It’s Up to Us to Teach Our Kids to Lead!

There’s a very powerful video on YouTube, featuring a kid named Jonah.  This video is going viral, stirring quite a reaction in people.

I’m one of them.  I haven’t stopped thinking about Jonah since I viewed the video this morning.

I’m a mother of two kids; one boy and one girl.  I want the best for them, and I don’t mean material best.  I’m referring to happiness in life.  I want that more than anything for them.

I want them to know who they are and to be proud of that.  I want them to feel good about their efforts, even if it doesn’t win them first place.  I want them to follow their passions and to feel exhilarated – not ashamed – of the journey!  I want them to know what it feels like to be flawed and yet fully loved by family and friends, and I equally want them to know the joy of sacrificing for others.

I want to give them the best odds for success in life, and so I teach them about leadership. And doing what’s right. And faith.  And service.  And kindness.

But sometimes I feel like I’m in the minority.  Bigtime.  And my kids feel it sometimes too.

You see, I watched this video and I thought about how many campaigns I’ve seen against bullying.  I’ve seen the commercials, the celebrities speaking out, the “how to spot the signs” education for parents.  It’s all good and important and worth your time…but…

What’s missing?

How many parents, coaches, pastors, youth workers, counselors will watch this video and talk to their kids about their words and actions?  Everyone’s worried about “what if it happens to me or someone in my family?”  We’re all playing defense.

Does it occur to adults that someone’s kid is doing the bullying?  And it might be yours or a kid you know?  (And you can help stop it!)

How many adults will talk to their children about the power of words?  Do you discuss the negative impact of name-calling, teasing, ostracizing and laughing at others’ expense?  Do you explain that it can be hard to bounce back and that sometimes those effects can cause kids to cry, get depressed or, God forbid, take their own lives.  Do you describe the weight of the guilt they could feel, or the school and legal ramifications they could face if something harmful should result?  It’s a reality these days, and kids need to know that their bullying can have major consequences.

I don’t see it happening.  And it needs to change.

I was told recently by someone in my own neighborhood that I “just need to understand children – especially boys.  They look for the weakest one, and they go after him.  It’s just how kids are.”

You know what?  I don’t buy it.  I don’t believe that babies come out of the womb with a survival of the fittest instinct.  Our ability to think, to process information, to have feelings and emotions, to rationalize – – that’s what separates us from animals.  So, I’m not accepting this.  Not for second.

We live in a competitive world.  I get that.

I see parents pushing their kids to be the best at everything they do.  I see them holding their kids back to be bigger and better in sports.  I see the trainers and tutors being hired; not because their kids need help, but because they’re being pushed to be in the “elite.”  I see kids totally stressed out and not having a clue what “downtime” or imaginative free play or a neighborhood pick-up game is like.  (Those, by the way, are my best memories of my childhood!)

Parents are pushing their kids hard and fast.  But where is the push for character, integrity and values?

I keep laughing that I’m the “crazy lady” who is screaming as my kids run out the door.  I yell be kind, thoughtful and encouraging!  Our house rule is that if what you’re about to say or do can’t fall into one of those three buckets, it’s not worth saying or doing.  Of course, they’re kids, and they’re not perfect, but I figure if I keep trying and repeating, it will sink in.

In addition, this is also posted on our refrigerator.

We have an opportunity – NO, it’s a responsibility – as parents and as adults.

It’s up to us to teach our children.  To guide them, and to show them what being a great leader looks like…and it’s not about domination, degradation and defiance.

Leadership is about value  –  you acknowledging and engaging the value in others, and them willingly following you for the value you bring to them.  At any age, and in any position in life – this is leadership.

We are all different.  We all have value.  We are all needed for what we bring to the table, and we CANNOT all be alike.  Diversity is what makes life beautiful.  Diversity is what makes companies smarter and more successful.  It takes all of us to succeed and to make life work.

Who is willing to teach their kids this lesson?  Who is willing to love their children, even if they choose not to be “perfect” in your eyes?  Who is willing to demonstrate love and acceptance and ask that their children follow their lead?  Who would be willing to apply ramifications for anything otherwise?

I will.  Will you stand with me in the hopes to make a change?  Our kids and our next generation of leaders is depending on us.

Today, we are the ones with the power to influence and to set the example.  It’s up to us, and so I ask you…will you take this on with me?  Will you fight for the lives of all of our children?  Will you fight for what’s right?  Because, we live in a competitive world, and it will take all of us…

Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners and a Certified Coach, Trainer and Speaker.  Erin is passionate about building into people and bringing out their leadership qualities to help them excel in all areas of life.


60 thoughts on “It’s Up to Us to Teach Our Kids to Lead!

  1. I hear you, Erin! So many things we do as parents of character are not mirrored by the society we live in. But there is hope, because there are those moms like you, thinking, feeling, practicing their way out of hate and injustice every day and setting up a different way of being for their kids. You know I admire you. Hugs from Mexico

    • Thanks, Monica. I appreciate and value your support! It means so much, because sometimes I do feel like I’m in the minority. I don’t want my children to feel “weak” or behind others, because I teach them to value kindness to others. This seems crazy to me, but, in fact, I’ve been told by other mothers that we’re ‘in trouble’ if we’re not choosing to be competitive. It makes me want to scream!! It’s nice to know there are others who appreciate this way of thinking! THANK YOU!!!

  2. Erin – The video struck me too and I don’t have children! (Although the Youth Director in me from years ago is still alive and kicking!) I love your example as a mother, your sign on your fridge, and everything you listed under what’s missing!

    As we seek to educate and encourage those we influence to seek another path, we also need to teach them to have the courage to defend those being bullied and teach them to seek first to understand why the bully is behaving as they are.
    * Children that are reacting to peer pressure are likely to think twice before doing it again if they are interrupted in that process and given a reason to think about their actions.
    * Children that are leading the bullying are likely to have deep hurts of their own that they are attempting to cope with. (Children without parents, children in foster homes, children in abusive homes, children in homes where someone is terminally ill… )

    • Thanks so much for your support and encouragement, Chery! I agree with your comments. Interestingly, in the area where I live, these pressure exists mostly from pure competitiveness – causing aggression on and off the sports and academic fields. Most of these children have two parents who are actively involved in their lives….but are they pushing too hard? I guess that’s the question, and their children’s behavior could be indicative. I just hope they take the time to check in with their kids and see how they’re really doing…and how they treat other children too. Both sides of this same coin can be really tough for kids. We need to be all over this as adults to protect and love our children.

  3. You’re right in my ball-park, Erin, and hundreds of thousands, if not hundreds of millions of other normal, ordinary, well adjusted folk, who want their kids to lead happy and fulfilled lives. The world is full enough already of ‘success-is-everything’ minded kids, driven by ‘success-is-everything’ minded parents, motivated by money and materialism, and who appear to have had… a compassion transplant! They may have passion, but not COMpassion.

    And yes, the video is very moving; dear God is it so.

  4. Wow is all that I can say, Erin! You really hit the nail on the head! Defense is exactly what is being played a lot when it comes to bullying. I’m a little detached from this because of the age of my son, but I know that it’s something that I’ll have to deal with in the future. I LOVE what you’re doing with your kids, and the fact that you’re really taking a proactive role in making sure that they’re not the ones doing the bullying. I’m sure with you’re leadership that they’re also receiving the proper love and attention that they need to be able to stand up if they’re bullied themselves. Thanks SO much for sharing this from your heart!

    • Ryan, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Kids grow so fast these days; sadly, your son will be facing these issues before you know it. So glad he’s got a great dad in you!! Please share this important info with other parents you know. The issues won’t stop until enough leaders take a stand. I appreciate your help!!!

  5. Fantastic Post Erin. I’m on board! I am quite often flabbergasted at what parents are not only allowing but perpetuating. I’m not perfect in this either. Sometimes you don’t recognize yourself in these problems. Thanks for the reminder Erin, you are a champion in all you do!

    • Thanks, Geri. I make mistakes and have blinders too…but with the more attention we bring and the more practice we have, these issues become fewer. Parents and adults need to set the tone for this. We need a more proactive stance, not just thinking of ourselves and our own families. We MUST think of others too!

  6. Erin,

    Thanks for sharing! As someone who has worked with young people like Jonah day-in and day-out for over 20 years, I can picture kid after kid who has faced similar challenges he is facing. And each time, my heart breaks and my anger surges!

    The one major thing I have discovered that makes the biggest difference in a young person’s life is not friends or media, but a caring adult who is a true friend and mentor. And as you said, parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, youth workers…the more layers of caring adults, the better.

    In fact, if most of us who are adults look back at the people who had the biggest positive influence in our lives as teenagers, chances are we would name a number of caring adults if we were fortunate enough to have such people investing in our lives (I think of two men who were mentors to me…you can read more about them here: ).

    Bottom line, research continually shows that “friends” and “media” are not the top influences in the lives of teenagers. The top influences are (in order):

    1) Parents
    2) Extended family
    3) Caring adults
    4) Friends
    5) Media

    Only when the Top 3 influences are missing or uninvolved do #4 and #5 become the most influential. In other words, they move up the influence ladder by default.

    Again, thanks for sharing! You will probably see that video showing up on my blog soon.

    Kent Julian

  7. Oh Erin I just watched the video above with my twin boys. They’re 12, so it really spoke to them. I was in tears immediately of course! I always hate to think of children being desperately lonely in a crowd. Sometimes it’s true with adults too – and the “crowd” can even be social media – a weird online world that can feel strangely like high school sometimes! Thanks for the great work you are doing. I’m proud to call you my friend.

    • Thanks for being proactive with your kids, Gina. Funny that you mention social media and adults too. It can be that way sometimes. Way to notice this! It’s by noticing that we can further understand and take action accordingly. Likewise, I’m glad to call you friend as well!!

  8. Thanks for this, Erin. My kids went to a large “inner city” high school. I was shocked to hear of the underage children my kids knew there who were “kicked out of the home” by their parents – with no place to go. They lived in abandoned buildings, doing what they had to get by. These kid’s parents kicked them out for a variety of reasons – drugs, alcohol, trouble with the police, their sexual orientation, missing curfew.

    The point here is that parents who would kick their under age kids out of the house are not the kind who would be vigilant enough to notice if their kids were bullies, much less talk to them about it. At some point, for a variety of reasons, they gave up on their children. It’s so sad that there is a whole underworld of kids out there who have been forgotten, abandoned, ostracized.

    Your message (and Jonah’s) is a strong one, and if even one of those parents could see their child and care enough to love them and act, it will have been worthwhile. Thank you for that.

  9. This is one of the things I absolutely love about you Erin. Your ability to speak candidly to something without demeaning people, but rather you challenge them to be better. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    I was in Kroger checking out and a little boy took some hard candy and threw at me hitting me in the head. He looked at me with such a mischievous grin and I thought “I wonder if he bullies kids in school like this if he is bold enough to do it to a strange adult.” I told his parents I don’t appreciate their child behavior and they were shocked I said anything to them. I was amazed.

    I’m with you in that we need to be community leaders and create the standard and allow positive peer pressure rule the day in this area. Thanks for such a timely and passionate message!!

    • Hope your head is ok!!! 😉 Thanks so much for your kind words, William and for sharing your story. The visual is straight out of a movie…too bad the parents weren’t more understanding!

  10. Erin,
    I agree with you — I don’t buy it eaither. Just because a behavior occurs doesn’t mean it’s right. Parents, educators — adults in general must re-embrace their responsibility to teach correct behavior.

    Bravo to your courage and stregth in speaking up and I will RT on Twitter and Facebook.
    Thanks to your call to action!

  11. Amazing message, Erin! I watched the video and was brought to tears because no child should have to feel that way! It just makes me want to hug all the kids I work with and do whatever I can to make them feel valued. I wish it was that easy, though. Often, the issues are very complex – parents don’t set out to be lousy parents – they often get sucked into drugs, alcohol, whatever, and unfortunately, they are so wrapped up in their own issues, they can’t see their children’s needs! I agree, though, that a child’s parents are the most important people in a child’s life to make them feel valued and if they’re not giving the child what they need, then they look to other adults.I want to be one of those adults who make a difference in kids’ lives. Thanks again, Erin, for this amazing message!

  12. Erin,
    I like that you’ve placed this issue in both society and corporations. The character development of our kids is an important input to their future leadership-ability.

    Kids shouldn’t be faced with a choice of life or death because they are overwhelmed with how to handle the shame, frustration, anxiety coupled with bullying.

    I echo Williams comment about admiring you for taking a stand and challenging us to think through our assumptions about bullying.

  13. Wow! You know that I cried when I watched that. Incredibly moving, and I loved your thoughts in your blog. I’m on board, and you know my soft-hearted hubby is too. I just ordered one of the “Before You Speak…” posters to hang on our bulletin board in our mudroom so that my kids (and their parents) can look at it and be reminded as we head out the door. I also loved it above when you said that we need to “take the time to check in with (our) kids and see how they’re really doing…and how they treat other children too.” Thanks for such an important reminder!

    • Thanks for reading, commenting and taking action, Andrea!! You are such a leader in your community – so many admire you and look to you (whether you realize that or not – you are an inspiration to many!) Your demonstration will impact many. Your kids are leaders too – I can see Reilly running with this bigtime!!! I’m cheering for you all!!

  14. I love the poster you have for your fridge! Did you make it or purchase it from somewhere? My boys are 7 & 4 and my oldest in particular is very good with visual ‘rules’ – this would be a perfect addition to our home. I could use the reminders some days, too!
    Jonah’s message also moved me when I saw it. I think we are entering a whole new era of bullying with the increased incidences of Autism, ADD, ADHD and other childhood ‘labels’ (I don’t think of them as having diseases or illnesses, just part of what makes each child unique – or ‘different’, which makes them targets by their peers), coupled with social media, that makes your message that much more important!
    Thank you Erin for a well-written, call-to-action article.

    • Corinna, you’re so right on that this issue is worse in today’s times. Indeed, Autism, ADD, ADHD and other labels add to the complexity. Perhaps that means that parents and schools should educate about differences, limitations, patience and tolerance.

      Regarding the poster, I just “found” it on the Internet one day while looking for something to encourage my kids and their behavior. If you right click on the image, you should be able to copy and paste it onto a Word doc or a PPT slide. You could print it from there to hang in your own home.

      Thanks for stopping by and encouraging!!

  15. One of the teaching lessons I’ve done with my kids, a Sunday school class, and my Youth Group was to have the kids each bring in a travel-sized tube of toothpaste. I supplied a variety of toothpicks, Popsicle sticks, plastic knives, etc. I then had them each squeeze all the toothpaste out of the tube onto a paper plate. They could do it any way they wanted, putting it all in a pile, or making smiley faces, etc. When they were done being as creative as they felt, I said “Okay. Now it’s time to put all the toothpaste back in your tube!” They could use anything they wanted. Fingers, toothpicks, etc. No matter how hard they tried, they could never get it all back in the tube.

    When they were done, I’d ask them how they felt when they were squeezing all the toothpaste out of the tubes. I’d hear various answers like, “It was fun!” “I enjoyed it!” “I’d like to do it again!” Then I’d ask them how confident they felt when I’d asked them to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Responses ran along the lines of “I knew I couldn’t get it all!” “There was no way!” “I knew I’d fail…”

    I finished the lesson each time with these thoughts. Angry, harsh or thoughtless words can feel good at the time we say them, much like squeezing all the toothpaste felt. It may feel so satisfying that it’s tempting to do it again and again! And while it’s important to apologize when we say something mean, it’s even more important to realize that the hurt we’ve caused is like the toothpaste left behind. The apology helps, but you can never take the pain caused by thoughtless words away, just like they couldn’t put all the toothpaste back in the tube.

    It’s important to be intentional about our words (and more importantly, our thoughts, which lead to our words!). Share those that build each other up! Remember there’s an icky residue left behind when our words are unkind or unjust, and no amount of “making up for it,” can ever really, truly make up for it…

  16. You’re right, so often as parents we go on the defensive, putting emphasis on protecting our children, and yet the power being the change you want to see in the world speaks so much louder. I’d love to see a whole generation of kids living out the values of integrity, truth and kindness over ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘dog eat dog world’ and yes it starts with us parents. Thanks for this inspiration & challenge Erin. Hope it’s ok too that I shared your poster & blog link on my Facebook page.

  17. Couldn’t agree with this post more. Actually, I too was affected by the video Jonah posted, particularly because my little sister (9 years younger) is a sophomore in high school right now. I’m married, and living states away from her and it pains me that I can’t be close by for her. She has been bullied since middle school — Mean Girl movie style bullying. I always thought that movie was an exaggeration, but the bullying my sister has endured could fit right in and in some cases is actually in the movie. It’s terrible.

    I LOVE what you have posted on your fridge. TRUE? HELPFUL? INSPIRING? NECESSARY? KIND? Those are all beautiful words. I will use that with my children when I have them. If that’s okay with you of course :-)?

    The toothpaste exercise is excellent. I’ve heard the saying, “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube” but that certainly brings a visual to the cliché! Love it. Thanks for sharing because I will probably use that one too! Haha.

    Because of Jonah and because of my little sister, I wrote a generic “Dear Bullied” letter on my blog today. Jonah seems to be inspiring a lot of blogs today and that is a good thing! I was always the kid in school who stepped in and befriended the bullied kid, I even spoke up to the bully, but in a kind way. I remember doing this as young as elementary school. Bullying has always struck a chord with me, and I wish I could speak to each individual who’s ever been bullied and be their friend. Which is probably why my post about bullying resulted in a letter speaking to the victims of bullying–whether kids, teens or adults.

    ALSO- I’m loving Benjamin McCall’s idea as well. Transparency at home, online, in the world in general could give these kids support and help them see they are not alone.

  18. Great post and video Erin. I’m challenged by the gulf that exists between those of us who will do something about this and the number who will not. Thanks for doing something. Thanks for challenging those of us who would do something. Now if we can just get those like your neighbor who think there is no problem to do something. This is a great start. Mike…

    • Thanks, Mike. This was a hard one to write. I have shed tears and lost sleep over this one, but the “tugging” at me was too great to put aside. I appreciate your willingness to stand should-to-shoulder with me. I appreciate you!

      • Thanks for your encouragement, Max. You are a tremendous leader…and Dad too. I’ve enjoyed your sweet stories (like the piggy back one the other day!) Abundant love is great armor to give our kids, isn’t it?

  19. Erin,

    I saw your Facebook post and was moved… and now I am moved even more by your post and the responses (Mary-Jo’s in particular). This saddens me too.

    Our family has a family motto (each of us contributed one of these) to help us make the right decisions: Be respectful, Be helpful, Be playful, Be grateful. We try to guide… but I see too, that others do not have the same values as us. Where will the true influence come from?

    I recently started working with a High School football team… to help them implement my 3+1 feedback strategy and cultivate trust and collaboration in the process. What am I learning? That while I would like the parents to join the discussion, they are not around… most of these kids are on their own. And so the responsibility for teaching values, integrity, and respect, lie with the educators. Together with the coaches, I am trying to discuss what it means to play as a team (beyond wanting to win) and to respect each other (something they have lost along the way). We are starting by having positive-only conversations… looking at video reels with only positive things to share about themselves and their team mates. It’s a small step, but I anticipate it will be a difficult one.

    Thank you for sharing this with me today… I will show them this video as an opener. This should grab their attention.

    I am on your team, Erin… as always.


    • Sonia, thank you for your comment and for sharing your ideas. I love that each person in your family contributed to your motto – now they own it with you! Awesome!

      Yes, so much “power” lies with our educators, coaches and youth workers. We should be grateful for them and all they do. So awesome that you are in a position to influence them – the thrickle down effect will be amazing!!!

      Thanks for teaming with me and so many others, Sonia. You are a true difference-maker!

  20. Erin – thanks for posting this. I appreciate you taking up where I left off. I have been fighting this battle for over 15 years, and I will fight it to the end of my days. I don’t tell people my story very often because it’s painful for me, and often not something people want to hear. I don’t want anyone’s pity, because living through the story has been one of the biggest growth experiences of my life (opportunities come to us in strange ways).

    My son, Josef, was 10 the first time he was called a “fag”, “fudge-packer”, and every other filthy name you could imagine. He was beaten, chased home from school by a neighbor boy on his bicycle and run over, and generally made miserable on the playground. This started because he has Retinitis Pigmentosa which is a degenerative eye disease limiting peripheral and night vision, eventually leading to blindness. A kind friend offered to hold his hand so he could go out for Halloween without his Mom. The other boys saw this, and that was the outcome.

    Because I complained about the beatings and the teasing that was occurring on the playground, his school started a group for the “social misfits” in the school – and selected Josef as one of the participants because he would cry rather than get up and fight back. The school system sent a counselor out to work with the kids, many of which ultimately became Josef’s friends.

    When I went to talk to the parents of the neighborhood boy about their son’s behavior, they laughed, and said “boys will be boys” and refused to do anything about it.

    Ultimately, as it ironically turned out, Josef IS gay. Once he figured that out, and the bullying became frightening, he tried to kill himself twice. He was treated so poorly by ALL of society that he couldn’t conceive of being an acceptable human being, regardless of what we could tell him as his parents. This was by the time he turned 13.

    Throughout junior high and high school he continued to be beaten, shoved into lockers, called every name in the book, but the bullying escalated to the entire family. I was shot at through my kitchen window, the locks on our car were drilled out, our tires were slashed and a molotov cocktail was thrown at our home over a period of 60 days. The police refused to do anything until our neighbor, an assistant district attorney got involved and we threatened to go to the papers with the story.

    Josef is now 30. He is a kind, loving, generous human being. But, he is terrified of getting close to people because he has no idea what they will do to him, or say about him, or to him. He is professionally successful, but hesitates to put himself up in front of the pack and really soar because he knows that adults are often as cruel as kids.

    This is my story. I bless you and everyone else here who is willing to take up the fight. There are times over the last 15 years that I thought I was standing out there alone. My fight has blossomed to include everyone, children and adults alike, who have been bullied or mistreated in some fashion, and to ask for enlightened leadership across the world. Please check out my latest blog on my website on Embracing Inclusiveness and lets work together to keep putting the message out there.

    Thank you, my friend, you are an angel.


    • Georgia, I am so sorry for your family’s struggle. It’s hard to believe how cruel people can be. We are all human. All of us, and so we *should* be able to connect on some level. I don’t understand why some choose such awful behavior against other humans.

      Thank you for the courage to share your story. You strength will help others to find theirs as well.

      You, my friend, are someone we can model ourselves after. You are an exquisite leader. Thank you!

      I know I and many others are willing to stand with you to do what’s right.

  21. I just found your blog from another friend on Facebook. My son has been bullied this year and my sweet, funloving, energetic 11 year old changed over night. I think parents need to teach their kids to be nice! Its that simple. You will never like everyone but you should learn to be nice to one another. This youtube video touched me to the core of my being and I can’t get it out of my head. I want to reach through this computer and give Jonah a hug. I am haunted by this poor boy. Thank you for sharing this was the cyber world!!

    • Hi, Ila. Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree we should be teaching our kids about kindness and the Golden Rule. It’s why I wrote this post, hoping to encourage more adults to take action and teach responsibility and compassion to their kids. I don’t think kids always understand the power of their words. What they think is funny could be crippling someone else. They may not have the maturity as children to know this, but as adults, we know better….so we MUST teach our children!! We must show them the value of building positively into others.

      I am so sorry for your son, Ila, but I am glad he has you for a mother. I’m glad you’re in touch and worried for him. He will be better for it. Stick close to him and pour love into his life. You’ll both be glad you did. In the meantime, you will be in my prayers, as Jonah is.

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