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August 17, 2017, 10:02 AM

Four Gifts Every Student Needs From You This Year by Tim Elmore



I remember the story of a seven-year-old boy who loved parades. One Saturday he heard about a local parade that would march on the street just behind his house. In excitement, he scampered out to see the band, the majorettes, the clowns and the floats—but there was just one huge problem. His backyard had a tall fence around it, preventing the boy from seeing over the top of it. In fact, the only way he could see the parade was through a tiny knothole in the fence. Unfortunately, this small hole only allowed him to watch what was directly in front of him at any given moment. It was very limiting.

In time, the boy’s dad noticed him trying to watch the parade and decided to offer a little help. He picked his son up, placed him on his shoulders and for the first time, the boy could see the panorama of the entire parade. He saw the big picture.

That’s what I’d like to do for you, in this article.

A Big Picture Vision as You Begin a New School Year

photo credit: NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network 9239_ NTC_DW-2579 via photopin (license)

We are about to launch into another extremely busy school year, both in colleges and in K-12 education. I have already spoken at some faculty “kick off” events and seen excited educators commenting on how fast the summer flew by. In a matter of weeks, we’ll all get lost in the grind of our day-to-day work.

I’d like to offer a reminder of the big picture of why we all do what we do with young people, regardless of whether we’re parents, teachers, coaches, employers or youth workers. I’d like to place you on my shoulders to see a panorama of your work.

The Four Gifts Your Students Need from You

In order to grow and flourish, students need four gifts from the adults in their lives. These four may look slightly different to you, depending on your role in their lives. These four represent the fundamentals good leaders provide young people each year:

1. Love

I recognize this sounds very syrupy. But students perform best when under a leader they believe genuinely cares about them—as a person, not just a student or athlete. A growing body of research demonstrates that teens develop best when learning from someone they have a relationship with and from someone they believe likes them. When there is no relationship or the student doesn’t think you even like them, learning is diminished. Love makes a difference between employers and team members; coaches and athletes; teachers and students, and between parents and kids. It’s been said, “Today there are so many broken children living in grown bodies, mimicking adult lives.” When love is absent, growth is hindered. This is why social-emotional learning plays such a vital role in education. Forget reading, writing and arithmetic if a kid is struggling to feel they belong. Love is the first ingredient to growth.

2. Limits

Students need leaders in their lives to provide boundaries and limits. This is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Without limits, kids develop insecurities and begin pushing against any boundaries, just to gain attention. As they grow into adults, limits offer guidelines for students to follow. Providing limits actually communicates we care for them. Think about it: if you didn’t care, you wouldn’t bother to furnish any limits. Limits harness their energy and channel it in a positive direction. Author Ravi Zacharias writes, “The loneliest people in the world are amongst the wealthiest and most famous who found no boundaries within which to live. That is a fact I’ve seen again and again.” Limits for students may include technology and social media, budgets and spending, time with certain people, etc. Limits help us mature well.

3. Latitude

While this may sound paradoxical to the item above, it is not. While I believe all emerging adults need leaders to give them limits, I believe our limits should have limits. To fully mature, young people need latitude: the ability to spread their wings and fly in the direction they believe is right. Limits should guide them away from unhealthy movement, but latitude empowers them to move. All genuine maturity includes two ingredients: autonomy and responsibility. The purpose of limits is to foster responsible living. The purpose of autonomy is to foster risk-taking and decision-making. With autonomy, adolescents explore possibilities, learn the benefits and consequences of their choices and develop their own sense of identity. Without latitude, they simply borrow the decisions of others. There is nothing more pitiful than a grown adult still requiring their parents to tell them what to do. Growth requires freedom along with responsibility.

4. Leadership

By this I mean someone who provides high expectations. Most young people do not push themselves to their limits without someone they respect communicating their belief in the student’s capabilities. Effective leaders are both supportive and demanding, challenging students to rise to the expectations that are possible with their best effort—not unrealistic, but definitely stretching. When a caring adult communicates love, limits and latitude to students, they are in a position of respect and can furnish high expectations for the student—expectations that are seen as belief in them, not punishment. Students rise or fall to the expectations we place on them.

These four items are the pass, dribble and shoot our students need. I’ll let you stay on my shoulders if you’ll promise to keep these in view.

March 24, 2017, 10:09 AM

Parents: Get Off Your Phone

Last year, my colleague, Andrew McPeak, hosted several focus groups made up of middle school and early high school students. This was done as research for the book, Marching Off the Map, which will be released later this year.

In the first focus group, a young teenage girl said something that gave us pause. She said, “I never talk to my mom when I get home from school. She’s on Facebook from the time I get home to when I go to bed.”

My first thought was: How sad.

Then, we heard the phrase again. And, again.

We began to see a pattern. Too many students in our focus groups complained about how much their parent(s) (especially their mom) is on social media; that they really don’t talk much to parents because of their preoccupation with Facebook or some other social media site. Some students remarked how mom was laying in bed for hours while on Facebook, or even scrolling through their phone while cooking dinner, leaving little time for conversation between family members. This got me thinking—are we the only ones who’ve seen this?


According to a study reported in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, parents’ use of mobile technology around young children is causing negative interactions with their kids. As smartphones and iPads cause overlap between work and home life, adults (not just kids) are wrestling with how to balance the demands of constant email, social media pings, and news feeds. Three unintended outcomes occur:

  • Negative interactions between adults and kids
  • Internal tension and attention seeking behavior
  • Prolonged conflict between family members.

According to the University of Michigan Health System, “It’s a challenge both parents and health care providers should tune in to. Parents are constantly feeling like they are in more than one place at once while parenting. They’re still ‘at work.’ They’re keeping up socially. All while trying to cook dinner and attend to their kids,” writes lead author Jenny Radesky, M.D., a child behavior expert and pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital who conducted the study with colleagues from Boston Medical Center.

Who would have seen this coming? Technology is not merely a problem with teens and young adults, but with the adult population as well.

May I Offer Some Suggestions?

I will be the first to admit, our portable devices tend to put us all in a reactionary mode. We begin playing “defense” rather than “offense” with our time. We feel the need to respond to every notification, putting ourselves at the mercy of the pings.

Let me begin with the obvious: If we have any hope of raising a young adult who’s not addicted to their phone, we must model that behavior first.

Suggested Strategy to Manage Your Mobile Device:

1. When possible, find your escape time before your kids get home.

We all need time to ourselves. If possible, attempt to take this time before your kids return home from school or practice. The emotional security this provides is almost immeasurable. When you can, you can be emotionally available to them.

2. Learn to mono-task.

We live in a day that seems to demand we multi-task. I am rebelling against this. I’ve found it’s helpful to “mono-task.” To focus completely on one item at a time. I try to fully engage with digital messages, then, fully engage with people in front of me.

3. Be careful of the trickle down effect.

Beware. When we receive bad news or work email, we can project our negative emotions in response to our children afterward. Work to separate these. After your screen time, pause, breathe, collect yourself, and then engage with family afterward.

4. Track your mobile use.

You might consider tracking how much time you spend on sites or screens in general.

Apps like “Moment” and “Quality Time” can help you track mobile use and see where you may be spending too much time. This is very revealing and can inform choices.

5. Communicate boundaries.

You don’t have to be available 100 percent of the time to your kids. They do, however, deserve communication from you when you need boundaries to respond to urgent messages or social time. Be clear when you need to take a break.

6. Plan sacred space.

Years ago, we abolished smart phone use at the dinner table or on special outings. I suggest you come up with your sacred spaces where both adults and children realize that screens are off-limits. It feels limiting at first, but becomes liberating.

7. Identify stressors from digital messaging.

Determine which elements of your portable device cause you the most stress. Then, reserve those tasks for times when your kids are occupied with tasks of their own. This way, no one is interrupting or sending the message: you are less important than my phone right now.

September 9, 2016, 8:25 AM

What Parents Should Say as Their Kids Perform


In my work at Growing Leaders, we enjoy the privilege of serving numerous NCAA and professional sports teams each year. After meeting with hundreds of coaches and athletes, I noticed an issue kept surfacing in our conversations. Both the student-athlete and the coach were trying to solve the same problem.  What was that problem?

The parents of the student-athletes.


You may or may not believe this, but even in Division One athletics, parents stay engaged with their child’s sport, often at the same level they did through their growing up years. Moms will call coaches and advise them on how to encourage their daughter or son. Dads will call coaches and ask why their kid isn’t getting more playing time. Parents will call strength and conditioning coaches and inquire what they’re doing about their child’s torn ligament. Each of these calls is understandable. After all, no one has more at stake than the parent of a performer. They love their child, they’ve invested in their child and they want to see a “return on their investment.” Some athletes refer to their mom as their P.A. (personal assistant) or their agent. I know a mother who watches her collegiate daughter’s gymnastics practice behind the glass, all the while, calling and leaving voicemails for the coach on what should be done for her little girl. I even know sets of parents who moved into a condo across the street from their freshman athlete’s university. They didn’t want to miss a thing, and they certainly didn’t want to neglect to provide direction. I understand this. I am a father of two kids myself.

What we parents may not recognize is the pressure and angst this kind of involvement applies. May I tell you what student-athletes are telling me?

  1. I love my mom, but when she does this, I get the feeling she doesn’t trust me.
  2. My parents are great, but I feel like I have multiple coaches telling me what to do and I get stressed out over it.
  3. I’m getting blackballed by my teammates because my mother keeps texting me and my coach, to give suggestions. I wish she would chill.
  4. I feel like I’m never quite good enough; I can never fully please my parents.

Moving From Supervisor to Consultant

According to years of research on athletes, I believe parents have a more productive impact on their kids by making a change in their style. When our kids were younger, we played the role ofsupervisor. We were right there on top of the issues. And we should be—they were young and needed our support. As they age, parents must move to the role of consultant. We’re still involved, still supportive, but we allow our kids to grow up and self-regulate. When we fail to do this—we can actually stunt their growth. It’s a bit like teaching our kids to ride a bike. Remember this process?  First, we gave them a tricycle. The three wheels made it almost impossible for them to fall off, and they got used to pedaling a vehicle. Then, they moved to a bicycle. It was bigger and had only two wheels. A little more scary. So we initiated them on that bike with training wheels. That prevented bad accidents. Eventually, however, we took the training wheels off, and our involvement became a tender balance of two ingredients: support and letting go. Did you catch that? Support and letting go.

What We Should Say When Our Kids Perform

The most liberating words parents can speak to their student-athletes are quite simple. Based on psychological research, the three healthiest statements moms and dads can make as they perform are:

Before the Competition:                                    After the competition:

  1. Have fun.                                                    1. Did you have fun?
  2. Play hard.                                                    2. I’m proud of you.
  3. I love you.                                                    3. I love you.

Six Simple Words…

For years, I wondered what the student-athlete would say about this issue. After decades of work with athletes, Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller found out. They suggest six simple words parents can express that produce the most positive results in their performing children. After interacting with students, they report:

College athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response:

“I love to watch you play.”

That’s it. Those six words. How interesting. How liberating to the parent. How empowering to the student-athlete. No pressure. No correction. No judgment. (That’s the coach’s job). Just pure love of their child using their gift in competition.

When I learned this, I reflected on the years my own kids competed in sports, recitals, theatrical plays, and practices. Far too often, I wanted to play a role that added more stress to their life. Instead, I now realize—I just need to love them. And to love watching them play.

From a parent’s view—this is the best way to cultivate an emotionally healthy kid.

September 2, 2016, 12:00 AM

A Labor Day Parable


It’s Labor Day…a day to commemorate the work ethic and prosperity of American workers. The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City. In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday. It was a “workman’s holiday” according to the Central Labor Union.

labor day

One of my favorite stories illustrating the value of work ethic in the emerging generation is about a teenage boy who walked into a convenient store and made a phone call. The clerk overheard the teen say:

“Hey—I heard you guys were looking for a new employee to work in the stock room. I just wanted you to know that if you are, I may be your guy. I’ve got a great attitude, an incredible work ethic, I show up early and often stay late to be sure the work gets done. I try to encourage my teammates and will do whatever it takes to succeed on the job. Can you use me?”

The employer on the other end of the phone call said he already had great stock room leader, but that he appreciated the call.

The teen hung up the phone and began to walk out of the store, when the clerk stopped him and said, “Excuse me, son. But I couldn’t help overhearing your phone call.  If you are looking for work and you really have that kind of work ethic, I will hire you right here on the spot!”

The boy just smiled and responded, “Oh, I am not looking for a job. I was just calling to check up with my boss on the job I already have.

May you develop students with this kind of spirit.

Happy Labor Day!

August 26, 2016, 9:49 AM

Four Lost Qualities We Must Build in Students Today by Tim Elmore


I find myself challenging adults to call students back to fundamentals today. It’s not that I’m against progress; technology is not going away and most of us don’t want it to. Our world is growing at a fast pace, and change always comes with growth. But I am concerned we adults are not helping young adults navigate their lives. We are losing what I consider to be timeless qualities. May I suggest four lost characteristics we need to be intentional about instilling in kids:

Vision – This is the ability to see a goal in the future before it is reached. A vision is a picture of a better tomorrow. Many students must simply envision themselves graduating; others must envision what their career might look like; or how a committed relationship would work in their lives. Those who are already self-actualized must see themselves adding value to the world. Vision is a blueprint for the future that prevents youth from merely existing; to keep them from maintaining instead of growing and improving.

Virtues – Virtues are character qualities that separate humans from animals. When animals fight, they don’t fight about who’s right or wrong, but who’s strong or weak. Remove virtues and people begin acting like animals. Ironically, the Greek root for “virtue” means strength. But it refers to moral strength. A person of virtue is honorable; they don’t act merely out of self-interest, as a reptile does when it seeks food to eat, but in the interests of others. People of virtue act with civility in the face of adversity; they can be poised because they act instead of react to situations.

Values – Values today are either lost altogether in young people or they are products of individual taste or personal convenience. Studies show that college students say anything can be right and values come and go. I believe we must instill a set of timeless values that govern conduct—values such as honesty, service, trust, character, dependability and so forth. Values are like a compass that reveals your true north: they’re the guardrails to keep you on the right road and the horsepower behind every major decision you make.

Valor – Valor is rarely spoken about today. It literally means strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness and personal bravery. The true mark of valor is the absence of indecision even in the face of death. In the past, we spoke of soldiers or knights who acted with valor. Today, I believe we need to regain this quality that empowers young people to have clarity about what must be done and the courage to act on it.

How Can You Cultivate Them?

Coaches can build these character traits using teams and sports as a platform. Teachers can do it using subjects, classrooms and service trips. Parents can develop them in their homes and by creating family experiences that spark them.

In your setting, how could you create environments and experiences where you begin developing these lost qualities in the students around you? Ask yourself:

  • What contexts or people could I expose them to that would kindle vision?
  • What needs could I help them spot that could entice them to serve?
  • What conflict could I help them discuss and begin to cultivate values?
  • What problem or crisis could I resource them to courageously address?

Do you see the need for these qualities? Are they irrelevant or too old-fashioned in our 21stcentury, postmodern world? Is it possible to build them in students today?

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