by Oliver DeMille
Forbes recently released a list of 7 crippling parenting behaviors, and I found them very interesting. From the writings of Tim Elmore, as recounted by Kathy Caprino, these behaviors should at the very least make all of us stop and think.
- We don’t let them experience risk
- We rescue too quickly
- We praise too easily
- We let guilt get in the way of being parents
- We don’t share our past mistakes
- We mistake giftedness, intelligence and influence for maturity
- We don’t practice what we preach
I think I’ll eventually write an article about each of the 7. They’re that intriguing. But I’m especially struck by 1 and 3.
In fact, in my estimation #3 is downright wrong. Most parents don’t praise today’s kids too much.
Not even close.
We tend to criticize a lot more than we rave. Many parents can hardly let any little thing go by without criticizing, correcting or analyzing it. But we are not that great at praising every good thing our children do.
In years of teaching, and working with parents and teachers who help educate the rising generation, I’m often amazed at how little we give them deserved praise. It’s sad, really. I don’t think we do them any favors when we stay silent about their good choices and actions. Parents are nature’s cheerleaders—or should be.
We can help our kids a lot by simply giving them more genuine praise. This is especially true in education. Authentic praise is better than gold stars, medals, good grades, brownie points, or even chocolate brownies.
No Forest, No Trees
At the same time that I felt this concern about #3, #1 really made me think. “We don’t let our children experience risk,” is a significant and discerning criticism of modern parenting—and modern education in general.
If our kids are never in danger of falling from a tree, as I read somewhere recently, we might consider this good safety. But, in fact, it just means that we’re raising a generation of people who haven’t really experienced the forest or the trees.
Life is about risk. Leadership is about risk. Progress and success are all about risk. Marriage, family, career—all require risk. The more important something is in life, the more the risk, as Thomas Paine told the American founding generation. If we don’t teach our kids to risk—well and wisely—we basically haven’t taught them much at all.
Imagine George Washington’s risk—to break the law and commit outright treason against the British Empire, because it was the right thing to do?
Or Abraham Lincoln’s risk. Or the risk of the pilgrims, the pioneers, or modern entrepreneurs.
Without modern business pioneers, our jobs and our standard of living will continue to go overseas.
Emerson, perhaps America’s greatest philosopher next to Jefferson and Adams, said that the core of greatness—in people, and by extension, nations—is to choose not to follow the rote path created by others but to innovatively blaze new and better trails for people to follow. This view, above all others, made America great.
Worth the Risk
Today this is less the American Dream than the Brazilian, Indian, Mexican or Chinese dream. And it all starts in our homes and schools. Parents and teachers whose main message is 1) avoid risk, 2) follow the road most-taken, and 3) fit in as much as possible, will naturally raise children who become what C.S. Lewis called “men without chests.”
This is the crux of modern American decline. Education tries to avoid risk, and the government increasingly tries to legislate risk out of our economy. The result is that innovation, entrepreneurship and capital are migrating to other nations.
What risks are part of your children’s education? Are they learning how to analyze potential risk, choose wise risks, and courageously follow through?
I’m not suggesting extremism or putting them in real danger, just the basic risks of a happy life and deep learning. If they read the classics, for example, they’re going to come face-to-face with men and women who risked greatly for God, family and country.
In contrast, if they study a steady diet of textbooks and embrace the conveyor belt approach, they’ll likely learn to avoid risk with all their heart and soul. Too many of today’s children and youth are being taught that it’s okay to talk about great things, but in real life choices and actions, mediocrity is the actual goal.
Is that really what we want? Does this describe you and your home?
If so, what are you going to do about it? Not effectively addressing this may be the biggest parenting mistake of all.
- Is your praise-to-criticism ratio effective and appropriate?
- Does it reflect your inner dialog of pride or self-doubt?
- Do you reward boldness and risk-taking, or try to discourage them?
Oliver DeMille is the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd. He is the NY Times Bestselling co-author of LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through Leadership Education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.