Here’s a quote worth reading and thinking about, from Frank Martin, head coach of the South Carolina men’s basketball team:

“You know what makes me sick to my stomach? When I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids haven’t changed. Kids don’t know anything about anything. We’ve changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We expect less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We’re the ones that have changed.”

If you enjoy college basketball (as I do), you may have seen him in action and noticed that he’s a very demanding coach. So this quote is typical Frank Martin. Truth-telling. In your face. But he ought to know. He works with teenagers day after day, year after year, challenging them to grow from boys into men.

But “Kids don’t know anything…”? Well, obviously that’s an overstatement, made for effect. Many of the teenagers he coaches know a lot, even though they have a lot to learn. Still, there’s an element of truth to what he says. It’s easy to underestimate the radical naivete of adolescents. And if parents don’t help them prepare for adult life, they’ll have to discover wisdom and life skills the hard way.

And of course, many young adults never do.

So how can we prepare our children “for what life is truly about”? Although it’s not in his quote, Coach Martin would suggest that we make them strong by giving them opportunities to practice and build the strengths that matter when the going gets tough later when they’re on their own, trying to deal with life.

They won’t react well to the inevitable adversities of life if they haven’t ingrained the behavior patterns for doing so. And these behavior patterns – skills, habits, routines – can only be ingrained through repetition. As every coach and player knows: you gotta get the reps.

Kids won’t get the reps if their parents have made life easy for them. Kids need to face challenges. They need to strive. They need to make mistakes and fail sometimes, and learn from these experiences. You are the safety net not because you protect them from challenges, frustration, mistakes and failure, but because you express empathy, listen, encourage and support when life gets tough for them. By letting them work through it, you help them get good at dealing with problems.

It’s not easy to watch a child struggle. But that’s what they need most, over and over to learn how to deal with life.

Some of the most important life skills are thinking skills. This is the subject of my book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.

Also you can improve the way you listen to your child, growing the bond between you. Download the FREE ebook, Listening to Understand.