Generation iY, the younger Millennials born after 1990, is a troubled population that is not ready to lead the world. Tim Elmore, founding president of Growing Leaders, spoke to The Christian Post last week about his latest book, Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, where he describes characteristics of the iY generation and how to change the current tide.
CP: If you had to boil the book down, what is the one message you want readers to take away?
Elmore: I want readers to understand that Generation Y is the largest generation in American history and the second half of this generation is different than the first half, measurably different. And that we adults – whether we are parents, coaches, teachers, youth workers, whatever – are going to have to rethink how we have led and coached and parented this generation if they are going to turn out ready for life.
CP: Do you suggests parents restrict the use of iphones, ipads, Facebook, etc. and spend more face-to-face time together as a family? Would that help the problems of lack in people skills and isolation we see in the iYs?
Elmore: I think technology is here to stay. So I don’t recommend that we just completely isolate our kids from technology. I don’t think they would be able to interface with the world that we need to reach. But I do believe we need to balance screen time and face time. In fact, I make a lot of recommendations and give specific ideas in the book about making sure that they are interacting with other generations beyond just their own.
Sometimes adolescence can be in a social silo where 17-years-old can only interact with other 17-years-old through texting, tweeting, and Facebooking. We don’t grow in our emotional intelligence when we only interact with people like us.
So yes, we need to have real-life experiences not just virtual experiences; face-to-face conversations not just screen conversations. Those are the kinds of things that I think are going to build what I call the atrophy emotional and spiritual muscles inside these kids. Just like when you break an arm or a leg and it has to go in a cast, and for four to six weeks the muscles in that cast just atrophies because it hasn’t been used. I think these kids are not bad kids or troubled kids or stupid kids, but sometimes they have atrophied internal muscles spiritually, emotionally, and sometimes relationally that we need to find ways to build those muscles so they can be whole people ready to interface with the world.
CP: Once an iY reaches early 20’s, is it too late to reach them? Say this iY fits your description of isolated, depressed, not ready for the real world, quitting school and moving back with parents, and lacking social skills.
Elmore: I don’t think it’s too late because I’m a believer and I think it is never too late for God to do redemptive work. It just becomes harder the older they get. What I actually found is adolescence is expanding on both ends. Younger kids are wanting to become teenagers and wear skinny jeans and suggestive clothing, and yet on the other end they are prolonging adolescence until they are well into their 20’s.
In fact, I can’t tell you how many college deans have told me that 26 is the new 18. The MacArthur Foundation has actually released a recent report that says they don’t believe that adolescence ends until 34 years old. So that is troubling if for no other reason than this – the Baby Boomer generation is retiring. Over the next 15 years, 45 percent of the work force will be departing. Even if everybody in Generation X were a brilliant leader, there wouldn’t be enough of them to fulfill the vacancies by the Boomers. These Gen Y kids are going to be force to lead ready or not. And I’m thinking we need to get them ready for life after school ends.
CP: Can you talk about the “Quarterlife Crisis”?
Elmore: A few years ago, a couple of authors wrote a book called Quarterlife Crisis. It is about the growing number of 25-year-old, young adults who are going into clinical depression because they did not make their first million by 25 or find the perfect spouse by 25 or the perfect job or mission. And they’re spiraling downwards because their expectations were so high. The reason they were so high is because often times they grew up in a middle-class family where mommy and daddy would give them a trophy for everything, just for showing up at the soccer team.
Now they grow up and go out on their own and this world does not even look remotely close to the affirming world perhaps that they got through mom and dad. So I think mom and dad we need to do a little more preparing than protecting. We need to prepare the child for the path not just the path for the child. And again, in the book I try to provide loads and loads of practical ideas on how we can do that and be the mentors that we need to be.
CP: What is the special challenge with iY boys?
Elmore: The first two that comes to mind are these. First of all, we known for years that boys just learn and grow differently than girls. And right now, the present and current way school is done is much more favorable to females than males. Sit still, be quiet, take notes. And dutiful girls, very often but not always, will take those notes and make better grades. They are maturing faster than boys and their brains are developing faster. So the boy that wants to go out and throw something or experience something outside has to sit still.
One way that I kind of summarize the problem is this: these kids, particularly boys, are right brain, upload kids forced into left brain, download schools. What I mean by that is you know the left brain, right brain – right brain is the imaginative side and the left brain is the didactic side of our brain. Well, schools are almost all didactic. In fact, the first courses that are cut with budgetary cuts are right brain classes – drama and music and art classes.
And the upload-download thing is huge. This is an upload generation, they want to post a video on YouTube or update their Facebook profile or tweet or text. And in schools it is a download lecture. Fifty minutes where you take notes and the teacher will do most of the talking. This is just not how they have been conditioned to learn. So I think there has been a disconnect between how students learn, particularly boys, and the way schools and adults teach.
CP: What are the top damaging parenting styles?
Elmore: I listed eight in the book and then we have a website that even lists more helpful quizzes and articles. In the book I share eight damaging parenting styles. Let me share three or four with you right now.
Probably the number one damaging parenting style that we unwittingly do is commonly called the helicopter parent. It seems like everybody has written on this one. It is the parent that is hovering over their child wherever they go and making sure they get all the breaks they deserve and they get into college and the right clubs and fraternity and so on. Sadly, the helicopter parent is damaging because they are not really getting their child to live without them. They are always leaning on their parents. We have done a number of focused groups with these adolescent kids and I’ll tell you what, many of these students say, “My mom is like my agent.” She serves as an agent doing calls for me, filling out forms for me. I just don’t think that is helpful.
Another style is what I call the karaoke parent. Just like karaoke, you go down to that little grill and sing Barry Manilow back in 1974. The karaoke parent is the one that wants to sound like their child, dress like their child, be cool and be a buddy to their child. They want to be more a friend than a leader in their home. They want to be accepted and for their kid to open up to them. Well, that’s understandable. But unfortunately, they want to be a buddy so bad they don’t have the respect they need and they’re not able to lead and put up boundaries when they need to. At least where I live, in Atlanta, Georgia, there are many, many cases where parents are unable to lead, they don’t want to be disliked by their kids and unfortunately they end up not only being disliked but disrespected.
I’ll tell you another one. The dry-cleaner parent. Just like you take your dry clean and say, “I messed up this shirt can you clean it up by Friday?” These parents want to drop their kids off to a Christian school, a church youth group or a soccer team and say, “Hey, I don’t know what I am doing here. I messed this kid up. Can you fix him up in one season or one year or whatever?” They are expecting some “professional” to do the ultimate work that a parent is really intended to do. They acquiesced their number one job, which is to mentor their kid.
One more real quick, the volcano parent. We have all seen them even though we don’t know what they’re called. They just erupt over sometimes the tiniest issues. There is something small that went wrong and they just go ballistic emotionally. And you kind of wonder, “My goodness, they are kind of killing a roach with a shotgun here.” In reality, the problem in my mind is these parents are sometimes living out their unlived lives through their child. That four-year-old’s dad is kind of fat, forty and can’t play ball anymore, certainly wants to have his son succeed because he never did and he really wants his son to be the best third baseman and make it to the traveling league. I just feel bad for these kids because some of them just want to get an ice cream cone and eat it at the end of the game and play with their friends. And these parents, I don’t know if we realized what we done.
So again, it is unwitting damage. This is a very engaged generation of parents but we done damage by doing too much for these kids.
CP: What do you hope the church will do in light of this book?
Elmore: I hope the church will rethink her programming. Make it more EPIC in nature. EPIC is an acronym. Make it more experiential,