Callous Adults, Cheated Kids

Today’s youths find themselves staring up at a colossal character hurdle. No different in their mental curiosity and emotional fragility than youths of the past, today’s, however — more than their grandparents when they were children, more even than their mothers and fathers in their own formative years — suffer a disadvantage to traditional forces that have become pervasive: peer pressure (now especially to drugs more deadly than ‘recreational’); bullying (much of it sadistic); puberty (complicated not just by temptation, but also by burgeoning affronts) and, perhaps most problematic of all, adults — too many of whom these days are anything but good role models.

Recently a friend and I (both of us parents) were discussing characteristics of these dysfunctional peers, and agreed that, in the realm of instruction (‘leading by example’), most share a common patriarch: negativity — that is, that having the choice to lead by encouragement (positive reinforcement) or disparagement (negative reinforcement), a majority chooses disparagement.

In sports, especially, many of today’s youth coaches use the game to bolster their own sensibilities (fulfill a desire to control; compensate for personal athletic shortcomings) rather than to avail the game’s gifts to the participants: enjoyment, camaraderie, collaboration, leadership-development. A telling example of this disturbing truth is the case of my friend’s daughter, the starting goalie of her high-school soccer team, who has helped tally more wins than losses so far this season, including eight shutouts. Yet because she missed a save in a recent game, her coach benched her for the next — his rationale being that punishment (not encouragement) is the right strategy for improvement.*

Because my friend’s daughter is a quite poised young lady, and exceptionally mature for her age, her coach’s misdeed will not sully her adultness. Yet other youths are not so fortunate. For many, it’s an unaffirmative style of instruction that principally shapes their childhood, thus also their adulthood — and, for those who make careers, their professionalism, as well.

Is it any surprise, then, that in today’s workforce a common managerial tact for remedying employee error is to chastise and proceed quickly to disciplinary action, rather than to fairly discuss the mistake and offer means (including encouragement) to improvement?

My friend asks this question another way: “Is it any wonder that so many are so beat-up and burned out by their ‘leaders’ that they lose their healthy zeal for joy?”

Ah, joy. For many today, this is something they can barely envision at the top of a colossal hurdle.

  • During 20 years of coaching soccer, of the dozens of other coaches I met, not more than a few led by compassion. The rest were dictatorial and aloof.