7 Crippling Mistakes: The Weekly Mentor, Oliver DeMille


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.

RiskHere are the 7 Mistakes:

  1. We don’t let them experience risk
  2. We rescue too quickly
  3. We praise too easily
  4. We let guilt get in the way of being parents
  5. We don’t share our past mistakes
  6. We mistake giftedness, intelligence and influence for maturity
  7. 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.

Natural Cheerleaders

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.

Mentor prompts:

  • 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?

Join Oliver for Mentoring in the Classics! >>

od crop Do You Love Your Country?: The Weekly Mentor 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.

About the Author:

Rachel is the co-author of Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning and the audio series Core and Love of Learning: A Recipe for Success, and the author of the award-winning educational resource, This Week in History. She is an accomplished musician, writer, literary editor, public speaker, consultant and momschool organizer.


  1. Cara February 19, 2014 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    This reminds me of an experience our family had when we were visiting Yosemite National Park. We were down in the valley near a waterfall and there was a really large rock; perfect for climbing. My kids struggled and climbed to the top and to their joy and delight found a smooth “slide” that went down the side of the rock. They climbed every side and crevice to get up and slide down, over and over again. It was really fun as parents to watch them.

    We weren’t the only ones watching our children. A small school bus of children pined to be a part of the activities. The chaperons let them on the rock except that each child was directed as to where to climb and where to slide (even the exact footing). Once each child took a turn it was time for them to leave.

    I understand that the teachers were limited by liability and time (I’m sure they would have loved the children the opportunity to explore), as it was, it was a sad sight to see. Children following orders in order to limit risk, yet, there was no creativity/discovery/happiness (there was a lot of bickering) or scratches.

    My kids radiated with delight, adventure, and fun as well as the risks: scratches and bruises.

  2. Joy Petty February 19, 2014 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    Praise is important, but it needs to be the right kind of praise. As Carol Dweck says in her book, _Mindset_, we need to praise effort and good character, not just smartness, speed, or other similar things. The wrong kind of praise can help put our children into a fixed mindset, which actually will discourage effort, hard work, and trying again when they mess up. On the other hand, when we praise effort and positive behaviors (You are so helpful, or how did you make that work?), we’re encouraging the development of a growth mindset, which can make a huge difference in how they approach challenges and react to failures.

  3. Shelly February 20, 2014 at 9:49 am - Reply

    When we first started homeschooling, I did a school at home approach-I chose what my children were going to learn about and how they were going to do it. While that may seem safer to some, while my children did complete their work, they didn’t take it a step further on their own. I had hindered their ability to think for themselves. Five years later as unschoolers, my kids have learned to take risks.. Yes, they make mistakes, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. Having something happen directly to you will have so much more of an effect them someone saying, “Don’t do this because…” It’s been quite the transition for us, but we’ve never been more excited about learning.

  4. Shelly February 20, 2014 at 9:51 am - Reply

    Please forgive all the typos…my children have been talking to me as I’m writing this!

  5. Christine February 22, 2014 at 7:12 am - Reply

    This gives me confidence about my “laid-back” approach. I’ve always allowed, if not encouraged my children to climb trees, explore nature and test their physical limits. I can understand how many parents, observing my family at the park, would consider me to be neglectful, since I don’t keep a constant eye on all my kids (impossible, there are five of them!), let alone hover close by to catch them under the monkey bars. Next time someone comments, instead of reflecting some insecurity I will say, “It’s so important for them to practice taking risks, and this is a perfect time to do it.”

  6. Sunita February 23, 2014 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    This is great! I read that Forbes article and had so many thoughts afterward too, and wished so strongly that I could hash out with someone what I agreed and disagreed with. I’m so glad you wrote this! Yes, yes, yes to what you have written about praise. I’m a praiser, by nature, and can’t help myself, simply because I feel a ton of enthusiasm toward my kids and everyone else’s, and I can’t keep it in! Kids really are miraculous with every breath they take and every neuron they grow, and being “PC” with how you word your excitement seems against the inclinations of natural interaction. To me, it’s like seeing a double rainbow after a massive thunderstorm that shook you to your bones, and saying, “I like the way the sky chose to render all 7 of the colors in the visible spectrum.” The other day my son did a neat solution to his math problem and I was blown away and said, “You’re a genius!” And then I thought of the Forbes article and the 50 other articles recently written on over-praising and developing “grit” in children, and I said, “Oh. Parents aren’t supposed to say that because then kids won’t have intrinsic self-motivation.” And my son said, “Yes, you *should!* Then I know I’m on the right track and it gets me interested in doing more creative solutions!” And another anecdote – my friend sends her kids to public school and is a very careful non-praiser. She is a very excellent mother in every way, but she recently had to question her non-praising, when her middle schooler came home and didn’t speak up about the results of a big test she had taken. When my friend asked about the test, her daughter said, “I got an A, but why should I tell you? You don’t care. Every time I tell you I get a good grade you just nod.” Probably, there isn’t ONE right answer to the praise issue (in Farmer Boy, Almanzo Wilder gets very little positive reinforcement from his father, though he seems to crave it, and he seems to have turned out OK). But all this anti-praise stuff is potentially doing more harm than good, and I just love what you wrote on this issue.

  7. Nick & Amanda Quinn February 24, 2014 at 11:14 am - Reply

    This is well-timed, great perspective, Oliver! When we first decided to follow the Leadership Education model for our children, it was difficult because it was (in my mind) a risk. My wife jumped on board sooner because she had been less influenced by the conveyor belt mentality of avoiding risk and just doing what the herd was doing. And I realized quickly just how far short I was on completing my own education and being able to flush the incorrect philosophies of modern conveyor belt education out of my head for my sake and the sake of my children. Thank You for continuing to offer great perspective and instruction for me, my wife, and anyone else trying to break the conveyor belt cycle (and all of its negetive effects) in their family.

  8. Shelley February 24, 2014 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    I think Dr. Laura Markham addresses the issue of praise perfectly (first link) and gives a lot of practical advice for alternative encouragement (second link). Praise can undermine a child’s drive to learn for the sake of learning; it can erode their joy in making their creations. Her insights are well worth checking out:



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