There was a bomb threat at a small private school recently. The head of school received the threat on Tuesday afternoon for Wednesday. She immediately alerted law enforcement and gathered the appropriate group of leaders at the school and then contacted the parents to let them know school was cancelled on Wednesday (out of “an abundance of caution”) while they dealt with the threat. The local police and FBI swept the school with bomb-sniffing dogs multiple times and even had a helicopter fly overhead to inspect rooftops. They identified the perpetrator and made sure the school was safe (and swept again) before reopening school on Thursday.
On Thursday morning, the head of school held a special assembly for parents and explained what had transpired in as much detail as law enforcement officials would allow her to. She then opened the floor to questions—and that’s when the real explosions occurred. Parents criticized her actions and motivations. They thunderously applauded each other’s accusations and tried to derail the meeting with emotionally charged diatribes. I will stop here to tell you why I am recounting this story.
This is a story about leadership.
No matter how much the head of school did right and how high she prioritized the safety of the children and how much she communicated with the parents, it wasn’t enough. Nobody said, “Wow, that must have been a tough situation for you and you handled it well.” Instead, they focused on themselves, raising one complaint after another about how little they were involved in the situation.
This is a story about trust.
While the school leaders were managing the situation on Tuesday night, one parent called the local TV station to send reporters in to spy on what was going on and broadcast it for everyone to see. This raised the question: why was there so little trust? Was it the leader who was not trustworthy or was it the parents who weren’t able to trust? I think it was the latter.
This is a story about control.
People who have a high need for control aren’t able to trust others. Our society currently encourages people to have a high need for control by drawing attention to everything we don’t control, like natural disasters, terrorism, and aging. We run around in such a panic that we crave control and many of us end up trying to control things we can’t, like our children, their teachers, and even their bosses.
It’s time to loosen the grip. Yes, it would have been a tragedy if a bomb had detonated at the school and hurt children, but it didn’t, and it couldn’t have because they closed the school. They got police, FBI, dogs, and helicopters to ensure the safety of the school. They did a good job. It’s time we get hold of ourselves and learn to let go and trust others. We can’t control everything, and we can’t control most things. But we can control ourselves. And we need to, if not for our own well-being, for everyone else’s sake.
Look at what the anxiety caused in this situation. On Thursday, by total coincidence, someone inadvertently set off the fire alarm at the school. The children were so stressed out they ran around and screamed and hid under desks. Why do you think they were so stressed out? Because the parents were out of control.
Anxiety is rampant right now among children and adults in our society. According to the New York Times Magazine, hospitalization for teen suicide has doubled in the past ten years and so has the number of college freshmen who feel overwhelmed by all they have to do.
The Millennial generation of adults has the highest level of anxiety of any generation to date. In fact, approximately one in five Millennials report experiencing depression, compared to 16 percent of Generation X employees and 16 percent of baby boomers, according to Bloomberg BNA. This is no laughing matter. Anxiety and depression wreak havoc on health and can lead to drug use and suicide.
We as leaders, parents, and adults need to take a deep breath, learn to trust, and role model composure for the people of the next generation. The stakes are too high not to.
In the spring, baby birds are born. Within a couple of weeks, they grow feathers and fly the nest. People raise babies to grow up and be able to fly the nest too. At least they used to. Due to the rise in “helicopter parenting,” many of today’s grown children stay tethered to the nest, move back home as adults, or never leave at all.
An eighth grade girl had a concussion and dropped her books at school. An eighth grade boy walked by her and laughed at her in front of his friends. Did any of them stop to help her? No.
As parents, we’re mortified to know our sons and daughters are going to school with people like this. Yet, we turn on the TV and see Trump mocking Clinton for stumbling when she’s ill.
How are we supposed to instill the value of treating people with dignity into our children when they see high profile leaders behaving like bad kindergartners?
Indeed, “the Trump effect” has been identified as a cause of bad behavior at school, but mean behavior is much more pervasive than that. Reality TV is the archetypal example of mean behavior in the popular media, with Trump as one of the meanest television hosts. But the contestants themselves are goaded on to be mean too.
Even seemingly benign kids’ shows on the Disney Channel turn mean behavior into fodder for sitcoms. Jessie is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, presenting comedy in the form of a 12-year-old rich girl belittling her nanny for wearing inexpensive clothes.
Albert Bandura’s famous 1960s Bobo doll experiment illustrated how children learn aggressive behavior by observing adults behaving aggressively. In the experiment, children tended to imitate an adult who was praised for beating up an inflatable Bobo doll.
Whether fiction or reality, on TV or at home, kids pick up aggressive behavior from the adults they see modeling it. Therefore, it’s up to us, as adults, to model respect and dignity if we want children to learn it. We cannot rely on schools to teach it to them; we must show it to them.
This means we have to check our own behavior. What are we saying? How are we treating others? What are we watching and laughing at? Are we calling others on it when they disrespect someone?
Donna Hicks wrote the book on dignity, with that very name. She defines “dignity” as “our inherent value and worth as human beings; everyone is born with it.” She contrasts dignity with respect, saying respect is earned through one’s actions. In other words, people don’t have to earn dignity; it’s inherent in being human.
“The desire for dignity is universal and powerful. It is a motivating force behind all human interaction—in families, in communities, in the business world, and in relationships at the international level. When dignity is violated, the response is likely to involve aggression, even violence, hatred, and vengeance.” –Donna Hicks, Ph.D.
It doesn’t have to be an “us vs. them” world out there. If we honor that inherent desire for dignity as we interact with people, we will likely get it back. Even if we don’t, we’ll be teaching the next generation of leaders how to treat others with dignity for the future safety of our world. If we don’t start, bad things are likely to happen.
Flying Without a Helicopter
“Helicopter Parenting”—hovering over and doing too many things for your kids, protecting them, and not letting them learn those skills themselves—is leading to problems when they get older and enter the workplace. Corporate executives often complain about younger people coming into the workplace lacking some of the basic life skills that are necessary to succeed, like being independent, resilient, having good communication skills, and creativity.
Why Is This Important?
“Of course, there are pluses and minuses to every style of parenting. On the one hand, when we’re protecting our kids, we’re keeping them safe. But, on the other hand, when we’re overly protective we’re dis-empowering them, unintentionally depriving them of the opportunities they need to do for themselves… Listen to the interview.
Article and podcast interview with David Frizzell at Team Guru.
What do parenthood and leadership have in common? Where did helicopter parenting come from and what has been the impact on the Millennial generation? What is the age of the Façade – and how is it impacting us? How are Millennials performing in the workplace and how should they be led professionally? Read or listen here.
Women Lead Radio interview–Tips especially for young women in the workplace from Flying without a Helicopter: How to Prepare Young People for Work and Life.
What can parents do to help their kids be more resilient? Jed Doherty interviews Joanie Connell on the We Choose Respect Podcast.