Transcript #57 – Shane Trotter: Setting the Bar
Shane Trotter is the author of Setting the Bar: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Era of Distraction, Dependency, and Entitlement. This timely book gives insights into how to raise kids in this smartphone generation; that previous generations didn’t have to deal with. This is a fantastic read and insightful interview!
How to set the right expectations when the world around you is filled with distractions
How weakening of community hurts our kids; and what we can do to change that
How to find your community or tribe
The dangers of overprotection
How can you challenge your young kids in a healthy way?
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Will Braunstein, A Dad’s Path: Hello and welcome to another episode of a Dad’s Path podcast. I’m Will Braunstein. Today I’m here with Shane Trotter, the author of Setting the Bar, preparing your kids to thrive an era of distraction, dependency, and entitlement. You can learn more at trottershane.com and find his book, Setting the Bar wherever good books are sold. Welcome, Shane.
Shane Trotter, Author of Setting the Bar: Thank you. Pleasure to be here, Will.
Will: Awesome. I’m really excited. I was telling you before we started that good friend of mine gave me this book, Setting the Bar and it looked like it was about education. At one level, it is about education, but if you dig just a little bit deeper, it’s about so much more. Really, it’s about your kids and how to raise good kids, especially with all these, I would say, new influences that we haven’t had before. It really resonated with me and that’s why I wanted to bring you on, Shane. I’m really excited. The first chapter, I think you called, Kids These Days, I want to start there real quick because we talk about some of the challenges, but not all of them.
One of the challenges I think you identify is smartphones, technology, and that’s challenging when you’re raising kids. Another aspect, we talk about that, the part we don’t talk about is the weakening of communities. When we were kids or our parents were kids, there was a stronger, maybe community push than there is now, or that was maybe affected us more, I guess I would say. I’d love to just bounce that idea a little bit and chat with you on that. What’s caused the weakening of the communities? What does that even mean? I can’t form a community, I’m a dad.
Shane: [laughs] You’re right. It’s a little overwhelming to think you have to create a community because it doesn’t exist in the old way. Yes, the old adage, it takes a village that used to be just there for us. One of the things that makes parenting such a challenge today is the environment is so novel.
The number of poles and stimuli and new developments are coming at such a rapid pace, a far more rapid pace than we’ve ever seen before. It’s very hard to look at past models and even more than that, there’s far less community around you to clarify and support you in this because of the growth of moral relativism. There’s less of a community-wide norm structure to help guide you towards what might be more fruitful behaviors. That’s a real challenge. [laughs]
Will: Yes, for sure. When you say moral relativism, you mean that’s different levels of morality based on who you are? Can you go into that?
Shane: Broadly, you say the word morals, and people tend to think of this very rigid virtue like Puritanism, but I like to think of morals from a Jonathan Haidt perspective, he is a psychologist who’s a big influence. It’s more like social technology that helps us connect with people and understand what’s going to be more fruitful behaviors but more than that, connect at the broad level.
Morals don’t have to be puritanical in any way. It’s just a value structure that bonds you to other people and guides your behavior. One way, I’ve said it before is young spartan male is going to be terrified to miss a battle. Youth today, young men today, the idea of war, they’re going to look at very differently and that’s the power of culture. Culture more than morals is probably a way to look at it. Our cultural structure, I said it takes a village, but the village has less influence than ever on our kids. Their influences are coming from bigger, broader areas, far outside your own neighborhood, often.
Will: That’s the challenge and a huge one. To bring it down at a very micro level in terms of where I’ve seen it happen, it’s just last night, I was at a neighborhood event. One of the moms was like, “No ice cream,” till an ice cream truck came. We probably would’ve done ice cream, even though there were already popsicles. It’s not like we were saying, “No dessert.” This is like extra, extra dessert.
Shane: Sure. [laughs] Second round.
Will: It’s that type of– We’re friends with that family and they do a better job of being health conscious, I would say, with their kids than we do, fewer desserts, et cetera. That’s not the first time, but they’re encouraging us in a positive way to be a better influence. It’s almost like a community standard like you’re saying at this very, very tiny level. That was a positive because it’s a challenge, how do you have community standards of the community?
Shane: What you’re seeing is actually almost a reverse peer pressure, sometimes. Like reverse pressure, where at least in my own experience, where I feel like the norms that are in place are often rather destructive. Not only are your impulses being hacked and played on by brilliant mechanisms, brilliant technology, brilliant marketing sources, but then the society around you that should be a buffer against it to help pull you in a different direction. That’s actually hurting you because it’s telling you to give into the impulses.
It’s telling you that Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Pop-Tarts for breakfast is normal. It’s telling you that giving a smartphone to a nine-year-old is normal and these are really hard things for a parent on their own to fight, so yes, that is the challenge.[laughs]
Will: That’s one of the things I think your book does really, really well because you give great examples on the ground of what an individual dad or parent can do to help their kids, to teach their kids to go with the system, but fight the system. At the same time, you’re giving broader ideas of, “Hey, this is how you can make big change.” The two aren’t necessarily related, they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive either but they both take effort and I think it’s important to have both. That’s how you make real change. If you have younger kids that’ll help them and making our society better.
Shane: It’s a real dance.
Will: That’s a good word.
Shane: I think first and foremost, it is good to recognize that going with the flow will not be fruitful for your children, and even for you and your children’s relationship long term. That’s been the luxury of the majority of history is that you can go with the flow and you’re going to be more or less pretty well off if you do that, at least developmentally. Certainly not if you’re a Nazi Germany, but at least for the most part, developmentally your kids are going to be well off. The habits that are inculcated through society are going to be fairly good. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case anymore.
Will: That’s a challenge because we can either be okay with that and say, “Well, our kid will be like everyone else and they won’t be worse,” or you say, “Hey, these are the values that are important to me.” I know values is a loaded word but, “These are the things that I think are important for my kid to be a successful adult.” How I define success? Not making a lot of money, but being able to do what they want to do to live the life they want to live.
Shane: At the same time, there’s this preacher’s kid phenomenon where if you’re too shielded, they over-rebel. There’s also one of the most important things for your kid is to be part of a community. To just be different and almost to demonize the rest of the world is not the best route either. It’s a real dance.
Will: When you say community, the obvious one, the one that pops in my head is religion, joining a church or synagogue. What other communities do you think are fruitful? How do you think about that?
Shane: One way to look at that is the internet dating in the modern world is the way that if you’ve had to date in the last 10 years and you come outta college, it’s a striking thing all of a sudden. Like, “Oh, wow. Everyone is unattractive in my age where I work now.” Often they are 50. It’s a different world and it’s like, “Where do I meet people?”
The default now is like internet dating, but where else could you figure out what your values are. Perhaps it’s at the gym, perhaps there’s a specific sort of– You look at your hobbies and a a good way of looking at this is, what are the habits I want to incorporate in my life and where are people already doing those habits?
That’s a place you can find community. As a strength and conditioning coordinator, I’m not thrilled with a lot of aspects of CrossFit. I certainly think they’ve been great for physical therapy, physical therapists, bottom line. They do a phenomenal job of creating culture. I think the net effect is far more positive than negative on the people who join at CrossFit facility.
The school itself can be such– Public schools, they have such amazing potential to make positive changes. That’s part of my book. I really tried to show that there’s this immense potential in our schools to help lead positive changes and help parents out and clarify more fruitful norms.
Also, they’re great opportunity for building community. My oldest son, he is a kindergartner and so the dad’s club at the school is phenomenal. There’s community dad campout coming up and there’s all these other options. You’re related to youth organizations. I feel like when you have kids who are kindergartners and above, there becomes a lot of options for community activity just related to their activities.
Will: That’s right. Thank you. Those are great examples, both for you and your kids. If you have a sport you do, like I like to play tennis, I’ll do that at night.
Will: Once a week after bedtime and that’s with a group. It’s a community. It turns into a community over time. Hobbies, if you play games or you want to, like you say, get involved in school. So many options, which is good because again, in my head, when you say community, it’s like, “Well, I don’t know if I want to join a church right now or if that’s going to fit in but it’s not that complicated.
Shane: It’s not, it takes some battling inertia because it’s much easier to stay inside and watch TV but it’s out there, it really is .
Will: Yes, and the other aspect of anything, you can only get out what you put in. You can’t just go once to play tennis and say, “Eh, this community isn’t supporting.” It takes time to become part of a community and to add that value. That’s where the positive peer pressure, as you said, or reverse peer pressure, however, you put it can be so beneficial.
Shane: Sure. One thing I would put in parents’ ears is I think this often, watch your kids and look at the different stages they’re at and how they’re constantly trying new things and having to learn. They’re bad at riding a bike. They fall, they fall and then they get it. They’re bad at throwing and catching. Everything is new and you’re just constantly throwing them into new environments,
Kindergarten, new environment. All these new kids. Eventually, like they show up, they don’t know anyone. They’re constantly having to do that. If you remember, if you look back, like you constantly had to do that. Something as adults, it’s like we hit age 22 and we’re like, “Well, I don’t have to do that anymore. No awkward moments and I don’t think that’s healthy. It’s probably a great model for your kids, for you to go be a novice at a few things and fumble your way through them too.
Will: Absolutely. We talk about that all the time about modeling and how you can say what you want to say to your kids and it won’t matter because they’re going to do what you do. I know you have a chapter on that too, about parenting, I think mentally and physically healthy kids. That’s how the chapter starts, just with a ton of modeling observations. If you want your kid to eat healthy, let them see you eat healthy.
Shane: Yes, absolutely. My wife and I are fairly health-conscious. We both work out and it’s been really fun to see that our kids already, they’ll go grab– They have like a little toy broom and they put it across their back and they do squats. It’s just like out of nowhere, you’ll just stumble across them doing these things. It’s pretty funny but it shows just how much it gets through.
Will: That’s right. That’s where parents can make a big difference outside of school, just how we act and what’s acceptable for us. We have our own base levels, I know one of the things that you chatted about in the book that I found really interesting was, you called it the dysfunctional Youth development paradigm. Just low expectations in kids, blunted feedback, victimization, deferred responsibility, empty values. Some of those things can happen and are fine, but some of those are becoming more the rules than the exception it seems like.
Shane: Yes, and I think that gets back to the parenting too– I think a big issue is that in the lack of community, it’s very easy to have a lack of purpose as a parent. That purpose isn’t inherent in the cultural ecosystem like it may have been before. Often as a parent, you grow up and you don’t have a passion so you’re not chasing a passion, you’re not interested in chasing your own hobbies and projects. I think that’s really healthy for parents to maintain passions and hobbies. In the absence of them, I think what often happens is that there’s this lack of purpose and the kid comes in and they fill that void.
Obviously, my children and my wife are the most important things in my life, but one of the best things I can do for them is to also maintain this clear sense of values, this clear sense of passion, and purpose because if nothing else, it leads me not to deify them. I found that basically when there’s a void of passion, that’s where the over-provide, overprotect paradigm comes in, where it’s just like, “I’m going to take care of them there, the entire world.” I don’t put any developing them into any specific type of person ahead of just giving them what makes them happy in each moment. When you clarify that sense of, first of all, like I’m raising an adult, a specific type of person that I think will be admirable and capable of certain things that I find important. When you put that first, the rest tends to fall in line but when that is murky and vague, I think that’s when it’s really easy to just say, “Well I just want them to be happy.” That tends to not lead kids to be happy I would argue.
Will: I think that’s right. “Oh, you’re unhappy? Let me give you this thing. Let me get you this toy. Now, are you happy?” For minutes– We’re not creating adults either, as we know like our kids are going to turn into adults. We’re hoping to guide them. We’re hoping we can guide them in a path to not make the mistakes we’ve made, to learn some lessons we learned, hopefully, less painfully,
Shane: [laughs] Yes.
Will: Though you also talk about being anti-fragile, which is really interesting to me, where you want to protect your kids, but if they don’t get knocked down, they’re not going to be protected?
Shane: Yes. I think that’s– Chapter three is anti-fragility and chapter four is the danger of overprotection. Then in the final chapter, I actually cite the Longitudinal Study by Glen Elder where he shows that people going through the depression in World War II. It is this amazing generation. People who met their first major adversity too late tended to be crushed by it, but people who met their first major adversities earlier in life, were improved by those adversities.
There’s this real, actual phenomenon where you do not want to wait too late to hit real adversity because whether you like it or not, it’s coming. Gosh, talk to a 60, 70-year-old, they’re just witnessing everyone, they care about dying. That’s a hard thing. Real hard adversity is coming in your life and you want to be prepared for it into some degree. I like Justice Roberts quote, that I put in there too, where he kind of explains, “I want you to have these hurt feelings. I want you to do this because they are the experiences that develop these qualities that are going to be so essential in your life. They’re things you can’t learn from a textbook. Life is messy.”
Will: I found that inspiring too. That was a great passage saying, if you want to be passionate about justice, you need to be hit with injustice. Something to that degree. Something like that. He said it a little better because he is a supreme poor justice, [laughs] but that’s the idea.
Shane: [laughs] Then there’s the blue dot experiment, which really brings that home, I think. Just quickly for listeners, the Blue Dot experiment is they bring people to a computer screen, thousands of people, and they showed them a thousand dots, and the people had to decide whether they are blue or purple. The first 100 dots was about 50/ 50 but gradually, it got to a point where by definition, there were almost zero blue dots. Then the last 100, even though it was almost all purple, people still found a 50/50 distribution. They found the same thing when asking people whether faces were threatening or not, or whether business proposals were ethical or not. That’s a real thing, if your life is too cozy, too comfortable, you find discomfort somewhere. It is an amplifying effect, the concept creeps effect.
Will: That was a super interesting outcome from that experiment. You’re right. It paints that picture pretty well. When do you think about creating adversity, maybe that’s not quite the right word, but how do you challenge your young kids? How do you start getting them set now, as a kindergarten, for example, or maybe in a year or two? How are you thinking about that as a parent yourself, Shane?
Shane: Expectations first and foremost like having actual expectations. For example, Big Carol Dweck fan, very big on praising effort and encouraging them to– one of my favorite phrases is, “All right, you can figure it out, figure it out.” Letting them not solving every issue for them when it arises, plenty of issues, will. My children four and five, they’re close enough in age. They play a lot together and I want them to– I try to interfere as little as I can. When they argue and it’s constant, I want them to settle it. More often than not, I want them to play outside and when they fall, I praise them for when they’re tough and they get back playing. You know little things like that.
I think it’s expectations and it’s a consistent, intentionally not seeking to solve their problems for them. I like to empathize to say, “Oh boy, that’s tough. I’m sorry buddy. What do you think you’re going to do about it?” Putting it back on so letting them learn that problem-solving skill.
Will: That’s awesome. No, I think that’s right. That’ll teach them those lessons, on a day-to-day basis. I’d add to that, you can have base expectation levels of skills as well. To me you need to learn to swim.
Will: Swimming is a-
Will: -non-negotiable. Riding a bike, that’s another one. It takes time. It’s kind of cool. It’s a big project. You fail and fail and fail until slowly you’re succeeding until something happens and now you can do it.
Shane: Sure. Exactly. One of the things is our children, both of them know that when they come in, they’re expected to take out their lunch, they’re expected to put it in the dishwasher, they’re expected to take out their folder, put it in a place because mommy’s going to check it. That started at ages three, I think. You just gradually– I think chores are one of the things that too many people have let go by the wayside. It’s an important thing. They don’t have to start at age eight, kids can be building up in their own way. Brushing their own teeth, putting their own clothes on. My oldest now gets with me after dinner every night and I have him make his own peanut butter sandwich, which he’s super proud of, little things like that.
Will: Sure. That’s great. Chores are another great example there. I was talking to a dad on an earlier podcast about chores and allowance. We have basically come to the conclusion for me that I don’t want to pay for chores. [laughs] I don’t want to give allowance for chores. There are things we all need to contribute to the household. I don’t get paid for the dishes I do, or for the times I’m folding his laundry. [laughs] Anyway, that’s, I think another way. It’s important to have something that is separate from allowance if you are into allowance. Just because again, it is a mini-community. This is your family that you’re building, that you’re all building towards. It’s important.
Shane: I couldn’t agree more, but the one thing I would say– I think it’s important to have those things that are just basic expectations, not related. My wife and I talk about that. We’re not yet at an age, but one thing that has us leaning towards allowance is we would like to pull back from financial support gradually too, and lead them to manage their own accounts.
I know that there’s youth debit cards now like Greenlight, I think is what it’s called, that are effective for that. That’s also a skill that we’re leaning towards, trying to add. I don’t know when? A couple of years.
Will: Someone I was talking to, I think this was the same dad, paid his kids, I think $10, a book report or something like that.
Shane: Oh, cool.
Will: It was separate from chores. It was extra work, but it was something, “Hey if you’re going to do this, you’re learning. It’s something that I as a father want to support or we as parents want to support.
Shane: I like that idea almost as in making the chores. This is part of being a part of a family, but there’s also the– I like that. That’s an interesting idea.
Will: Interesting distinction because you’re right. When we talk about where we started, where a lot of your book centered upon is schooling. One thing that has never been very good in schools is education about budget. That’s probably the most important thing we need as adults. If we can’t afford our groceries or our rent, I mean–
Shane: Sure. My goodness, I wish I knew about compound interest when I was a–
Will: Right. [chuckles] I mean all those things. I think that’s right on. That gets to where there are a lot of things we learn in school, we expect our kids to learn in school. They already hold that we know about. Again, budgeting is a great one where just in school, you don’t really learn about budgeting or how to handle money. That’s a great opportunity for us parents.
I want to just take a bigger picture now real quick before we go because I know we’re reaching the end of our time. When we talk about schooling and all the changes you can make– I know a lot of us are a little bit nervous about schools and what happens as our kids get older because we don’t have that much insight into what’s happening in the school. How was school today? Good. What’d you do? Nothing. [laughs] Even if you have more of a conversation, you don’t really know everything going on.
As parents, I think we have that right. We want to have that right. We need to know what’s going on, what’s being taught to our kids. How do you wrestle that being a good dad, which is on the ground where you’re teaching your kid every day and trying to change the system? Is that even the right word? I’m curious how you do it and then as average dad myself, [laughs] what I should be doing?
Shane: I’ve had a unique opportunity in that respect because I’m within the system, yet a great critic of the system. Working in the schools, I’ve had the opportunity to really affect change. I’ve written proposals. My son’s elementary school has actually jumped on an initiative I wrote. They’re making changes that I’ve pushed. They’re bringing me in to do parent education, talks with the parents.
That’s great. If you can do something like that, that’s atypical. You’re right. What you also spoke to was the delicate dance of, “I want to give them personal space and the freedom to own their own world, and yet I need to have some influence if things aren’t done in a certain way.” It is such a delicate dance. We could talk education all day. Some of the issues in education are the way that rather than have clear expectations and a clear vision of what you’re trying to create and what practices.
I’ll give you an example. I think that high schoolers should all be emailing their teachers for themselves. There are exceptions. There’s the common sense exceptions, but for the most part, your high schoolers should be in charge of conducting their own life. I’ve had three requests to write letters of recommendation in the last week. Two of them came from the parent. That blew my mind.
We’re talking about someone asking for a letter of recommendation to go to college. Schools have cowed down and not clarified those expectations. In that regard, parent influence has been negative [laughs] at times. You’re not that parent if you’re listening to this show, You’ve got to make your voice heard as to telling, “We would like more guidance on dealing with tech and what the research is.”
Ask these questions. Let your schools know that these are things that they should be giving parents guidance on, that they should themselves know. They need to be familiar with what the American Academy of Pediatrics is saying about screen time, about the family screen time development plans that they recommend, and so many other things. This needs to be a community conversation.
That’s much of my initiative. That’s what I focused on is like, “Hey, we’ve got to work with our parents. We’ve needs to do parent education. We need to get a community together to reestablish norms because norms, they’re what give parents freedom and would clarify the expectations that make children more successful in their future.” That’s where my focus would be as a parent.
Will: Awesome. Shane, you really went through a lot of great topics, both in your book and then in this little 30-minute podcast. To me, one of the big takeaways is expectations. You said that multiple times. I think that’s something that could be lacking in our society and lacking in our kids and can be really harmful when it’s not there. If you don’t have the expectation that someone– you do your homework, that you do what you say you’re going to do, whatever those values are basic ones.
As we said, your kid is going to become an adult whether you like it or not. Unless thank God forbid that happens, but they’re going to become an adult. You’re either going to give them the tools or make them as equipped as they can be or not. If you’re listening to this podcast, everybody who’s listening, you’re doing your job. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect. I’m certainly not, but I’m learning and we’re learning together and that’s what it’s about.
Shane: If I can just add there, people hear expectations and they might hear that and think that’s rather restrictive sounding. To give freedom, you have to develop expectations, or else the freedom becomes its own form of tyranny. That is what frees you to live well in freedom. If you haven’t developed any disciplines or any sense of what expectations should be, you’ll stay up to all hours. You’ll do all these things that hurt you worse in the long run
Will: Well put. Well, thanks again, Shane. Again, the name of the book is Setting the Bar. I couldn’t recommend it more. You can learn more at trottershane.com, where you can find his newsletter and order the book. Then you can also find the book again, wherever good books are sold. Thanks again, Shane. This was really wonderful.
Shane: Thank you, Will. It’s been a pleasure.
Will: All right. Take care.