Stealing from Kids (and each other)
Are young people today different?
In the last year it’s been more frequent. While working with a new team or during a Q&A after a presentation there’s a standard set of questions asked much more than others. The question above gets asked all of the time. Whether it’s from the parents and coaches of a youth sports team or with business professionals, the question typically sounds something like this:
“Do you think kids today are different…meaning are they lazier, softer, less willing to work hard…I mean they seem more entitled…”
My response is not only NO, but absolutely NOT. We are. The adults are.
It’s the parent, coach, teacher, supervisor, boss, or administrator who’s unwilling to do the hard work of leading and helping to develop the people around them. In asking this question, people are indirectly wondering whether I think young folks are worse at maintaining general standards, accountability, establishing boundaries, doing something even slightly uncomfortable, persevering, being held accountable, or sitting in the discomfort of a situation. Said another way, the questions asks, are young people able to take a strain?
Babies and toddlers are definitely (in my view) born manipulators but that’s a topic for another day. However, I believe kids learn boundaries, standards, and accountability. They are not self-taught or acquired through self-directed learning. The irony is that most people agree with this. They agree that the behaviors and skills associated with boundaries, standards, and accountability are learned, so I ask, “Where and how does a young person learn the skills and behaviors?”
As a supervisor or teammate, are you comfortable sitting down face-to-face, individually, or as a group, and having a no-kidding real after action review (AAR) session? How else would the youngster learn boundaries, or real accountability?
As a coach, are the standards set clearly? As an example, if an athlete doesn’t run all the way to the line during sprints do you make them do it again…correctly? Or is it more comfortable to just let it go?
As a parent, how much stuff do we let go in an effort to be friends with our kids? Do we let them talk to us the way they talk to their friends? Or do we make our standards clear by giving them specific examples of behavior and language we expect from them? Sometimes, a no kidding tactical role-play to show an example. Do we hesitate to correct and punish them because we might have to take something away and make them uncomfortable?
No matter our “adult” role, whether in a professional setting or at home, when we fail to set boundaries around clear standards and then fail to maintain a posture of compassionate accountability, we’re stealing. It’s developmental theft.
When I think of the most impactful events of my life most were extremely painful, physically, mentally, or emotionally. Sometimes all three. Those are really special!
When I was a BUD/S instructor and training young guys working to join the SEAL teams, we do an event called Hell Week. Students work as a team for 5 days with no sleep. Men are challenged far beyond what they’ve ever done before. They are uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. What if we just decided to let them cut corners and threw boundaries and standards to the wind? What good does that do? The purpose of the journey is the struggle. For those who followed the Team Room last year, I wrote quite a bit about building mental toughness and training the warrior mindset (more to follow on these two topics in future posts this year).
The second most common question I get from people is how to build mental toughness? One way is to allow cracks to emerge. Sometimes physical cracks. It’s ok to scrape a knee or fall from the monkey bars. It’s ok for kids to fall down. Sometimes mental and emotional cracks. It’s ok for a guy to have to ask for help from teammates when struggling. We can so easily steal the opportunity to let the “light get in” as Leonard Cohen would say. The late Leonard Cohen wrote a song called Anthem where he says,
“Ring the bells that still can ring…,Forget your perfect offering…,There is a crack in everything…,That’s how the light gets in.”
As parents, many times we hover around our kids, correcting this and that. We tell them to “Do it this way. Do it that way. This is what most people do. This is how successful people do things, etc.” You name it. If Bridget and I direct every action rather than setting as wide a boundary as possible and letting the boys go their own way, what have we actually done? We’ve simply asked our kids to copy a model.
We all know kids need boundaries (and I’m only qualified to speak about boys as we have no girls) and guidance to wind their way down the path of life. To protect them from the dangers on that path is stealing those experiences where they might crack and let the light in. Every youngster is eventually going to find their path anyway.
It’s just as unfortunate when we steal from each other. Sam Harris writes an insightful book called Lying that takes a unique and somewhat extreme look at accountability and honesty. As friends, colleagues, and coworkers, we have an opportunity everyday to ensure that our interactions are as genuine, honest, supportive, and direct as possible. Why? If we fail to help each other via compassionate accountability we’re stealing another opportunity. We’re stealing their opportunity for personal development and growth. None of us should be the “development police” but very few of us can “see our own swing.” It’s not our job to fix others but it is definitely our job to help others achieve their best. Otherwise, what the heck are teammates, parents, and friends for?
Seth Godin on Stealing Dreams. Watch this to see Seth Godin talk about education and Stealing Dreams.