This is a powerful statement, isn’t it? You may not like to hear this, but it has to happen. Think about it – if your child never experiences failure, how will they ever learn how to persevere? How will they learn how to overcome obstacles? I hear all the time how the millennial generation is entitled and lacks the work ethic of its predecessors. Truth is, it is 100% our fault. We have sheltered our children to the point where it is expected that we will help them succeed doing whatever they do, because we don’t want to see their feelings get hurt.
I remember when my first born son was two years old, and he fell down the stairs at my parent’s house. My wife being who she is and this being her first child, while I was waiting for our son to get up on his own, she pushed me aside and immediately grabbed him. She literally pushed me over. (Side note, when a mom is on a mission, get out of the way!) What was interesting is that he cried – not from the fall, but from watching my wife’s response. My wife should have have allowed our son to get up on his own, which he would have done if she had let him.
I know to some, this may seem mean or cruel; but this is the problem we have in today’s society: We continue to pick up the kids when they fall to protect them from any kind of pain, discomfort, or disappointment. As a result, when things get tough, our children don’t have the mental fortitude to handle adversity. It is a detriment to our society and future generations.
I have taught Taekwondo for over 30 years, and have seen many phases in teaching. When I originally trained, the philosophy was fight or flight. It was tough, hardcore, and we worked harder than we thought we could. I remember having to run up and down a gravel road in bare feet with dogs chasing us. It was crazy and definitely would not fly in today’s world. As a result of this kind of training, my training parters and I became elite fighters and martial artists. Not many people continued their training back then because it was so rough and rigorous.
Then came the beginning of the end. We started overcompensating by becoming too sensitive to everyone’s feelings. We stopped being tough, and children started learning the techniques but not learning the skills required to be truly great martial artists. They trained as hard as the instructors trained them, and we were careful to not hurt anyone’s feelings so that the students wouldn’t quit. After all, it is a business, and we had to stay in business. We wanted everyone to feel good about themselves, which is incredibly important, but it was at the expense of them not being able to handle defeat. To give you a perfect example, when we had four students per division in a tournament, we went out of our way to ensure everyone won a medal. And we even went as far as to mask who was first and who was last. As I look retrospectively, I realize that we did not challenge these competitors enough and promoted the “Everyone is a winner” mentality, which is absolutely not reality. Our job is to let children experience failure and show them how to cope, learn and grow from it, and then move forward. Learn that disappointment and frustration are a natural part of life, but they can still carry on positively despite this. That is what martial arts should do for everyone.
Things need to change now. It is time to challenge children and help them use these skills to be successful in life. I believe parents are on the same page. Recently, I was facilitating a belt testing, and I asked the parents if it is okay if we challenge their children more. All the parents raised their hands in agreement. I then asked if it is okay if their children experience failure every once in a while, and again the parents proceeded to raise their hands even higher. I explained that it is extremely important that all students learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable so they can get mentally stronger. If they fall, which they will, they need to learn how to get back up and try it again. If they fail, they need work harder until they achieve and accomplish what they set out to do. More than anything, this is the essence and meaning of martial arts.
Why my kids don’t like me
Honestly, I really don’t think my kids like me at all. I don’t do anything for them, and they will be the first ones to tell you that. If they ask me to get them something, I will say, “Get it yourself.” If they ask me to do something for them, I will say, “Do it yourself”. Now, I am not heartless, and they will tell you that I do love them, I am just not going to do things for them that they could do on their own. It’s kind of like learning how to ride a bike. Eventually, I have to let go and let them figure out how to ride. If they fall, they need to pick themselves up and get back on the bike. If I was always there to catch them, they would never know what it was like to fall and therefore wouldn’t know how to get back up. Even when they were in school, my wife and I never helped them with their homework. If they didn’t understand something, they either needed to research it or ask the teacher the next day. If they didn’t do their homework, we never covered for them. They always had to deal with the natural consequences. In fact, I would get a little happy when I see them squirm a bit for not finishing an assignment on time and having to face the music. I guess now you could now see why my kids don’t like me.
What do we need to do?
We need to take action now to toughen up the children to make this next generation stronger and more self-reliant than the last one. Here are some tips on how to do so:
1. Make them do it themselves: My kids were getting dressed on their own from a very young age. Yes, their clothes didn’t match and maybe it took a little longer, but they did it on their own.
2. Make them earn it: Do not give your children anything unless they earn it. An occasional nice gift or treat is alright, but anything else, it needs to be genuinely earned. If they want a toy or video game, let them do extra chores and work for it. Don’t just give it to them. Holidays and birthdays are an exception, of course.
3. Make them tougher: When there is a hard task to do, have them do it with you. When it is hot out, let them sweat and get overheated. If they get hurt doing something, encourage them to continue. Under no circumstances can you let them give up when things get challenging.
4. Don’t coddle them: If your child is upset or angry, don’t pacify them. Go with the, “Suck it up buttercup”, mentality and let them work through whatever challenge they are facing. There is a difference between support and coddling. Support them by listening and guiding them, but don’t “Poor baby” them. Remember, you want them to be successful adults, and they need to be mentally strong to do so.
5. Be their parent and not their friend: This is important and I have seen time and time again where parents are taking their children’s perspective into consideration. Parents, it is not a democracy, but a dictatorship in a household. The parent’s ruling is final, and that’s it. If you let your child negotiate their way out of something, they will always question authority.
Here’s the kicker! Everything we talked about regarding parenting applies with managing staff in a business. Use the no non-sense mentality and challenge your staff to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Give them projects that that causes them to stretch. Put a bit of pressure on them and see how they handle it. It is your responsibility as a leader to help them grow into leaders themselves.
To wrap things up, take pride in toughening up your children or your employees. Don’t make it so easy for them giving them a false sense of reality. You are doing a major disservice every time you do something for them they could do on their own. Teach them to persevere, work hard and earn what they want. Offer your help only as a last result and let them struggle a bit. You will never know someone’s potential unless you give them the opportunity to show it.