Quit Trying to Get Your Kid to Work so Hard


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I’ve been working with high school and college-aged kids for over a decade now. Having seen both sides of the equation, It’s interesting to contrast seeing what parents and high school kids think is required for success in college (and beyond), and then seeing what is actually required.
In today’s hyper-competitive culture, where we constantly compare ourselves to the rest of the world in just about every aspect imaginable, it’s tempting to fear that you or your child is being left behind when they choose to spend their time playing video games instead of pursuing valedictorian in their class. Perhaps they must be falling behind in the college and life rat race.

The temptation, then, is to push them. If they can’t do it on their own, then as the parent, the solution must be to force your child into pushing for near perfection.

Stop. Resist this temptation. If YOU are the reason your kid is striving for good grades, great athletic achievements, or any sort of excellence they will struggle in college. It needs to come from within THEM.

Yes, I realize you see doom and gloom if Johnny gets a B in Pre-Cal, or finishes in 15th place instead of 1st at the next track meet. But here’s the reality. The number one thing that will matter in his future success isn’t what college he gets into or his grades, it’s whether he can be intrinsically motivated towards mastering something that catches his interest.

If he can harness motivation, he’ll figure the rest out. Yes, I realize this sounds trite, but as my good friend Marcel likes to tell me: “If I could summon the motivation to run 100 miles per week in Houston, Texas, then putting my head down and working hard for my career isn’t that difficult.”When you constantly push your son or daughter, you are training them away from that. They aren’t developing and cultivating the skill that allows them to be self-motivated enough to tackle whatever challenges they encounter.

Am I saying to let your child meander through school and life? No. Set some expectations and standards. Maybe you won’t accept D’s if they are capable of A’s or B’s. But don’t fall for the trap of constantly being on top of your son or daughter to get his homework done or show up to practice. He needs to figure out how to do those things on his own.

The kids who come to college used to being motivated by others don’t make it. That motivation works in the short term, but it quickly fades.

Instead of pushing your child towards perfection, encourage her to dabble in a number of subjects and fields until he finds something that catches her attention. Once you find that flash of interest, encourage her to dive deep and pursue it. It doesn’t matter if it’s running, art, history, youtube videos, whatever.

Why? The SKILLS of finding interests, sparking curiosity, and diving deep are what matter. Right now, it might be about video games, but in the future, it can be utilized for something “more important.” The key is she will learn what it means to motivate herself to the fullest and not need mom, dad, teacher, or coach to constantly be there pushing and prodding her to get her work done.


A few books to read on this topic:

The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff

The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey

How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

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