Skip to content

we risk too little, we rescue too quickly, we rave too easily….

hammer, hammer, hammer

hammer, hammer, hammer

Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How to Correct Them

February 15, 2013 — 780 Comments

Recently, I read about a father, Paul Wallich, who built a camera-mounted drone helicopter to follow his grade-school-aged son to the bus stop. He wants to make sure his son arrives at the bus stop safe and sound. There’s no doubt the gizmo provides an awesome show-and-tell contribution. In my mind, Paul Wallich gives new meaning to the term “helicopter parent.”

While I applaud the engagement of this generation of parents and teachers, it’s important to recognize the unintended consequences of our engagement. We want the best for our students, but research now shows that our “over-protection, over-connection” style has damaged them. Let me suggest three huge mistakes we’ve made leading this generation of kids and how we must correct them.


1. We Risk Too Little

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 of losing our kids. So we put knee-pads, safety belts and helmets on them…at the dinner table. (Actually I’m just kidding on that one). But, it’s true. We’ve insulated our kids from risk.

Author Gever Tulley suggests, “If you’re over 30, you probably walked to school, played on the monkey bars, and learned to high-dive at the public pool. If you’re younger, it’s unlikely you did any of these things. Yet, has the world become that much more dangerous? Statistically, no. But our society has created pervasive fears about letting kids be independent—and the consequences for our kids are serious.”

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

“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,” says a team led by Sarah Brown of the University of Sheffield in the UK. 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, this Scottish Journal of Political Economy report won’t help us unless we do something about it. Adults continue to vote to remove playground equipment from parks so kids won’t have accidents; to request teachers stop using red ink as they grade papers and even cease from using the word “no” in class. It’s all too negative. I’m sorry—but while I understand the intent to protect students, we are failing miserably at preparing them for a world that will not be risk-free.

Psychologists in Europe have discovered that if a child doesn’t play outside and is never allowed to experience a skinned knee or a broken bone, they frequently have phobias as adults. Interviews with young adults who never played on jungle gyms reveal they’re fearful of normal risks and commitment. The truth is, kids need to fall a few times to learn it is normal; teens likely need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. Pain is actually a necessary teacher. Consider your body for a moment. If you didn’t feel pain, you could burn yourself or step on a nail and never do something about the damage and infection until it was too late. Pain is a part of health and maturity.

Similarly, taking calculated risks is all a part of growing up. In fact, it plays a huge role. Childhood may be about safety and self-esteem, but as a student matures, risk and achievement are necessities in forming their identity and confidence. Because parents have removed “risk” from children’s lives, psychologists are discovering a syndrome as they counsel teens: High Arrogance, Low Self-Esteem. They’re cocky, but deep down their confidence is hollow, because it’s built off of watching YouTube videos, and perhaps not achieving something meaningful.

According to a study by University College London, risk-taking behavior peeks during adolescence. Teens are apt to take more risks than any other age group. Their brain programs them to do so. It’s part of growing up. They must test boundaries, values and find their identity during these years. This is when they must learn, via experience, the consequences of certain behaviors. Our failure to let them risk may explain why so many young adults, between the ages of 22 and 35 still live at home or haven’t started their careers, or had a serious relationship. Normal risk taking at fourteen or fifteen would have prepared them for such decisions and the risks of moving away from home, launching a career or getting married.

2. We Rescue Too Quickly

This generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did thirty years ago because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them. We remove the need for them to navigate hardships. May I illustrate?

Staff from four universities recently told me they encountered students who had never filled out a form or an application in their life. Desiring to care for their kids, and not disadvantage them, parents or teachers had always done it for them.

One freshman received a C- on her project and immediately called her mother, right in the middle of her class. After interrupting the class discussion with her complaint about her poor grade, she handed the cell phone to her professor and said, “She wants to talk to you.” Evidently, mom wanted to negotiate the grade.

A Harvard Admissions Counselor reported a prospective student looked him in the eye and answered every question he was asked. The counselor felt the boy’s mother must have coached him on eye-contact because he tended to look down after each response. Later, the counselor learned the boy’s mom was texting him the answers every time a question came in.

A college president said a mother of one of his students called him, saying she’d seen that the weather would be cold that day and wondered if he would make sure her son was wearing his sweater as he went to class. She wasn’t joking.

This may sound harsh, but rescuing and over-indulging our children is one of the most insidious forms of child abuse. It’s “parenting for the short-term” and it sorely misses the point of leadership—to equip our young people to do it without help. Just like muscles atrophy inside of a cast due to disuse, their social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual muscles can shrink because they’re not exercised. For example, I remember when and where I learned the art of conflict resolution. I was eleven years old, and everyday about fifteen boys would gather after school to play baseball. We would choose sides and umpire our games. Through that consistent exercise, I learned to resolve conflict. I had to. Today, if the kids are outside at all, there are likely four mothers present doing the conflict resolution for them.

The fact is, as students experience adults doing so much for them, they like it at first. Who wouldn’t? They learn to play parents against each other, they learn to negotiate with faculty for more time, lenient rules, extra credit and easier grades. This actually confirms that these kids are not stupid. They learn to play the game. Sooner or later, they know “someone will rescue me.” If I fail or “act out,” an adult will smooth things over and remove any consequences for my misconduct. Once again, this isn’t even remotely close to how the world works. It actually disables our kids.

3. We Rave Too Easily

The self-esteem movement has been around since Baby Boomers were kids, but it took root in our school systems in the 1980s. We determined every kid would feel special, regardless of what they did, which meant they began hearing remarks like:

  • “You’re awesome!”
  • “You’re smart.”
  • “You’re gifted.”
  • “You’re super!”

Attend a little league awards ceremony and you soon learn: everyone’s a winner. Everyone gets a trophy. They all get ribbons. We meant well—but research is now indicating this method has unintended consequences. Dr. Carol Dweck wrote a landmark book called, Mindset. In it she reports findings about the adverse affects of praise. She tells of two groups of fifth grade students who took a test. Afterward, one group was told, “You must be smart.” The other group was told, “You must have worked hard.” When a second test was offered to the students, they were told that it would be harder and that they didn’t have to take it. Ninety percent of the kids who heard “you must be smart” opted not to take it. Why? They feared proving that the affirmation may be false. Of the second group, most of the kids chose to take the test, and while they didn’t do well, Dweck’s researchers heard them whispering under their breath, “This is my favorite test.” They loved the challenge. Finally, a third test was given, equally as hard as the first one. The result? The first group of students who were told they were smart, did worse. The second group did 30% better. Dweck concludes that our affirmation of kids must target factors in their control. When we say “you must have worked hard,” we are praising effort, which they have full control over. It tends to elicit more effort. When we praise smarts, it may provide a little confidence at first but ultimately causes a child to work less. They say to themselves, “If it doesn’t come easy, I don’t want to do it.”

What’s more, kids eventually observe that “mom” is the only one who thinks they’re “awesome.” No one else is saying it. They begin to doubt the objectivity of their own mother; it feels good in the moment, but it’s not connected to reality.

Further, Dr. Robert Cloninger, at Washington University in St. Louis has done brain research on the prefrontal cortex, which monitors the reward center of the brain. He says the brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through. The reward center of our brains learns to say: Don’t give up. Don’t stop trying. “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards,” Cloninger says, “will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”

When we rave too easily, kids eventually learn to cheat, to exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality. They have not been conditioned to face it. A helpful metaphor when considering this challenge is: inoculation. When you get inoculated, a nurse injects a vaccine, which actually exposes you to a dose of the very disease your body must learn to overcome. It’s a good thing. Only then do we develop an immunity to it. Similarly, our kids must be inoculated with doses of hardship, delay, challenges and inconvenience to build the strength to stand in them.

Eight Steps Toward Healthy Leadership

Obviously, negative risk taking should be discouraged, such as smoking, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc. In addition, there will be times our young people do need our help, or affirmation. But—healthy teens are going to want to spread their wings. They’ll need to try things on their own. And we, the adults, must let them. Here are some simple ideas you can employ as you navigate these waters:

  1. Help them take calculated risks. Talk it over with them, but let them do it. Your primary job is to prepare your child for how the world really works.
  2. Discuss how they must learn to make choices. They must prepare to both win and lose, not get all they want and to face the consequences of their decisions.
  3. Share your own “risky” experiences from your teen years. Interpret them. Because we’re not the only influence on these kids, we must be the best influence.
  4. Instead of tangible rewards, how about spending some time together? Be careful you aren’t teaching them that emotions can be healed by a trip to the mall.
  5. Choose a positive risk taking option and launch kids into it (i.e. sports, jobs, etc). It may take a push but get them used to trying out new opportunities.
  6. Don’t let your guilt get in the way of leading well. Your job is not to make yourself feel good by giving kids what makes them or you feel better when you give it.
  7. Don’t reward basics that life requires. If your relationship is based on material rewards, kids will experience neither intrinsic motivation nor unconditional love.
  8. Affirm smart risk-taking and hard work wisely. Help them see the advantage of both of these, and that stepping out a comfort zone usually pays off.

Bottom line? Your child does not have to love you every minute. He’ll get over the disappointment of failure but he won’t get over the effects of being spoiled. So let them fail, let them fall, and let them fight for what they really value. If we treat our kids as fragile, they will surely grow up to be fragile adults. We must prepare them for the world that awaits them. Our world needs resilient adults not fragile ones.

Come join us for Parent Child and Parent Infant classes. Now enrolling…


♥ Classes for Parents and Toddlers aged 12-24 months:

AFridays 9:00am -11:00 am • $175                               BFridays 9:00am -11:00 am • $175    

    Sept 13, 20, 27 • Oct 4, 11, 18, 25                                    Nov 1, 8, 15, 22 • Dec 6, 13, 20

CFridays 9:00am -11:00 am • $200                               DFridays 9:00am -11:00 am • $200    

Jan 10, 17, 24, 31 • Feb 7, 14, 28 • Mar 7                            Mar 14, 21, 28 • Apr 4, 11, 25 • May 1, 8

♥ Classes for Parents and Babies aged 0-12 months:

EFridays 12:30pm – 2:30pm • $175                               FFridays 12:30pm – 2:30pm • $175    

Sept 13, 20, 27 • Oct 4, 11, 18, 25                                        Nov 1, 8, 15, 22 • Dec 6, 13, 20

GFridays 12:30pm – 2:30pm • $200                               HFridays 12:30pm – 2:30pm • $200    

Jan 10, 17, 24, 31 • Feb 7, 14, 28 • Mar 7                            Mar 14, 21, 28 • Apr 4, 11, 25 • May 1, 8

Click here for application form. For more information see the info page or contact Motria at 845-443-1541 or

Acorn School has one place left!

hangin' around

hangin’ around

















Join our lovely school community! If you are interested in getting more information, please email me at or call at 845-443-1541 to set up an appointment. You can also visit the website at


I look forward to speaking with you!


Remembering when kids were kings of the road…

this from


When I was my daughter’s age

by Bree Ervin

When I was nine…

I used to ride my bike – for miles. Across the railroad tracks, over the sidewalks, down stairs, along busy roads, next to the creek – across the creek, on rickety bridges and under underpasses.

I used to hang out in front of the movie theater and look for grown-ups who looked “cool” enough to help me buy tickets to the R-rated summer blockbusters.

I used to go to the swimming pool. All by myself. With money in my pocket for the entrance fee – and enough junk food to make me sink to the bottom.

When I was nine…

I used to get up early on summer mornings, poach an egg for my toast, pack myself a lunch, grab my backpack filled with MacGyver essentials – duct tape, pocket knife, string – and disappear for hours.

I used to hike up mountains on my own, following deer trails, hunting for mountain lions, fishing in the river, exploring mines…

I used to never tell anyone where I was going, not because it was a secret, but because I didn’t know – I was an explorer, going where ever curiosity took me.

When I was nine…

Harriet the Spy was my heroine.

Bridge to Terabithia was my inspiration.

The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was my aspiration.

When I was nine…

I climbed trees all the way to the top, feeling them bend under me while we swayed in the wind together.

I climbed rocks without a rope, or a spot, or a friend to call for help if I fell. I didn’t fall.

I climbed to the top of my dreams and slid down the other side, laughing at each new victory, heart pounding as I remembered close calls, thanking the odds I’d survived another adventure!

When I was nine…

I used to save my allowance and spend it at the gas station on candy and soda and Mad Magazine.

I used to strike up conversations with any stranger willing to talk to a kid.

I used to collect the strangest things, walking along the rail road tracks, down alleys, and diving into dumpsters to look for treasure.

When I was nine…

I knew all my neighbors by name, and car, and whether they liked me or my dog better.

I knew that if I got lost in the mountains, I should go downhill. Find a river, follow it down. Find people – any people – and they’d help me.

I knew to trust my gut if I got lost in town. I knew most people, even the ones who didn’t like kids, would help me if I needed it.

When I was nine…

I trusted that the world was basically a good and safe place, that people were basically kind, that the odds were good I’d come out alive.

It was true.

It still is.


Remembering when kids were kings of the road.”

– See more at:


Acorn Summer Camp has a lovely finale!

We had such a lovely last week at Acorn School, even the weather was gentler. Mr. Andrew came by to do some further work on our carpenter’s shed and quickly became the Pied Piper. The children were so inspired by his good work. They followed and helped by carrying and lifting wood into place. Mr. Andrew patiently made a place for them to be truly useful. A two day flurry of hammering nails ensued.

A million thank yous to Mrs. Quick. When she joined us 5 weeks ago, our vegetable garden was a wild meadow. With great determination and love, she pulled weeds and grass, turned over soil, planted seeds and tended to the garden. Children regularly joined in the work as they were inspired by being near her. Acorn School now has a very beautiful and productive garden. We look forward to picking cucumbers for pickling in September!

Mia Reed was at the helm of the beautiful crafts that children had a chance to work on every week. Felted bead necklaces, tissue paper butterflies, wind ribbons, bracelets and yarn dolls all went home throughout the weeks. Mia’s patient, loving smile encouraged children as they lovingly created treasures to bring home.

I am deeply grateful to all the helpers who supported the work and to all the families who have shared their children with us this summer! I must be the luckiest person on earth…

Don’t Go Back To Sleep

For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.
From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

—Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks from “The Essential Rumi.”


Summer Roots and Shoots Program cancelled

Due to illness, the summer drop-in Roots and Shoots program is cancelled. Thank you for your understanding. Please check back for news about September’s classes.



another lovely week at Acorn School… : )

crowns, frogs, sprinklers and good friends…Second Week at Acorn Summer Camp

never mind the heat… we had a great and fun week!

Drop in for a single summertime Parent Child Session at Acorn School!



Come join Monica Grudin, facilitator for the Roots and Shoots Parent Child Program at Acorn School for a lovely morning with your toddler and other parents and children for nourishing conversation and tea. We will be meeting on Fridays, July 19, 26 and August 2 from 9 — 11AM. No need to sign up for a whole semester. Please email Monica by the Wednesday evening before the Friday you plan to come at The cost is $20 payable on arrival.

%d bloggers like this: