Recently, I read about a father, Paul Wallich, who built a camera-mounted drone helicopter to follow his son to the bus stop to make sure he arrives safe. Wallich gives new meaning to the term “helicopter parent.” Research now shows that our “over-protection, over-connection” style has damaged our children. 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

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.”

Psychologists have discovered that if a child is never allowed to experience a skinned knee or a broken bone, they frequently have phobias as adults. The truth is, kids need to fall a few times to learn it is normal. Pain is actually a necessary teacher. It is a part of health and maturity.

2. We Rescue Too Quickly

This generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills of kids 30 years ago, because adults swoop in and take care of problems. We remove the need for them to navigate hardships. 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 student received a C- on her project and immediately called her mother, right in the middle of class. She handed the cell phone to her teacher and said, “She wants to talk to you.” Evidently, mom wanted to negotiate the grade.

Rescuing and over-indulging our children is “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, social, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual muscles can shrink because they’re not exercised. 

3. We Rave Too Easily

The self-esteem movement took root in our school systems in the 1980s. We determined every kid would feel special, which meant they began hearing remarks like: “You’re awesome!” and “You’re so smart.” Attend a little league awards ceremony and you soon learn: Everyone gets a trophy. We meant well—but research is now indicating this method has consequences. 

In Dr. Carol Dweck’s landmark book, Mindset, she tells of two groups of fifth-grade students who took a test. After, one group was told, “You must be smart.” The other was told, “You must have worked hard.” When a second test was offered, the students 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 out. Of the second group, most of the kids chose to take it, and while they didn’t do well, Dweck’s researchers heard them whispering, “This is my favorite test.” 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. 

When we rave too easily, kids eventually learn 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. 

Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Growing Leaders, Inc.