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September 29, 2014, 2:37 PM

The Two Greatest Motivators for Students

September 25, 2014 — Dr. Tim Elmore

I recently had lunch with my friend Lara Juras, who serves as Vice President of Human Resources for the Atlanta Braves. In our conversation, Lara reminded me of a great truth she keeps in mind as she practices the art of motivating people.

She’s learned to keep in mind the two greatest motivators for behavior whenever she has to inspire improvement among team members:

  1. Pain (Very unpleasant circumstances)
  2. Gain (Very pleasant circumstances)

    Pause and reflect for a moment. Pain is a motivator for people to change because adrenaline is released in moments of tension or fear. In fact, many people never change until they feel a little pain. Something in their life must be uncomfortable or unacceptable before they’ll consider doing something new or unfamiliar. In our bodies, adrenaline is released in such contexts and operates as fuel for engagement. Without pain, they may not experience the “juice” they need to improve.

    On the other hand, “gain” is also a great motivator. When people see some benefit up ahead or know something pleasant is coming their way, endorphins are released that operate as fuel for positive change. Endorphins cause us to feel good and move people to act. Very often, people are quite satisfied to “veg” or continue in a routine until some tangible reward or advantage is introduced, until there’s something they’re willing to exchange some energy to obtain.

    Putting This to Work with Students

    Now think about the young people you lead. How do we utilize this reality?


    In a world that’s saturated with stimulants—video, music, chemicals, images, social media, meds and digital content—it’s increasingly difficult to motivate or inspire students. I talk to coaches, teachers, parents and youth workers who tell me: “It’s just hard to ‘wow’ these kids today.” Of course it is—they get exposed to more and more stimulants at younger ages than ever before. At the risk of over-speaking, millions of young adults are content to “veg” and “watch” instead of stretch and grow. And it isn’t necessarily their fault. We’ve over-stimulated them. That’s why the smartest leaders introduce a little “pain” or “gain” into the lives of their students. It’s the only way to fuel change and growth—the growth they desperately need.

    We must remember this is more than “carrots and sticks.” It isn’t just about offering rewards and punishments. Instead, it’s about finding out what your students value or avoid most and creating environments where pain or gain play a role in their achieving what they want… or avoiding what they abhor.

    I will never forget talking to Julie years ago. She was a college student who was “stuck.” She couldn’t get motivated to go to class; she was confused about what to major in; and she told me she might just drop out of school and become a barista at Starbucks. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a barista if that’s your goal, but I felt there was more going on beneath the surface for Julie. So I decided to question her to find out what her greatest hopes and fears were, those things that represented gain and pain in her life. I quickly discovered her passion for children in Mexico. She’d visited once on spring break and was moved by kids in an orphanage whose plight was hopeless and whose future prospects were dim. As we talked, their pain became Julie’s pain, and the idea of serving children in Mexico became the very idea that released endorphins in Julie. This conversation changed the trajectory of her life, and it was all about pain and gain. The juices were flowing, enabling Julie to finish her degree in Spanish and International Studies (a double major) and pursue something she loves. She now has a fulfilling career, serving in Mexico.

    Let me ask you a question: What pain must you introduce to your students to help them become motivated? What’s the gain you need to help your students discover in their life? The juices won’t flow until we do something different.

September 22, 2014, 2:29 PM

Social Media & Trojan Horse

Most of us adults tinker in technology and try to accommodate it where useful. We can be tentative and somewhat awkward when it comes to technology.  We are not digital natives like our children.  We didn’t grow up with an iPhone in our hand or internet connectivity in our bedroom.  Social media was Entertainment Tonight on TV.  As such, many of us are not fully aware of what lurks out there, what are children are exposed to, what they are consuming or what they are producing.

Recently, my eyes were opened when I saw what some students had been posting, liking, & consuming online.  Suffice it to say, it did not represent an understanding that God is in us, with us, and that the material does not reflect God’s goodness or best for our lives.  I met with each grade from 7th to 12th grade to address this subject and offer some Biblical guidance.  Many of the students were not making the connection between their online life and their spiritual life.  They were not seeing the enemy inside the Trojan horse looking for an inlet into their lives.

Please note this not just for junior high/high school.  Many elementary kids are online and do not necessarily even know fully what they are “liking” or being exposed to.  Many simply “like” as a courtesy completely unaware or out of peer pressure.

Below are some guidelines I recommend for parents & students:

  • Recognize every form of social media is a pipeline into your child’s heart and mind.  Encourage your children to use Philippians 4:8 as a grid to evaluate content:


“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Phil. 4:8, NLT)


  • Help them connect the dots.  Jesus tells us that all the good and bad we do flows out of our heart.  What we consume, “like,” post, and re-post says a lot about the state of our heart and our value system.  Everything we do should reflect our love for God and commitment to Him.  You cannot separate your online life from your everyday life.


  • Digital media ALWAYS leaves a foot print.  Online social media is never anonymous. Prospective employers, schools, scholarship committees all look at social media as an easy, inexpensive way to find useful background information on a person.  Nothing is ever private online.  Anything can be captured via “screen shot” or forwarded intentionally or unintentionally.  Never say anything, “like” anything, etc. that you would not want printed on the front page of the newspaper or announced on TV or read in front of your mother or father, or better, yet, the Lord.   


  • Know what social media your child is on.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat are just a few of the popular social media websites.  Snapchat is particularly interesting (And dangerous)  because it allows a person to post a comment then disappears after it is viewed virtually eliminating the trail of what has been posted.


  • Set guidelines for social media use.  Be very specific about when and where texting or social media posting is not allowed:


  1. never in class
  2. never at meals 
  3. never overnight 
  4. never while driving 
  5. never while walking 
  6. never to cheat 
  7. never for sexual messages 
  8. make sure to point out this includes reading texts as well as sending.


  • Establish clear consequences for misuse. Confiscate the phone/tablet for a period of time. Then limited use for a period after they get it back.


  • Monitor social media posts. Text messages, posts, Tweets can go viral. Even Snapchat can have a screen shot and sent viral.  Therefore, they are not private.  You are not invading privacy by reading them. Have your teen give you their phone every night at least one hour before bedtime. This is your time to monitor their messages and phone use. Return their phone to them the next morning.


  • Teach that sexting by teenagers is a crime. It is child pornography and is a prosecutable crime even if they are the subject. Therefore it will not be tolerated whether they are the sender or receiver.


  • Embrace the technology yourself. 63% of parents believe texting/social media improved their relationship with their teen. Quickly check in with your teen with a "How are you?" "Where are you?" or "Need anything?" text.


  • Set a good example. Follow your own rules. Don't text your child in class if you don't allow them to look at texts in class. 



Shaping hearts and minds,

Dr. Chris

September 15, 2014, 1:58 PM

Four Actions to Ensure Your Child Gets a Good Education

 I don’t know about you, but I often check my mileage on my vehicles to see how well I’m doing on fuel economy.  Low average mileage alerts me to see if anything else is going on—something I might be able to fix or adjust to better my car’s performance.  Just as we check “under the hood,” we should also check on a regular basis what’s going on in the hearts and minds of ours students.

 We cannot take for granted the type, quality, or measure of academic and spiritual formation occurring in our children’s school, and, more importantly, in our students.  We must work together with our children’s educators, set high expectations, and hold ourselves accountable so that the purposes and plans God has for our children will be realized.


1.   COMMUNICATE THE BIG PICTURE--we are to do all things, including school, for the glory of God.  We are to approach our studies as an act of worship to bless God, our teachers, and the world around us.  We don't want to just be consumers in this world, but contributors.  We want to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  The world doesn't need any more fluff or nice cliché's.  The world is looking for real, authentic, meaningful expressions, of Christianity that addresses human need with the amazing love of God

2.    ENCOURAGE OWNERSHIP--many students today give up far too easily.  Most things that are valuable and worthwhile in life, however, come with discipline, tenacity, and perseverance.  Challenge your child to take initiative and responsibility for their learning, to ask questions, to go above and beyond, to give their best effort.  When we learn to take ownership of our education and cooperate with God, we're placing ourselves in a position to see God's influence grow in our lives.

 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17)

3.   CELEBRATE EFFORT, NOT JUST RESULTS--God has gifted us each in "many diverse ways" (1 Pet. 4:10), with different skill sets, aptitudes, and abilities.  It is unfair to expect everyone to obtain the same results (i.e. each child receive the same grades).  I will never be able to dunk a basketball or play as well as LeBron James.  It is totally fair to expect your child to give school their best effort.  In the Parable of the Talents, the master did not hold his servants accountable to all achieve the same results (as this would not be fair since each started with different amounts--gifts and abilities).  Instead, he held them accountable to how they used the gifts they had received.  In essence, they weren't competing against others, but against themselves to be the best that they could be whatever that might be.

 4.   INSPECT WHAT YOU EXPECT--If we want our kids to love God with all their heart, mind and strength, to approach all of life as an act of worship, to make the most of their opportunities then we must demonstrate this by our actions.  What is important to you will be important to your kids.  What you live by you impart.  What you permit, you promote.

  • Ask questions about school. 
    • What are you learning?
    • Who are your friends?
    • How are you making a difference and being a blessing?
  • Inspect their work.
    • How are their grades?
    • Any missing assignments?  Behavioral comments?
    • How about attendance & tardies? --are they demonstrating responsibility?

 Your school’s online grade book and student management software is a great tool to assist you in monitoring your children’s overall performance and experience.


Shaping hearts and minds,

Dr. Chris

September 8, 2014, 3:00 PM

Five Changes I'd Make If I Could Parent Over Again

By Dr. Tim Elmore

September 4, 2014

This month was a big turning point for my wife and I: we officially became “empty nesters.” In contemplating this new stage in life, we began to reflect on the good (and sometimes not-so-good) experiences we had as parents, on the times in which our parenting skills were tested.

What’s interesting is that throughout the years of working with adults, I’ve seen a unique pattern when it comes to parenting. Many tend to “over-protect and over-connect,” two acts that can potentially limit their kids from maturing properly. In light of these findings, I offer five changes I’d make if I could parent over again:

parenting 1

1. I would do less preventing and more preparing.

In our effort to insure that our kids experience no major catastrophies in their childhood that could permanently damage their emotions, we find ourselves reminding them incessantly:

  • Don’t forget your backpack.

  • Don’t forget to take your meds.

  • Don’t forget practice is at 4:00.

  • Don’t forget your homework.

  • Don’t forget your grandma’s birthday today.

    Our goal is understandable. We want to prevent bad things from happening. When children are young, this is not only normal, it’s necessary. But by age ten, their brains have formed enough that they can (and should) take responsibility for many areas of their behavior. When we constantly remind them of important items, they tend to become dependent on others for things they should be taking ownership of themselves. We actually enable them to rely on others — and even blame others — when they should be learning to take responsibility for their life. This isn’t healthy.

    Preparing children for the future means increasingly letting them get used to the weight of responsibility by not protecting them from the consequences of poor choices. Consequences are a natural part of life. In fact, our world is full of them, and they often come in the form of equations: if you do this, that will be the benefit; if you do that, this will be the consequence. Parents must consistently demonstrate and model these equations for their kids.

    2. I would offer fewer explanations and more experiences.

    Many parents I surveyed were predisposed to do the things I did. They gave lots of wisdom-filled talks to unsuspecting (and often ungrateful) children. They asked themselves, “Don’t kids realize the grief we’re sparing them from, if they’d only listen to our lectures?”

    Looking back, I now see kids don’t learn well from a parent’s lecture. They do learn from engaging experiences, moments from which a parent can host a conversation and teach a life lesson. The need for a parent, then, is to cultivate environments and experiences for our kids to grow from. Our goal must shift from control to connect. Control is a myth—as any parent of a teenager will tell you. What they need are experiences that teach them how to operate effectively in the world.

    When our kids are rescued or over-indulged, their social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual muscles can atrophy because they’re not exercised, so it’s our duty as parents to let them face measured hardships that ultimately help them grow. For example, I learned conflict resolution on a baseball field, where my friends and I had to umpire our own games; I learned discipline by tossing newspapers on driveways at 5:30 a.m. each morning; I learned patience sitting on a bench as a second-string basketball player; and I cultivated a work ethic closing a fast food restaurant each night at 11:00 p.m. Far too often today, parents safeguard kids from many of these experiences.

    3. I would risk more and rescue less.

    We live in a world that warns us of danger at every turn. Toxic. High voltage. Flammable. Slippery when wet. Steep curve ahead. Don’t walk. Hazard. This “safety first” preoccupation emerged over thirty years ago with the Tylenol scare and with children’s faces appearing on milk cartons. We became fearful for our kids, so we put knee-pads, safety belts and helmets on them… at the dinner table. (Just kidding on that one). The truth is, we’ve insulated our kids from anything that is risky.

    Unfortunately, over-protecting our young people has had an adverse effect on them.

    According to research from the University of Sheffield:

    Children of risk-averse parents have lower test scores and are slightly less likely to attend college than offspring of parents with more tolerant attitudes toward risk … Aversion to risk may prevent parents from making inherently uncertain investments in their children’s human capital; it’s also possible that risk attitudes reflect cognitive ability, researchers say.

    Sadly, adults continue to vote to remove playground equipment from parks so kids won’t have accidents, as well as request that teachers stop using red ink as they grade papers and even cease from using the word “no” in class. “It’s all too negative,” they say. Forgive me—but while I understand the intent to protect students, we are seriously failing at getting them ready for a world that is anything but risk-free.

    As kids grow older, psychologists in Europe are discovering the adverse effects of this overprotection. Interviews reveal that young adults who grew up in risk-free environments are now fearful of normal risks because they never took any risks as kids. The truth is, kids need to fall a few times to learn it’s normal — they may even need to skin their knee. Teens likely need to break up with a girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require.

    4. I would be less concerned with schools and more with skills.

    Many parents I’ve spoken to work hard to position their kids to get into the best colleges possible. We bought into the tradition that the right school guarantees a great career. What many don’t realize is that the rules are changing. More and more employers are begging for skills sets, sometimes soft-skills, that many graduates simply don’t possess. Nearly three-quarters of hiring managers complain that Millennials — even those with college degrees — aren’t prepared for the job market and lack an adequate “work ethic,” according to a survey from Bentley University. In other words, the jobs were ready, but the kids weren’t, and to be frank, I don’t know one employer who’s asking about GPA in the interview.

    What our kids need are life skills, developed in earlier work experiences. These skills can’t be developed in a classroom, but in real tasks that require risk.

    Childhood may be about safety and self-esteem, but as a student matures, risk and achievement are necessities in forming their identity and confidence. According to a study by University College London, risk-taking behavior peaks during adolescence. This is when they must learn, via experience, the consequences of certain behaviors. Our failure to let them risk this may explain why so many young adults still live at home, haven’t started their careers, or have yet to experience a serious relationship. Normal risk-taking at 14 or 15 would have prepared them for decisions that require risks, such as moving away from home, launching a career, or getting married.

    5. I would spend less on possessions and more on perspective.

    The number one growing demographic of at-risk kids are teens who come from upper-middle class homes. Why? The more resources they have, the less resourceful they become. Possessions without perspective can lead to real trouble. If I were to do the parenting thing over, I would reward less and rewind more. Instead of giving them all this stuff, I would take the time to debrief experiences and offer perspective on them. Less ribbons and more reality… offered with tender, loving care.

    Over the years, I learned my kids needed an equal but opposite dose of both autonomy and responsibility. Whenever they requested autonomy (the ability to act independently and free from adult supervision), I needed to provide them an equal amount of responsibility. One without the other creates unhealthy young adults. If my son wanted to borrow the family car for the night, he needed to fill the tank with gas. Teens who get lots of autonomy with little or no responsibility become brats.


    In summary, I would prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.

September 2, 2014, 3:00 PM

Lies We Tell Our Kids

August 28, 2014 — Tim Elmore,

Are we setting our kids up for success or failure and frustration, by what and how we communicate with them?  Check out this week’s blog from Dr. Tim Elmore—“Lies We Tell Our Kids.”


My friend Greg Doss is an educator. He recently told me about Annie, a high school student who was ranked among the top five in her class. She always wanted to know who was ranked above her and how they could possibly be taking more A.P. classes than she was. It didn’t surprise me to learn that Annie never received a grade below an “A.” If she ever did, she’d approach her teacher and get permission to re-submit the assignment. It always worked. Annie won awards and attended the Governor’s Honor Program in her state. Her GPA continued to climb. She told Greg that if she ever got a “B” on any project, she’d be devastated.


After graduation, Annie soon learned that post-secondary education is a completely different story. Upon receiving one of her first assignments back, she discovered she had failed it. Annie was shocked. Surely there must be some misunderstanding. She waited until after class to approach the instructor and negotiate. Politely, she asked if she could re-do the assignment. The professor’s reply was pointed: “This is college, not high school. There are no second chances. This is the real world.”

As she spoke to my friend, Greg, Annie was devastated. Her shock turned to grief, and then to anger. But her anger wasn’t directed at her college professor. She told Greg she was upset with the high school culture that “allowed us to keep doing an assignment until we got the grade we wanted.”

For the first time in her life, she had to adapt to the system, rather than the system adapting to her. Annie’s first year was a struggle and she did receive her first “B.”

Like many other adolescents, Annie feels lied to.

Why We Do It?

I recognize what you might be thinking. “Me? I would never lie to my children or my students or my young employees. I am an honest person.”

You think so?

Lying to our kids is rampant in our nation. It happens for a variety of reasons:

• Because we’re insecure. Telling the truth, even gently, requires a deep level of emotional security. The kid we tell the truth to may reject us or may not like us enough to confide in us. Our need to be liked cannot be allowed to eclipse our pursuit of our children’s best interests.

• Because speaking the truth takes time and work. There may be only one truth, but many possible ways to “spin” an issue. Sometimes we lie because it gets us out of a jam. We can’t handle the hassle. At times the lie just seems to make things easier.

• Because the truth can be painful. The truth can hurt and be much more painful than a charming lie, at least in the short run. To most of us, pain feels like an enemy. In the name of peace and harmony, we become “spin doctors.” We so want our kids to be happy, we sacrifice the truth in order to medicate the moment.

• Because facing the truth makes us responsible. Lies sometimes let us off the hook. They allow us to pass the blame to someone else, or avoid facing something we’d rather not acknowledge. Often we’d rather trade in long-term consequences for short-term benefits.

• Because we’ve lost sight of the truth ourselves. We Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers who are raising the next generation have our own set of misconceptions that can affect our ability to be truthful. Sometimes we tell lies because we believe them too.

The Problem with Distortion

I recognize I should probably use a euphemism for the word, “lie.” It sounds so wrong. So harsh. We could replace the word, “lie” by simply calling what we do—distorting the truth. We want to gently introduce reality to our kids, so we withhold some of the truth. Whatever we call it, we still cause long-term problems doing it. When we lie to our kids or distort things for them, disillusionment will follow the dreams that we helped them create—dreams that don’t match their gifts. Consider how it leads to wrong conclusions:

  • When we say they’re smart . . . they assume school should require little effort.

  • When we suggest they’re “amazing” . . . they wonder why everyone doesn’t adore them and want to be around them.

  • When we tell them they’re gifted . . . they get confused that people won’t pay big money for their talent.

  • When we say they’re awesome at their sport . . . they don’t understand why talent scouts don’t recruit them.

    We’ve actually developed a system that automatically sends mixed signals to kids as they mature. Parents drive a car with bumper stickers that say: “My Kid Is Awesome. My Child Is Super Kid of the Month. My Kid Is an Honor Student. I even saw a bumper sticker that said: “My Kid Is Better than Your Kid.” We subtly send them the message: “You’re incredible. Just be nice. Stay within the boundaries and you’ll be rewarded.” Then we place them in institutions that are industrialized, where if they simply follow the rules, keep their nose clean, make a decent grade and follow the advice of the career guidance counselor—their dreams should work out fine.

    Uh, no. Not so much anymore.

    Literary editor Rebecca Chapman was quoted in the New York Times: “My whole life, I had been doing everything everyone told me. I went to the right school. I got really good grades. I got all the internships. Then, I couldn’t do anything.”

    What she’s saying is—she’d been handed the assumption that if you just do what the system tells you to do, it will all work out OK. That’s not necessary true; it’s certainly not guaranteed. Not in this economy. And our kids—the ones we love so much—deserve to know the truth.

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