In the fitness industry, there is no shortage of bad advice. Social media has allowed everyone who has ever worked out to bill themselves as an expert. The science of physical adaptation is thrown out the window in favor of an emotional attraction to training that looks complex or physically exhausting. While far more effective, simple execution of fundamental movement patterns and progressive overload aren’t as sexy as squatting on a Bosu ball and doing 100-yard sled pushes with a parachute. Likewise, people yo-yo from fad diet to fad diet, repeatedly brutalizing their metabolism between uncontrollable donut binges. Absent of any understanding about sensible long-term nutrition, they’ll spend their life oscillating between white-knuckled deprivation and manic hedonism.
These trends are not new and not unique to the fitness industry. Any outcome or idea that has ever been desirable was and is subject to the same oversimplification and butchered replication. Misconceptions abound, all founded on attempts to copy methods without understanding the underlying principles.
While the Strong Parents—Strong Kids theme I’ve been professing is far from complex I thought it might be wise and helpful to clearly define the principles, thus ensuring a simpler approach more easily adapted to each person’s unique situation:
Principle 1: What Is Normal Is Not Normal—Seek Balance
There has never been more temptation and normalization of patterns that ensure self-destruction. What is normal is over nine hours per day of online entertainment. Normal is fat, sick, and nearly dead. These standards are too low for you.
To follow the standard model is to virtually guarantee that children grow anxious, overweight, entitled, and disinterested in living outside of their virtual realities. Parents are tyrannized by insane youth sports demands, a culture of child-worship, and their own challenges navigating an environment of impulse overload.
“It’s no sign of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.”
You don’t have to do anything just because everyone else is. Carve your own canyon. Life is too short to be normal.
Having said that, everything is bad in its extremes. While the rest of these principles are trying to balance out a world of extremes it is important to remember that any of my suggestions could be taken to an opposite extreme only to further fuel the insanity of our bizarre world.
Principle 2: Strength Is Highly Desirable
This may sound controversial, but I think it is obvious. Being a wimp pretty much ensures unhappiness, regret, and entitlement. Pain is inevitable in life and those who believe themselves especially afflicted will be completely consumed with their plight, unable to think of others or recognize the many immense joys that surround them. Furthermore, the particularly wimpy are less likely to step out of their comfort zone and embrace the challenges that give life meaning. As I said in the original Strong Parents-Strong Kids post:
“By consistently facing physical resistance, we gain confidence to enter the resistance that permeates every other meaningful life endeavor. The opposite is also true. Every time you skip a workout, you subconsciously excuse the pattern of avoiding resistance throughout life.”
Being physically, mentally, and/or emotionally weak is undesirable for our children and we should work to help them grow more resilient. Toughness and resiliency are forms of strength, forged through training. The world is your gym.
Principle 3: Shun Society’s Priorities
Prioritize capability over comfort, empowerment over over-protection, and action over passive entertainment.
The parenting pendulum has swung too far towards providing and protecting. These are primary parental duties, but only to a certain degree. Once basic needs are met the overwhelming priority should shift towards making children capable, self-reliant, and ethical.
Overproviding leads to narcissism, narcissism to entitlement, entitlement to victimhood, and victimhood to the perpetually disgruntled. Unrealistic expectations tend to breed unhappiness. Similarly, overprotection only serves to remove the minor pains and authentic experience that would prompt consistent micro-adjustments.
Despite the immense safety offered by a world of smartphones and helicopter parenting expectations, we continue to insist that children never experience the world outside the omnipresent gaze of adults. Our children aren’t allowed outside unless weather is perfect, aren’t allowed to walk or bike to school, and aren’t allowed to run and explore the playground without a chaperone. The introduction of addictive, lobotomizing technology is welcomed by parents eager to interrupt their natural risk-taking behaviors.
Modern norms remove the possibility of minor bumps and bruises while instilling patterns that virtually guarantee lost physical passion and the poor health that follows that sedentary existence. Children remain far less capable as their senses dull from a world of bubble-wrap. Overprotected youth will be less adapted for the world and less likely to leave their comfort zone to chase the pursuits that truly bring life meaning.
We must accept risk as a necessary component of life. Sure there are more imminent threats to your trampoline back-flipping, woods-exploring daughter, but she is more likely to actually live life while the other kids grow up insulated and stressed out by every thunder storm.
Embrace action over sedentary entertainment. Push your children into new experiences. Repeatedly prompt them outside their comfort zone. Give them the tools and push them out of the nest to try and fail. You’d rather them do this while you are still available and accessible. Remember, the goal is not dependency, but self-reliance and empowerment.
Principle 4: Celebrate Natural Feedback—Seek Failures
This is really just an extension of principle 3, but it is worth highlighting. Much of today’s parenting norms could be summed up as blunting feedback. We’ve perverted the concept of kindness to excuse indoctrinated learned helplessness. When children don’t immediately succeed at a task, we jump in to solve it for them. When children talk back, lie, cheat, or shirk our standards, the norm is to justify and excuse the behavior. They become experts at avoiding consequences and their feedback mechanisms grow increasingly numb. This is not kind. It removes the opportunity to learn and consistently make the micro-adjustments that characterize daily growth.
Similarly, when the patterns of our bizarrely unhealthy world manifest in self-destructive patterns, we are more likely to seek a pharmaceutical mask then explore the environmental triggers. Just as overly cushioned soles have allowed for foot strike patterns that allow a host of far larger and more painful running injuries, a childhood of blunted feedback allows for far less capable, resilient, and socially adjusted kids.
“When people lose the connection between their actions and their consequences, they lose their hold on reality and the further this goes the more it looks like madness.”
These norms are only exacerbated by an unrealistic world of participation trophies and over-celebration where they can’t help but lose their grip on reality and their place in the world. The solution is to run towards reality. That doesn’t mean harsh, mean-spirited feedback, but promoting honesty, authenticity, and experiences that force our children to contend with reality. This has always been the beauty of the weight room. You can only squat what you can squat. A 32kg Turkish get-up never lies.
Principle 5: Do Not Do for Them What They Can Do for Themselves
In the weight room, my new teams always struggle to manipulate the Power Racks. Raising and lowering bar heights and even pulling out the bench and returning it can be frustrating for first-timers. I always demonstrate how these things work to new groups and then prompt them to try for themselves. I’m amazed how often other coaches rush in at every sign of struggle. They’ll jump in to put benches back or tell athletes what weights to put on the bar to get the desired total.
Likewise, I’m constantly amazed by the way adults want to rush in to solve all of my children’s problems. When visitors are around the things my 24-month-old does every day like climb the bar-stools, take his socks off, or slip his hands through his pajama sleeves are immediately solved for him the moment an ounce of struggle is detected. What is more fascinating is that he plays to it. All of a sudden he’s dramatizing his struggles and motioning for help on things he’s been doing for months.
Too many conceive of teaching as providing outcomes, rather than creating more capability. There is a misconception that we learn by being told the answer and that working with youth means doing things for them when they can’t. Google does not promote learning unless it prompts a deep dive into self-study that takes the superficial and makes it deep and broadly applicable. Experience is always a better teacher.
Principle 6: Your Model Is the Most Powerful Force
Truly the backbone of Strong Parents—Strong Kids thinking is that your model is the most powerful force you have to influence your children. All the other principles mean little if you don’t follow them. Kids won’t grow up to have healthy phone boundaries, relationships, or nutritional habits if you don’t provide that model. They won’t workout, embrace an active lifestyle, or seek to conquer hard challenges unless you do. If you preach it, practice it 10 times over. Choose to be active and to chase passionate projects. It is the best gift you can give your children.
This Week’s Mission
The chief habit to model above all others is exercise. If you are short on time and need an effective method that hacks the science of habit, I recommend my chief habit plan. If fitness is already baked into your daily patterns, I highly recommend adding one of the other two core habits, Justin Lind and I profess at Inspired Human Development. These provide the conditions for you to thrive and, thus, amplify your model.