen) and fewer are going out on dates without their parents than the previous three generations. By 2015, the majority of 10th graders didn’t even drive a car (even with a learner’s permit). Author and psychologist Jean Twenge summarizes it saying, “No matter what the cause, teens are less likely to experience the freedom of being out of the house—those first tantalizing tastes of the independence of being an adult, those times when teens make their own decisions, good or bad.”

3. The established adults who depend on litigation to enforce behavior.

This one could be controversial, but I offer it to you to consider. While I admit I don’t have all the data on Christina and Mark Rotondo, I was struck that this mother and father felt they had to lean on the law to enforce correct behavior from their son. I wonder what was happening over the years as this boy grew up. Did they cultivate any moral authority in his life to lead him well? Where was the breakdown in their relationship that would compel them to feel they must sue their son? Doesn’t litigation imply some relational breakdown?

Miserably, our belief today is that the parents job is only to provide for them, not equip them for life on their own. This is both pitiful and sad. Worst of all, the greatest victim is the young adult who needs help to even get by in life. It leads to negative encounters like Christina and Mark had with Michael.

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I just spoke to a mom who’s a bit melancholy right now. Her 24-year-old son has stalled. Growing up, her son made excellent grades in school and even played two sports. She and her husband both felt good about their son’s future. Surely, he was going to flourish as an adult just as he did as a student.

But it’s not happening.

Somehow, when he traded in the school report card for the one we all use in our careers, the exams are different. Sometimes, the skills are different. It’s no longer about memorizing a lecture in class and regurgitating it during finals. Now it’s about skills and virtues that frequently we don’t learn in a classroom.

Every educator, parent and coach hope that the students they influence will find their niche in life and become successful at what they choose to do. Sadly, we often assume that the “report card” they bring home will be an indicator of what life will look like as they transition from “backpack” to “briefcase.” Too often, grades are not a predictor of career success. We’ve all heard the cliché that the straight “A” students will likely be working for a “C” student. John Maxwell told me recently that a study of a dozen U.S. presidents revealed that their average GPA was a “C-.”

I’m not sure if that should encourage us or discourage us.

What’s the Real Report Card?

I meet amazing students every year in universities and high schools. The student leaders from Gwinnett Student Leadership Team, just north of Atlanta, come to mind. As do the student leaders at Duke University, Georgia Tech, Stanford or for that matter, the cadets I just met at West Point.

Each of them, however, has told me they realize that they’ve got to expand on the academic skills they’re pushed to obtain. They know life is different after graduation. Despite schools pushing almost solely on maximizing GPA, students now realize that a school’s incentive for that is funding. If the graduates are going to get funding after they finish school, they need to adopt a new report card quickly. But just what are the “subjects” that are indicators of future success?

Psychologist Ian MacRae who co-authored the book High Potential believes recent advances in psychological research can improve upon assessments like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or the DISC profile. MacRae and Adrian Furnham of University College London have now identified six traits that are consistently linked to workplace success, which they’ve now combined into the High Potential Trait Inventory (HPTI).  I suggest you review these with your students and find ways to cultivate them before graduation. Call them “secrets of high potential performance.”

Six Secrets of the High Potential Performance Report Card

1. Conscientiousness

This trait naturally motivates people to follow through on tasks and projects. Conscientious people are good at conquering their impulses; they can delay gratification. After IQ, conscientiousness is often considered one of the best predictors of life outcomes like educational success. At work, high conscientiousness is essential for good strategic planning. Leaders know that in excess it can also mean that we are too rigid and inflexible.

2. Adjustment

Everyone faces anxiety today, but those with high adjustment scores seem to be able to adapt to the stress and continue on without falling apart. People with low scores on this scale do appear to suffer from poor performance at work, but they can prevent those negative effects with the right mindset. Various studies have shown that reframing a stressful situation as a potential source of growth instead of an adversary enables you to turn your “mess” into a “message.”

3. Ambiguity Acceptance

This trait is about the ability to face diversity, chaos and uncertainty—and still keep progressing. It’s a cousin to adaptability but it is more about our brains—can we digest many perspectives, understanding the complexities of our reality and find solutions? People with a high tolerance for ambiguity can incorporate many more viewpoints before coming to a decision, which means they are less dogmatic and more nuanced in their opinions. This is vital in our day.

4. Curiosity

There’s lots of talk today about being “lifelong learners.” While it may sound cliché, it’s actually a key to thriving in our day. BBC Journalist David Robson writes, “Recent research shows that an inherent interest in new ideas brings many advantages to the workplace: It may mean that you are more creative and flexible in the procedures you use, help you to learn more easily, increases your overall job satisfaction and protects you from burnout.” Curious people are happier, and they see new days as opportunities.

5. Risk Approach

This trait is about how courageous we take on risky situations. For example, do you shy away from hard confrontations with others? Or, do you believe that if you “pay now you can play later?” People with high risk approach scores face unpleasant situations now, knowing they usually lead to clarity and better outcomes later. Not surprisingly, the capacity to deal with difficult situations is critical for management positions where you need to take action for the greater good, even in opposition.

6. Competitiveness

This can be a mixed bag. At its best, competitiveness can lead to pushing yourself to get better, to learn from your competition and to go the second mile; at its worst, this trait can tear people apart. When this trait is present, it can prevent people from getting complacent and satisfied with the current performance—if held within boundaries. Healthy competition is a good thing on teams and in organizations.

Talk it over: How well do you embody these traits? How about your students?

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According to Common Sense Media, 50% of teens say they are addicted to their cell phone. While CSM concludes more study is needed to determine how deep the digital addiction is, teens feel the symptoms and consequences of it. It’s a growing issue in middle class America. Two-thirds of parents, 66%, feel their teens spend too much time on their mobile device. Phones have now replaced teens hanging out at the mall or at the movies. It’s a new day.

According to the BBC, teens are quick to voice concerns over various platforms. When asked in a 2017 survey, almost 1,500 teens said Instagram was the worst platform for their mental health. So, who is making sure a life online is a happy and healthy one? Most of the time, that requires caring adults.

In fact, an NHS Trust in the U.K. created an online resource to help healthcare professionals better understand the new risks facing young people and the list is considerable. It details everything from a distorted view of reality young people might have from their feeds to sexting, revenge porn, cyber-bullying, privacy issues, gambling and access to inappropriate content. Many of those problems are specific to social media.

Common Symptoms

There are a number of signals a young person naturally sends that they’ve spent too much time on social media platforms or on their mobile device in general:

1. Withdrawing from face-to-face social interaction
2. Consistent anxiety, stress or feeling overwhelmed by normal routines
3. Grades begin to slip, and assignments reflect poor work or are left undone
4. Avoidance of real life responsibilities, such as chores or homework
5. Ill at ease, ill-equipped or unresponsive to people in front of them
6. Phubbing—teens snub people next to them by looking down at their phone
7. Phones begin to create conflict in their closest relationships

Social media companies themselves are steadily waking up to negative press about mental health and the many cases of underage users being on their platforms. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a federal law in the US stipulating that users need to be at least 13 years old to have a social media account.

Here is perhaps the most significant clue that social media has changed teen culture in a fundamental way. According to research psychologist Jean Twenge, teen suicides outpaced teen homicides for the first time in almost three decades. Kids are committing fewer murders but more suicides. Why do you suppose this is? One hint may be so simple it evades us. Fifteen years ago, teens hung out at the mall or the movies with each other, in person. They’d see each other, confront each other, experience conflicts, argue, fight, breakup and the like—in person. During those days, murders were more frequent than suicides. Today, more often they hang out “virtually”—on a smart phone. The data reveals they are actually with each other in person…less. But they are certainly still interacting. It’s on a screen. The cruelty is still expressed but since they are not in person, they can’t directly kill each other; but more kids are pushing their peers to do that themselves. The result? The number of suicides is way up.

Artificial Maturity

Minimally, the presence of a smart phone can lead to what I call, “Artificial Maturity.” It is the outcome of two realities today:

  • Kids are over-exposed to information far earlier than they’re ready.
  • Kids are under-exposed to first-hand experience far later than they’re ready.

So, because they know so much, they appear mature. However, the maturity might be artificial. An eight-year-old kid may be able to download the latest software and know all his math tables. Observing this, you might say, “Wow. What a mature little kid!” Maybe, maybe not. That same kid at sixteen years old may not be able to look an adult in the eye and have an intelligent conversation. He may be cognitively advanced but socially and emotionally behind.

It’s interesting. The smart phone—the very device that enables us to be more social— actually can retard our social skills. We can possess a high IQ but a low EQ. I believe we must be intentional today about building social and emotional skills in our young. I still believe relationships are what makes the world go ‘round, and those relationships still require healthy people skills.

A few years ago, I suggested to a group of college students that they “surrender their phones” for a day. It was an experiment. What did we all discover? The first two hours were horrific, not unlike a drug addict giving up their drugs, cold turkey. After a couple of hours, however, the day began to feel less stressful. The students felt liberated from the tether of their device. By the day’s end, they told me how nice it was to not be enslaved to that phone and that they wanted to “unplug” on a regular basis.

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Parenting experts all agree: your children will always need you while they live under your roof—but how they need you will change over time.

One of our problems as parents is—we lock into one way of helping our kids; one leadership style that doesn’t change as they mature. This presents a problem.

Take homework, for example.

A recent article in Education Week reported the following:

“Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyväskylä followed 365 students who participated in a longitudinal First Steps study, which followed 1,800 students born in 2000 through elementary and secondary school. As part of the study, the researchers analyzed children’s and their mothers’ interactions around homework in relation to the children’s academic progress…

They found that overall, children benefitted from their mothers helping with homework, but the type of help mattered. Children whose mothers provided homework help when asked—but also gave students opportunities to work independently—both persisted at tasks longer and did better in school over time. By contrast, moms who gave very concrete help—for example, sitting down every night to go over every assignment, even if the child had not asked for help—had children who were less persistent over time.”

This is an intriguing contrast we must recognize.

What Might We Learn from This Study?

photo credit: Bluedreamer2011 Helping him with his homework via photopin (license)

Every interaction parents and teachers have with students sends a message to them. When a mom sits down to review every assignment and holds kids accountable in every way on each subject, she feels she is being thorough. She intends to send the message: “I care about your success and want you to earn a scholarship one day.”

In reality, she may unwittingly send the message: “You need me to get this work done. In fact, without me, I don’t trust you’ll be able to accomplish this homework on your own.”

When parents make themselves available but don’t impose their help; when they communicate with the child that they’re willing to help when needed, but they trust that their child is able to do it on their own—students actually start believing they can, indeed, do it on their own. The message the child receives is: “Mom believes in me. She thinks I have what it takes to complete this task.”

The outcomes showed that students began believing whatever Mom believed—either they were able to do it on their own most of the time, or they were unable.

What Should We Do?

I believe parents and teachers should consider what their words and actions communicate to students. What message might they receive by our actions? The key is to balance two important ingredients:

1. Support – I am available to help you succeed at the tasks in front of you.

2. Belief – I believe you possess the abilities to succeed at those tasks.

The truth is—helping our young people can be a vicious cycle of reactions. When a child begins to see Mom handholding all the time, they can often disengage, feeling like Mom is going to “own” the task, freeing them from the responsibility. Sadly, when some moms see their child disengaging—they can become even more controlling. Both parties can be reacting to the other.

When both of my kids were in school, I used one phrase more than any other:

“I believe you have what it takes to do this.”

They both knew I loved helping them, but I tried to communicate the project belonged to them, not to me. Even now as they venture into adulthood my message is the same. Let’s relay both support and belief.

Rate Yourself:
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Find out how your parenting measures up with our brand new Parental Engagement Scale. This scale is a simple tool enabling you to evaluate your parental approach. The hope is that none of us are guilty of moving to either extreme on the scale, but your reflection and subsequent marks will enable you to see where improvement is needed. This is only helpful as you respond as honest and accurate as possible. Place an “X” on each dotted line, indicating where you believe you’ve set the example for your children. Afterward, discuss your answers.

Click on the link below to take the Parental Engagement Scale Assessment and watch the free bonus video.

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Recently, I had the privilege of spending a day at the United States Military Academy. You know it as West Point. From the initial formation and flag salute in the morning, to the classes I attended that day—I got to tour an institution that is quite literally an incubator for leaders.

All of this, I expected. In fact, my goal on campus was to observe and to research how they teach and train their cadets. I got to interact with faculty and officers who prepare these young men and women to go to war—so learning may just be a matter of life and death, not just a good GPA.

I got a surprise, however, from one of the students.

Trey is a senior at West Point who graduated this month. He stands tall, at about 6 feet, 5 inches in height, so he already looks like a leader. He is intelligent, respectful, athletic and was constantly being greeted by classmates on the campus—all day long. It was Trey who surprised me with his wisdom, even at 22 years old.

When I asked him what his long-term goals in life are—he responded: “Well, I don’t have any long-term goals regarding what I want to do or where I want to live yet. Right now, I am working on who I want to be.”

Excuse me? Did I just hear that correctly?

I did. Trey went on to say he was developing his life philosophy first, through his leadership classes, mentors and through reading books. Once he’s determined his identity as an adult, he will work on what he wants to do and where he wants to live. For Trey, his “being” comes before his “doing.”

We then discussed how easy it is for young adults in America to get this order mixed up. Why? I believe it’s because parents, teachers, employers and coaches ask them the important questions out of order. We constantly ask college students:

  • What are you majoring in?
  • What do you want to do for a career?
  • Where do you think you’ll live?
  • When do you think you’ll get started?
Getting the Order Right

All of these are good questions, but I believe the right order for emerging adults, and certainly emerging leaders, should be different. With healthy priorities, we recognize that all of our “doing” will take care of itself if we settle the issue of “being” first. I’ve concluded the proper order of priorities is:

  1. Who: Who do you want to be? What kind of person are you becoming?
  2. Why: Why do you even exist? What will be your purpose?
  3. What: What do you plan to do in light of this? What will be your work?
  4. When: When will you be ready to start? Are you ready to take a first step?
  5. Where: Where is the best place to fulfill these goals?

Wise leaders know to prioritize “who” before “what” and “why” before “what.” Boy, is that hard to do today.

To be honest, we are living in such a cosmetic, materialistic culture today, that we frequently approach life questions in the wrong order—from the outside in, rather than the inside out. Our 21st century society pushes us to produce, to get results, to make money, to appear successful. Social media has deepened this dilemma, where a post represents our brand, possibly distorting who we really are.

Additionally, we have little patience for the long task of settling philosophical issues like who we want to be or why do we exist? These questions feel so existential. Hyper-spiritual. It’s so much easier and faster to answer “what” questions because that will help us make money and pay off our debts. One seems practical. The other— theoretical.

One Big Reminder

Trey reminded me that deciding who he wants to be as a person is not mere “theory” at all. It is the bedrock for him to live a life of integrity, meaning to be integrated as a person. Who he is will match what he does and why. Alan K. Simpson said, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”

Let me ask you a question: Do you know a young person who’s in a transition period like Trey is? Perhaps moving from one stage of life to another, such as from middle school to high school, or high school to college or even college to career? If so, I encourage you to talk about the right order of questions they should ask themselves. Better yet, take some time to talk over the principles in Habitudes® for the Journey. This is one of our most popular resources designed to spark conversations with students in transition. Without sounding like a sales pitch, I think these conversations are vital if we hope to graduate healthy young adults who are ready for life and leadership.

Save Over 40% on the
Complete Habitudes Book Series

Designed as a full introduction to the series, this special package deal serves as a great opportunity to preview all the Habitudes topics and get a feel for how you could use them in your specific environment. Included are all eight workbooks in the Habitudes: Images that Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes series.

Click on the link below to order the Complete Habitudes Book Series today!

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