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Are modern parenting techniques missing the mark?

Striking a balance between praise and criticism

At 39, as a mother of two young children, I have finally discovered that it does hurt me more than it hurts them. It hurts to say, “no,” to be told that I’m mean and to be the barrier between that thing my child wants most in this world, for the moment, and them actually having it. Raising tomorrow’s leaders is not easy, but according to an article put out by Forbes entitled
7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children from Growing Into Leaders, some modern parenting techniques, though well intended, could actually be missing the mark more than we might think.

The article is based on the work of Dr. Tim Elmore, who is a best selling author and the President of Growing Leaders. It says that when parents don’t let their children experience risk, rescue their kids too quickly, and rave about them too easily, it actually hinders them more then helps them.

It seems that the new millennium has brought with it an abundance of perceived danger, and an overwhelming urge to protect. While that urge is natural and loving, it must be doled out in moderation. According to Elmore, and this Forbes study, when children are allowed to experience risk, they learn to fall and that falling is normal. Learning to deal with falling develops emotional maturity and teaches children to cope.

Conversely, when parents see their kids in a jam and rush to get them out, they can be robbing them of the chance to build problem-solving skills. This can then actually work to lower a child’s self-esteem, because it does not give them the sense that they can handle things on their own.

“Kids learn best when they experience it,” states Watford City High School Principal Terry Vanderpan. “At the high school, we try and provide opportunities where kids can be leaders, then we try to come alongside them and guide them.”

Vanderpan states that lecturing tends to go in one ear and out the other. Teaching children and shaping tomorrow’s leaders has to be hands on. He recommends putting kids in situations where they are allowed to make decisions, and even let them make wrong decisions.

“Then follow up with them,” states Vanderpan. “Ask them, ‘What are the plusses to the decisions you made? What are the minuses?’”

Finally, in conjunction with the self-esteem movement of the ‘70s and ‘80s, parents easily rave about their children to boost their self-esteem, but Elmore says this actually has the opposite effect.

Elmore states that kids eventually observe that mom and dad are saying they’re awesome, but no one else is. They see every kid getting a trophy, and begin to wonder how special they really are. Kids begin to doubt the objectivity of their parents and, while raving about them might feel good in the moment, it is not actually connected to reality.

Coach John Wooden told his athletes, “You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

Raving too quickly creates an unhealthy dependence on praise, which can have the unintended consequence of lowering self-esteem. Kids know when they mess up, that even though they made the goal, they almost didn’t. They need to hear the truth and be able to evaluate themselves based on reality, rather than to seek undue praise. Help them to be able to hear the truth about themselves, and grow from it.

The article further discussed other crippling behaviors such as being driven by guilt rather than leading well, not sharing your own past mistakes, and not practicing what you preach.

Vanderpan states that before he became an educator and administrator, he had role models that helped shape his path.

“I was involved in athletics and many of my coaches gave me the opportunity to lead other kids,” states Vanderpan. “I idolized these guys and wanted to be like them, and when they felt comfortable enough to let me lead on my own, it felt great.”

Elmore concludes that each generation of parents is usually compensating for something the previous generation did, or did not do. Yesterday’s adults were focused on getting ready for tomorrow, saving money, delaying gratification, etc. In response, many of today’s adults have become “now, rather than later,” focused. It’s about their, and their child’s, happiness today over their readiness for tomorrow.

The truth, according to Elmore, is that parents need to find balance and a way to focus on both. He encourages parents to become self-aware of their behaviors and what those behaviors are producing in their children.

Parenting in balance is difficult, but here are some suggestions Elmore has for parents who want to try and find it.

  1. Talk with your kids about things you wish you would have known about adulthood.
  2. Allow them to attempt things and even let them fail.
  3. Furnish projects that require patience, so they learn to delay gratification.
  4. Teach them that life is about choices and trade-offs; they can’t do everything.
  5. Introduce them to potential mentors from your network.
  6. Celebrate progress they make toward autonomy and responsibility.

I don’t know about you, but I see myself in different places in this article. Probably where I am challenged the most is in finding a way to help my children not become dependent on praise, or crippled by criticism. It feels a little unnatural to be evaluative with my children, rather than showering them with positive words. Yet I do see what Elmore is trying to get across.

If this concept has challenged you, or made you think, check out the full Forbes article 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders online, or go to, for more from Tim Elmore. Elmore uses his expertise on Generations Y and Z to equip leaders, parents and other adults to impart practical life and leadership skills to the next generation.


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Written by Kate Ruggles

Kate Ruggles

Kate Ruggles is a writer living in Watford City with her husband and two kids. She can be reached by email at

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