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I dedicate this book to the students I meet each week who've made the jump from artificial maturity to authentic maturity. From the GSLT students in Gwinnett County, Georgia, to the “Emerging Tide Leaders,” the student athletes at the University of Alabama; from the RAs at Purdue University to the student leaders at College of the Ozarks … you give me hope that the future is bright and in good hands.

Before You Read Anything Else…

I am very aware that the title of this book may sound negative. It might appear as though I am a prophet of doom who sees the glass as half empty and believes that kids today are worse than they've ever been.

That isn't true. This is actually a book of hope. I love kids. I have worked with students since 1979, and I believe in this generation like none before. I believe they have the potential to be the greatest generation—a population Warren Bennis calls the “Crucible Generation.” He and many others believe these young people may just be the ones who transform society globally and restore democracy and goodwill.

I believe this with one caveat. I predict all this is possible if we, the adults, will rethink the way we parent, lead, teach, coach, pastor, and manage them. It's up to us what kinds of adults our kids will become. So far, many of them are a part of a leaderless generation. The adults have failed to provide them with a compass for their lives. Many adults have done more protecting than preparing. Some moms and dads want to be pals rather than parents. And many adults are just overwhelmed with the notion of leading kids today—and they surrender their role as leaders.

Abigail Van Buren once said, “If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.” I am concerned that we've ignored this simple wisdom from the past, and we've produced children who are a shadow of what they could be. I am convinced they are capable of so much more than we expect of them. They are loaded with potential, but we've been afraid to let them try … to let them fly.

I recently had the privilege of teaching leadership to high school students in Gwinnett County, Georgia. They are part of GSLT: the Gwinnett Student Leadership Team. I love these students. They are bright, alert, grateful, energetic, and hungry to grow and learn. At the end of the training session, one girl approached me and said something we hear students say over and over again: “Thanks for not dumbing down the principles you teach. Thanks for talking to us like adults. Thanks for not making this easy, but expecting us to rise to the challenge and actually apply what you share with us.”

This junior in high school was simply saying she appreciated adults who conversed with her rather than lectured to her; adults who relayed life-changing principles to her and the other teens in the room. She was grateful for adults who believed these high school students could actually go back to their campus and practice the principles that were presented.

I have said for years that we adults underchallenge kids today. They are capable of so much more than we imagine or require of them. And they want to achieve more, but often fail to because adults don't challenge them. We dumb it down.

In our desire to make sure that everyone gets it, that everyone feels like a winner and no one ever feels left out, we oversimplify; we introduce a world that is far too syrupy and unreal … and kids know it. Sadly, we prefer happy kids, who may be oblivious or numb to the tragedies around the world that beckon them to serve and to lead. We leave them unmotivated and unchallenged. Consequently, they live “down” to our expectations … and remain kids.

I have a deal to make with you. How about we stop that. Instead, let's believe in these students and challenge them to rise to their potential. My guess is they'll do it and surprise us with their gifts, ingenuity, and influence. I'd like to give it a shot. As Robert Brault once said, “Do not ask that your kids live up to your expectations. Let your kids be who they are, and your expectations will be in breathless pursuit.”

For this book to be as practical as possible, I knew I couldn't do it alone. So I sent a message out to more than twenty thousand parents, teachers, youth pastors, deans, principals, employers, and coaches around the world, asking them if they'd be willing to send me their most helpful ideas, projects, or traditions that have enabled the kids under their care to mature and become healthy adults. The responses I got were nothing short of amazing.

In fact, I was elated to receive far more ideas than I could possibly put in this book. I am grateful to everyone who weighed in, and you can read many of the ideas that couldn't fit into this book in my daily blog: . Some of the most helpful and creative ideas that I thought might spark some ideas of your own—and help you create traditions to foster authentic maturity in your kids—are included as exercises at the end of each chapter.

Here is my attempt to sound a warning I believe caring adults must hear and heed. I recognize only a fraction of the population may hear this cry—but I am crying out anyway. Will you join me in developing these kids into the best versions of themselves? As they grow, may they be the greatest adults our world has ever seen.

Tim Elmore

APRIL 2012

Chapter 1

What Is Artificial Maturity?

California, the Golden State, was home for most of my life. It's probably called the Golden State for a number of reasons—not the least of which was the gold rush, which started on January 24, 1848.

James Wilson Marshall was not on a gold-hunting expedition that icy Monday morning. He and his crew were building a sawmill. Early that day as Marshall inspected the site, he saw flakes of raw yellow imbedded in the smooth granite bedrock. Once word about his discovery got out, people swarmed to California with the hope of getting rich overnight. The infamous gold rush was on.

The part of this story most people forget is the large number of people whose expectations were dashed when they found nothing—or worse, when they discovered iron pyrite, or “fool's gold,” a naturally occurring mineral that is often mistaken for gold. Many “fools” thought they struck it rich in that rush, only to find out that their “gold” was actually worthless.

In many ways we have another gold rush today. This time, the gold we hunt for is mature teens. By this I mean young people who are mature for their age; kids who experience “authentic maturity,” growing up not merely in one facet of their lives but also physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. This is what parents hope for in their kids. It's what teachers dream of in their students; it's what coaches look for in their athletes; it's what employers need in their young team members. That maturity is what we saw in many young people a hundred years ago—but, alas, it is rare today. Something in our culture has shifted.

Educators and social scientists are mourning today's generation of kids who have postponed growing up. They lament students' delayed entrance into adulthood. Adolescence, in fact, has been prolonged among millions of teens and young adults. I have lost count of the number of university deans who've told me: “Twenty-six is the new eighteen.” In a nationwide survey, young adults agree. When asked what marks the beginning of adult responsibility, their number one response was “having my first child.” Interesting. The average age that Americans have their first child is twenty-seven-and-a-half years old. The MacArthur Foundation suggests that adolescence doesn't end until age thirty-four. Employers, coaches, teachers, and parents are “hunting” for an elusive maturity that, frankly, is hard to find. And what's scarce is valuable. No doubt about it, there's a rush on.

Although authentic maturity is increasingly rare among young people, it does exist. When I find it, I feel like I've found a precious metal. Much more prevalent, however, is an artificial maturity brought about by a perfect storm of elements in our culture today. You might call it a new kind of fool's gold. And it has a far more devastating impact than the disappointment that followed the detection of the original fool's gold centuries ago.

Allow me to describe a common scenario. An eight-year-old impresses his parents because he's known his multiplication tables for over a year, and he can download the latest software on his tablet computer. Adults marvel at this little guy. “He certainly is mature for his age, isn't he?” folks remark.

Maybe. Maybe not.

The fact is, he has been exposed to data at a very young age—far earlier than in past generations, thanks to the Internet. Consequently, the eight-year-old is cognitively advanced but may not be as developed in, for example, his emotional maturity. In fact, because of the external stimulation of a screen, his growth may be underdeveloped in other areas of his life. His maturity is both advanced and delayed. We fail to recognize the difference, too often mistaking one form of advanced development for overall maturity. That same child, at sixteen years old, may not be able to look an adult in the eye and have a mature conversation. The fool's gold suddenly becomes painfully evident.

Have you ever had this conversation with a teenager?

“Hi, Josh. How are you doing today?”

A long pause. He grunts while gazing at his iPhone. “Uh, fine.”

“How's school going?”

Another pause, as Josh sends a text. “Huh?”

I said, “How's school going for you?”

“Uh. OK, I guess.”

“What subject do you enjoy the most?”

As Josh realizes you are actually interested, he looks up, but face-to-face conversations are not his specialty.

“Uh, I dunno.”

The fool's gold glistens.

The Problem

Herein lies our problem. Because of the ubiquitous technology available on our phones and at our fingertips, we are raising, not Generation Y, but Generation iY. They have grown up online and have been influenced by the “iWorld.” In my book Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, I laid out a diagnosis of this current generation. That book documented research on and explained the various facets of this generation's immediate dilemma. This book provides the prescription. In order to understand and apply the suggested solutions, some background concerning Generation iY will be sprinkled throughout these chapters. For those of you who have read Generation iY, the background information will be a review. For those new to this subject, this information will explain why it's so vital to address the issues necessary to transform artificial maturity into authentic maturity.

In short, the artificial maturity dilemma can be described this way:

1. Children are overexposed to information, far earlier than they're ready.
2. Children are underexposed to real-life experiences far later than they're ready.

This overexposure-underexposure produces artificial maturity. It's a new kind of fool's gold. It looks so real because kids know so much, but it's virtual because they have experienced so little. Information comes to them easily and readily because of the day we live in. They possess a sort of “Google reflex.” The speed at which data reach them has paradoxically slowed down their actual maturity. Fortunately, this is not happening to every young person. Many escape it with the help of good parents and good teachers. But for millions, our culture has done a number on them. It's not their fault. They're victims of the elements in our twenty-first-century world—and we must figure out how to lead them.

The ancient Greeks actually understood the concepts underlying this issue very well. They used two words for our English word “know” in their language: ginosko and oida. Although both communicated the idea of knowledge, they described two different kinds of knowledge:

1. Ginosko—to be aware of; to be informed; to become acquainted with
2. Oida—to fully perceive and understand through experience

Obviously oida represented a much richer knowledge that comes through practicing life. It's a depth of knowledge that ginosko can only imagine. One is more about information. The other refers to an authentic, deeper experience.

Let me illustrate. In 1988 my friend Jeff Robinson pitched for the Detroit Tigers. He was a tall, well-built athlete with a great fastball. Jeff invited me to come see him play from time to time. One evening I stood in the stands watching him warm up in the bullpen before the game. Another fan walked up next to me and began yelling to Jeff: “Hey Robinson! Give me a baseball!” He continued barking out Jeff's statistics that season, hoping his insight and persistence would wear my friend down, until Jeff would ultimately toss a ball over to him. Well, the plan backfired. I saw Jeff smile at me, then stop to grab a ball. He proceeded to walk over to where we were standing. The loudmouth next to me assumed Jeff was finally caving and bringing him a souvenir baseball. But he was wrong. Jeff proceeded to sign the ball and hand it to me, his friend. It was a moment I have savored since that night. You should have seen the look on that fan's face when I, the silent guy standing next to him, walked away with a baseball signed by a major-league player.

Can you see what happened that night? Both of us “knew” Jeff Robinson, but in reality the other guy could only boast that he knew a lot about Jeff. I actually knew Jeff. It wasn't mere information; it was knowledge through years of relationship and life experience.

Today, because information is so prevalent, our kids assume they have oida (experiential knowledge) when they only have ginosko (informational knowledge). With an abundance of knowledge, their confidence can soar, but it's based on a virtual foundation. Without experience, it's easier for knowledge to produce judgmental attitudes, bullying, and arrogance. To put it bluntly, it's often head knowledge gained from looking at a screen. Although the knowledge may be accurate, we cannot assume they can achieve any more than the screen itself can achieve with that knowledge. Ginosko without oida is hollow. This is causing the phenomenon I call artificial maturity. Real maturity isn't happening until well into their adult lives.

The Big Debate

Upon hearing this, parents often ask me any of a number of questions: “But isn't it just the opposite? Aren't kids growing up too soon? What about the eleven-year-olds who want to dress in explicit and provocative ways? And what about the thirteen-year-olds who know more than their parents do about using an iPad? Doesn't this mean adolescence is actually arriving sooner and kids are growing up quicker?”

The big debate over the last few years among parents and teachers is this very issue: Are kids growing up too fast or too slowly?

The answer is: yes. Both are true.

The reason is simple. The time frame of adolescence is actually expanding in both directions. Children desire to enter it as early as eight years old, having been exposed to teen Web sites, social media, reality TV, explicit movies, and unlimited time viewing data that beckon them into the teen mentality. (Some want to get body piercings and tattoos while they're still in elementary school.) In this sense, they seem to want to grow up too fast. At the same time, young adults linger in adolescence long into their twenties and even thirties. Adolescence is no longer a doorway into adulthood. It is an extended season of life.

Journalist Sharon Jayson from USA Today reminds us that at five and six years old, kids are playing with toys and dolls, crafts, and puppet shows. After that, kids skip to a “tween” stage marking early adolescence. They want independence but not responsibility. Parents fear giving kids too much independence because of the unsafe world we live in. They're torn about such things as letting children ride their bike around the block, activities an older generation of parents hardly thought twice about. These days parents frequently stay on the phone with their children at all times of day to ensure their safety.

Today's kids may never know the innocence, exploration, and imagination that we recall from our childhood. Parents rarely let their kids walk to school or use public transportation by themselves, and they schedule their day full with piano, soccer, ceramics, and math club. A focus on safety is understandable, but it can prevent children from taking calculated risks and learning to fail, both of which help people mature. The activities we provide are great—but they are all monitored for the kids. Consequently, children often don't know what to do with free time. They fail to learn to resolve conflict, think for themselves, or do real-life problem solving.

Sadly, although our intentions are good, we leave kids without the tools to self-regulate. This is why the average college student is in touch with his or her mom or dad eleven times a day. Or why 80 percent of students plan to return home after college. They are unable to be autonomous adults. They usually want the autonomy, but they may not be ready for the responsibility. Once again, they've been overexposed to data but underexposed to real-life experiences. It's all virtual—or artificial—maturity.

Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen write,


We give our young people too few ways to reach real maturity, and so instead they seek out behaviors that provide the appearance of adulthood without the substance. And if adolescence doesn't actually involve taking on real adultlike tasks and responsibility, if it's become just an extended form of childhood, then of course nine-, ten-, and eleven-year-olds might want to join in the fun. Adolescence has come to be associated with drinking, smoking, having sex, and acquiring material goods, legally or otherwise. These activities provide the veneer of adulthood, but with none of the underlying demands or responsibilities (like holding a real job) that would otherwise make adolescence unreachable for most preteens.


My nineteen-year-old son made an observation today, as he commented on his peers who plan to go into video production. He said, “Dad, I've noticed a lot of kids my age think they are mature. Because they know a lot about a subject, they assume they've mastered it. Then, when you look at their actual work, you realize they aren't mature at all. They've deceived themselves.”

This is a microcosm of what's happening all over our nation. The overload of information causes kids to think they are mature. It fosters confidence and often arrogance. In reality, many have low self-awareness. And self-awareness is developed through real-life experiences.

Consider the TV show American Idol for a moment. Everyone loves to watch the first two weeks of the season because thousands of kids show up to audition, many of whom don't belong on a stage. Somehow they got the idea they could sing, and only real-life experiences and evaluation can deliver a dose of reality to them. It's often disturbing. TV viewers watch and wonder: How did you ever get the idea you could sing? Who are your friends?

I am a parent and an educator. I have two kids of my own and fight the same temptations all parents do to pave the way for our kids. But our well-intentioned efforts have unintended consequences:

This leaves kids with lots of confidence—unfounded confidence, because in reality they have little ability to do things for themselves. I've found it eventually creates a gnawing sense of doubt in children that they don't have what it takes to make it in the world following school. They're confident on the outside, but anxious (and often depressed) on the inside. Caring adults meant well, but we provided structure and information too early and real-life experiences too late.

According to a study at Pennsylvania State University, “Younger generations today are grappling with a new social contract, i.e., a change in the ties that bind members of a nation together. In the mid–twentieth century, social markers such as finishing school, getting a job, getting married, and starting a family followed a predictable sequence.” Today, not so much. A shifting job market, an unstable economy, new parenting styles, and a truckload of other elements have changed what it means to grow up and be independent.

I recently met with a twenty-two-year-old named Darren. He asked to meet with me, but wasn't exactly sure what he wanted. Even though he'd always projected confidence in my previous interactions with him, he seemed melancholy on the day of our meeting. As I probed into what was going on, I uncovered symptoms I see in many young people today: a love-hate relationship with his parents; a façade of confidence on the outside, masking a ton of self-doubt on the inside; and complete ambiguity about what direction he should take in his life. He was well-informed but ill-prepared for adult life, which left him paralyzed and depressed about the future.

Premature information without practical application can be dangerous. It can also diminish incentive in young people to seek out experience and grow. In a recent interview with Colonel Randy Allen, an officer who has trained U.S. Air Force pilots for over twenty-five years, I gained some insight into our challenge. He summarized it by saying, “Kids today possess knowledge without context.” Then he added, “And that can be dangerous. Minimally, many stop hungering for genuine reality, risk, and uncertainty, being satisfied with a virtual reality.” They become stimulated but not focused. As Herbert Simon once said, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Four Areas to Measure

Let's examine how we actually ought to measure what it means to “grow up” and mature. When educators evaluate a child's maturation, they generally measure four aspects:

1. Biological—the physical growth of the young person
2. Cognitive—the intellectual growth of the young person
3. Social—the interactive growth of the young person
4. Emotional—the intrapersonal growth of the young person

Of the tens of thousands of students I interact with each year, most are advanced in the first three areas but postponed in the fourth. Their bodies are growing up faster, their minds are filled with information, their social connections are immense, but their emotional intelligence has been stunted. In the emotional sphere we see an incredible inconsistency. These students are both advanced in their maturity and postponed at the same time.

Adults are apparently at a loss as to what to do about this. The reason? For the first time in history, young people do not need an adult (teacher, parent, or leader) to get information. It can be found everywhere. It may be inaccurate. It may be damaging. And it may come far too early for their emotions to handle it. I once heard sociology professor Tony Campolo say, “I don't think we live in a generation of bad kids, but a generation of kids who know too much too soon”—a sentiment I wholeheartedly embrace.

So What Are We to Do?

Determining what we must do to respond to this syndrome is the topic of this book. First and foremost, these two questions will be addressed: How can we better teach, parent, coach, and manage Generation iY? and What can be done to foster authentic maturity as young people graduate and enter their various careers?

Let me whet your appetite and offer some of my initial thoughts to spark your own. If you work with young adults—whether you're a parent, employer, coach, or teacher—I suggest the following ideas to begin transforming their fool's gold into genuine gold.

1. Provide autonomy and responsibility simultaneously. I believe the two concepts of autonomy and responsibility are “twins” that should be given in proportion to one another. When a child wants autonomy, be sure there is proportionate responsibility given too. Either without the other stunts growth. For example, the car keys should be loaned with the responsibility to fill up the gas tank or to make a curfew. The first doesn't come without the second. What if every independent act were coupled with an interdependent act? Chapter Four will examine this in more detail.
2. Provide information and accountability simultaneously. Information should not be given to children without a required corresponding application. For instance, when a student learns something, maturity demands that he or she ask: What action should be taken in response to this knowledge? There is far more information than application today, and this produces consumers, not contributors. Employers should use this as a gauge for their staff. What if each bit of data were followed by an accountability question? Chapters Four and Eight will address the need for and value of these elements.
3. Provide experiences to accompany their technology-savvy lifestyles. Because kids are inundated with messages each day on screens, plan face-to-face experiences through which they can interact with people from other generations—perhaps on a field trip or at a social gathering. People skills and social savvy must be intentionally cultivated. Three-dimensional “face time” must at least match two-dimensional “screen time.” In other words, what if the number of hours kids spent with adults of all ages equaled the number of hours they spent in front of a screen? We'll take an additional look at this approach in Chapter Five.
4. Provide community service opportunities to balance their self-service time. Let's face it, any of us can live in a world that's all about “me.” Children may interact with others and still be almost completely self-absorbed. We must furnish a balance of community service time during which they are generously giving away their time and energy to others. This fosters a mature perspective. What if regular service or sacrifice hours accompanied isolated, self-absorbed hours for both adults and kids? We will reflect more deeply on this idea in Chapter Six.

Maturity happens when balance happens. Equivalent doses of the previous four elements will foster good perspective and wise decision making. This approach also produces adults who are valuable contributors to society.

In this book we'll examine how to lead the kids under our noses into genuine maturity. I hope to equip you to equip them. The intended outcome? To build healthy leaders. We must enable them, first, to lead themselves well, then to influence others in a positive way.


genu What's Your Plan?
What do you plan to do to balance your kids' lives with both ginosko (information) and oida (wisdom that comes through experience)?

Stop and reflect for a moment. “Generations ago, fourteen-year-olds used to drive, seventeen-year-olds led armies, and even average teens contributed labor and income that helped keep their families afloat. While facing other problems, those teens displayed adultlike maturity far more quickly than today's, who are remarkably well kept, but cut off from most of the responsibility, challenge, and growth-producing feedback of the adult world.” Even younger children embraced meaningful work that helped them mature. A hundred years ago, twelve-year-olds were reading and discussing Cicero, and kids as young as four contributed to the family chores. More was expected of them, and adults discovered it was in them to meet their appropriate responsibilities as members of the family.

Students born after 1990 are a different breed, due to the world we built for them. This generation is the product of our making; in short, we created the fool's gold. We must now transform this artificial maturity into authentic maturity. I believe that if we are successful, these kids will be worth their weight… in gold.

First, however, we need to understand the dilemma we face. There are questions we must address before we proceed. How did we get into this place? Can we prevent artificial maturity? Are there dangers to avoid? These are helpful questions. Just as a good doctor must first diagnose the patient's condition before prescribing anything for it, let's take some time and discover how we got here in the first place.

Chapter in a Nutshell

Talk It Over

1. Name some examples of when you have seen kids exposed to too much information too early, and underexposed to real-life experiences.
2. How did we get into this place? Can we prevent artificial maturity?

Exercises for Maturing Kids
Beginning with my children in the eleventh grade, they must sit down and watch me pay bills online. We discuss the money coming in and the money going out. We use real-life examples when the “unexpected” comes up to ensure that they think about prioritization and consequences to their decisions. In addition, at the age of nine my sons began cleaning the kitchen each night and their rooms weekly, and they washed their clothes. When they were in high school, I also exposed them to cooking for themselves. It is important that our children can take care of themselves—cooking, cleaning, laundry, and finances.

—Vicki Hamilton

When one of our kids needed punishment for breaking the rules, instead of grounding them or taking things away from them such as TV or phone, I would make them read the newspaper. After reading the newspaper, I would ask them questions about articles in the paper; they never knew which article the question would be from, so they had to read the whole paper.

—Judy Perkins Brown

Both our teenage boys are required to take their mom on a date before they will be allowed to go out on a one-on-one date with a girl they like. The requirement is that they make it a real date. They pick Mom up at the door…they open her car door for her…they buy dinner, or whatever the activity is. It's a date. Only after they do that successfully can they go out with someone else. Interestingly…our oldest son put this off, unsure if we were serious. So the time came when he wanted to go on a date with a girl that he liked—and we reminded him that he had to take his mom out first. He was a little put out by it…but he did it; he passed the test and got our blessing to go on his first “real” date.

—Todd Nettleton


Chapter 2

We Didn't See It Coming

Something is happening in our culture. There is a subtle but very real shift taking place.

If you work alongside adults, you may not see it because adults often get stuck in steady routines. They won't reveal the shift. If you work with students, you still may not see it because you are so close to the change that you can become numb to it. But mark my words—a shift is taking place. It represents the chief reason for the artificial maturity syndrome we see.

I remember attending a magic show when I was a kid. I loved it. The magician was so…uh…magical. As I look back, I can see now how he pulled off his card tricks. He'd get his audience to focus on one of his hands, and meanwhile no one noticed he was exchanging a card in his other hand. It's standard procedure for amateur magicians, but it worked on all of us. We never saw the whole picture of what was happening.

I believe something similar happened in American culture between 1985 and 2000. While we were busy and consumed with our personal agendas, a change occurred in the very way we go about our lives. The cards were changed, but it all looked good to us. What we didn't see were the unintended consequences for our society.

Evan exemplifies this. He was born in 1991, a healthy, beautiful baby boy with a full head of hair and big blue eyes. He was the child every parent dreams of having. Early on, his mother introduced him to The Mozart Effect (had Baby Einstein been around then, Evan would have experienced that as well). Little Evan was reading books at three and a half years old. By four he was on the computer, doing simple math problems, surfing Web sites, and playing video games. By five he knew how to download software. His parents knew he was smart; their friends called him a child prodigy. Everyone predicted Evan would take the world by storm as an adult.

Fast-forward to today. Evan is still smart, but his life has stalled. He has started and quit college twice. He has lots of friends on Facebook, but he is socially awkward in person. He avoids face-to-face interactions with adults. He can't seem to work in community with others, which exacerbates the problem. He comes across as cocky and self-absorbed. He shuns team projects, which causes others to distance themselves from him. When he dates, his conversations revolve around his life; girls eventually grow weary of it and break up with him.

Evan has no idea what he wants to do when he “grows up.” Although still young, this one-time child prodigy is failing in life. He seemed so mature at five; so ready for life when he started school! How could he be so immature and unready at twenty-one? I think I know. It's artificial maturity. His parents and teachers didn't see what was happening between the ages of twelve and twenty-one…and they failed to prepare him for the future.

Generation iY

Just take a look at the emerging generation of students today. They are part of what sociologists call Generation Y (born in the 1980s and 1990s), but members of the latter half of their population, those born in the 1990s, are different from those born in the 1980s. The young adults born in the 1980s are part of an amazing population. During their adolescence…

Today, things are different. Although they share many traits with those born in the decade before them, the wave of kids born since 1990 is unique. I call them Generation iY, due to the impact of the “iWorld.” They have grown up online and are products of iPods, iPhones, iChat, iTunes, iMovies, and iPads, and life for many of them is pretty much about “I.” They are much more self-absorbed than the older Generation Y population. Empathy has dropped 40 percent in college students over the last decade, according to a University of Michigan study. In a longitudinal study by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell students today were found to be 34 percent more narcissistic (and less altruistic) than students just fifteen years ago. Ten years ago, 90 percent of high school students planned to attend college. Today, 30 percent don't even graduate from high school. The bottom line? They're getting stuck.

One parent recently said to me, “At eight years old, they seem like they're eighteen. At eighteen, they seem like they're eight.” Another dad echoed the comment: “At six, they act like they're ten. At sixteen, they act like they're still ten.” Perhaps these comments are exaggerations, spoken by frustrated parents. What they're saying, however, is that the maturity they assumed their children possessed early on turned out to be ginosko (information leading to confidence), not oida (experience leading to maturity).

So…What Has Happened?

Please don't get me wrong. I love these kids and work with tens of thousands of them every year—in fact, I wrote this book because of how much I believe in them. But we adults must change the way we lead them if we're to prepare them for life in the adult world. The shifts we're currently experiencing actually have been slowly evolving throughout the twentieth century. There has been a perfect storm of factors contributing to the state of our current culture that we, as leaders, teachers, and caring adults, must understand if we're to respond well. I introduced most of these factors in my book Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future. Before we move to how to address this challenge (which is really what this book is about), allow me to summarize a handful of reasons why we have so much artificial maturity today:

1. The invention of high school. By the 1920s, education was changing. The one-room schoolhouse was in decline. Students were pressed into age-graded groups and began to interact mostly with peers. The church followed suit with its programming. Social silos were the result. The downward spiral of emotional intelligence began. Let's be honest. We get lazy when connecting only with others like us. Such a setting can produce false confidence as students interface primarily with a homogeneous audience, and it diminishes their ability to handle generational diversity.
2. Video games. All the legitimate research I've found shows that the more time spent with a video game the poorer kids do in school. Male teens spend an average of thirteen and a half hours a week in gaming; this postpones their readiness for life. The adult world ambushes them. Stanford University has gone so far as to no longer accept “gamers” into their medical school. Once again, video games foster a false confidence in adolescents while delaying their ability to interface with an organic, slower-paced, three-dimensional reality.
3. Prescription drugs. The United States represents 5 percent of the world's population, but we consume 90 percent of the prescription drugs, which are given to kids for things like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression. Sadly, long after the meds are gone, the personalities of these kids have been altered. They're artificially lethargic. As I've interacted with fifty thousand students, parents, and faculty members each year, I've observed that adults have become lazy when dealing with energetic kids. We medicate kids instead of being creative, and as a consequence we produce kids who lack ambition.
4. Parenting styles. Along with a new generation of kids, we have a new generation of parents today. I'm one of them. We've made our kids our trophies—we hover over, emulate, serve, and congratulate them. As I mentioned in Chapter One, we have structured their lives to the point where we've removed their ability to self-regulate. Often, we don't mother, we smother. Although there are many healthy parents today, far too many have prevented their children from growing up by acting like agents for them. We've done more protecting than preparing our kids. Children have a difficult time growing up if their parents have not done so first.
5. Endocrine disruptors. BPA and other chemicals in plastics have entered our human systems. When ingested, BPA mimics estrogen, the female hormone. It wreaks havoc on kids' bodies and delays a clear sense of identity. It's a “gender bender,” and 90 percent of kids today have BPA inside them. According to Leonard Sax, testosterone levels are dropping, and boys' testosterone levels today are half what they were in their grandparents' day. Chemicals may speed up puberty, but they postpone internal maturation.
6. Teaching methods. There is a gap growing between schools and students. One fundamental issue can be summarized this way: students today are right-brained, “upload” kids forced to attend left-brained, “download” schools. Our schools condition students to be passive, take notes, and regurgitate data for the final. Most are not experiential or participatory, and it causes a disconnect. We're not teaching the way kids learn best; they're passing but not learning. Most teachers are heroes to me, but the school systems are failing.
7. Niche marketing. Decades ago, retailers and marketers picked up on youth as a target market. Success came as they preyed on adolescent insecurities and desires, creating a hunger to look and stay young. As they've honed this skill, marketers have contributed to prolonged adolescence. They actually want young people to remain immature and purchase impetuously. There's no mention of consequences or buyer's remorse. Even when it's time to grow up, many college graduates remain dependent children. As I mentioned previously, one report tells us 80 percent of students move back home after college.
8. Media and technology. We all love technology, but television, YouTube, Google, Twitter, Facebook, iPhones, and Second Life have a downside. They provide instant gratification and results. If something takes too long or isn't fun, students can delete it, stop it, block it, or log off. This is nothing like the real world. Much of their world is artificial or virtual, filled with video games, social media, and so on. In fact, I've often compared their world to a reality TV show. It's adventuresome, but everyone's safe and someone gets a prize when it's over. This lifestyle leaves many from Generation iY ill-prepared for the adult world they'll soon enter.

High Arrogance, Low Self-Esteem

You may have noticed I spoke of “false confidence” in some of the preceding list items. There is actually a phenomenon occurring in adolescents today that psychologists refer to as “high arrogance, low self-esteem.” It's common among those in Generation iY, who grew up feeling so confident with the world at their fingertips, discovering new sites online, texting and tweeting, receiving parents' affirmation, and perusing data portals. It all sounds good, but it can create an arrogant attitude in students who act as if they think they know more than parents and teachers (although in some cases they actually do). However, in time, students intuitively or subconsciously recognize that their knowledge is hollow. Except in rare cases, their knowledge has only entertained them. It has not produced anything real. This realization can lead to quiet suspicions and doubts that they may not have what it takes to be adults.

I recently met with two parents of teenagers. The first was a father of a seventeen-year-old daughter. She had been a stellar example of everything a dad would want in a child: she made A's, she was a cheerleader, she had lots of friends, and she had launched a campus club that recycled aluminum cans. However, this father told me that something was wrong. His daughter had become depressed and mean-spirited. After seeing a counselor, all three concluded it was the high-arrogance, low-self-esteem syndrome.

The second parent I met was a mother of a freshman in college. Her son was a typical “computer geek” who loved everything technology had to offer. He was smart and had somehow figured out how to “win” at everything he tried to do. But he, too, was a victim of this same condition. He was acutely self-aware and told his mom he felt it was the confidence he'd experienced online with computers combined with the nagging feeling that he was not good enough “off-line.” He felt the need to project his self-worth. To brag. To overcompensate in whatever activity he set out to do. When I met with him, he and I agreed the best way to describe his situation was this: high arrogance, low self-esteem.