Do you remember the character in Greek mythology named Narcissus? He was the handsome man who, because of his indifference and disdain toward others, was punished by the gods to fall in love with his own reflection when he looked into the water. In fact, he so enraptured by his beauty that he was unable to pull himself away from his reflection, and as a result, wasted away and died.

Unfortunately, his spirit lives on in America today. Especially among students.

photo credit: toolmantim via photopin cc

photo credit: toolmantim via photopin cc

Narcissism is on the rise in kids today. One study found that one in four young people were classified as narcissistic, according to a widely accepted psychological test. That number has doubled in the last thirty years. Another study reported that since the 1980s, there’s been a 40% decline among young people in empathy, a personality attribute inversely related to narcissism. In nationwide reports, it takes teens longer to get ready in the morning than at any time since we’ve been studying this topic. They are distracted by the mirror and often blinded to the needs of others.

TV psychologist Dr. Drew performed a study of celebrities and found them to be even more narcissistic than the general population. (Are you surprised?) What’s funny is—the celebrities most prone to Narcissistic Personality Disorder were female reality TV stars! More than talent, it’s likely their narcissism drove them to be stars. According to psychologist Dr. Jim Taylor, another fascinating study was just published exploring the changes in music lyrics over the past three decades. The researchers found a significant shift toward lyrics that reflect narcissism (“I” and “me” appear more often “we” and “us”) and hostility (change from positive to angry words and emotions). These findings aren’t just due to the increased popularity and influence of hip-hop music (which is known for its aggrandizement of the artists and its venom), but are evident across musical genres.

All of this is cultivating a generation of kids who are enamored with themselves. They have a false sense of who they are. No doubt, we want our children to possess a healthy self-esteem, a sense of self-love. But their condition is now bordering on unhealthy. Self-love is incomplete and immature as a solo attribute. Self-love without empathy is lopsided and leads to both arrogance and misery. We are setting teens and twenty-somethings up for a fall as adults. And now, it’s time to act, as mentors and teachers in their lives.

Steps We Can Take

If you see signs of this in the kids or students you lead, consider the following:

  1. Talk about this topic. Share the statistics from this blog. Discuss how narcissism impacts their generation. Do they see it?
  2. Work to equip them to see the role they play in the bigger picture. They play a role in history, but they may not be the “star” of the story.
  3. Visit the homeless or families who live in poverty. Help them see those less fortunate. This can diminish their sense of entitlement.
  4. Talk about the song lyrics in popular music today. How does it play into self-absorption and self-pleasure?
  5. Help them get involved serving the community around them. Participating in meeting the needs of others is the quickest way to overcome selfishness.
  6. Discuss limiting their time in front of the mirror or in front of shows that foster narcissism and self-absorption.

What have you observed? What steps would you add to this list? Let’s make it helpful to all kinds of problematic scenarios.


Generation iY – Helping you understand, connect, and lead today’s students.


You’ve probably read how American students continue to fall behind their international peers in many academic subjects, especially math. In the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), U.S. students ranked 26th out of 34 countries in math. Many assume math isn’t our students’ strong suit. I don’t believe it. I simply believe we have not developed them well.

students in classroom

Students are Underestimated and Under-Challenged 

New research from April’s issue of the American Educational Research Journal finds kindergarten students learn more when they’re exposed to challenging content – even math — that is typically reserved for later years. In turn, elementary school students who were taught more sophisticated math experienced bigger gains in mathematics, reported the study’s lead author, Amy Claessens of the University of Chicago.

Normally, educators try to improve our students’ scores by lengthening the school day or the class size, but rarely do they adjust the level of challenge in the content. Schools in Asia challenge students by building into the curriculum topics like perseverance and resilience. These students are learning both hard and soft skills, and as a result are performing better.

Dr. Claessens and her colleagues also relay that students do not benefit from basic content. All of the kindergarteners in the study, regardless of economic background or initial skill level, benefited from exposure to more advanced content. Hmmm. Very interesting to me.

We Need Push Time and Pull Time

Students need stimulating challenges. We all do better when teachers or leaders call out the best in us. I am not suggesting overwhelming students, but rather challenging them to think and try hard. This prevents both boredom and bullying.

In addition, they need down time where they have time for their own refueling and get to choose the agenda, whether it be playing with friends outside or playing video or board games. The key is this — they need “on their own agenda” time.

I write frequently how students today are overwhelmed. Part of the reason is that adults so control their lives early on, to the point that they never feel like they got to be a kid. In fact, I believe this is part of the reason they want to remain adolescent-like well into their twenties. We have over-programmed their lives to the effect that they don’t know how to do it themselves when its time. We “push them” so long and so hard that they don’t learn how to “pull out” their own personal growth. They are ill equipped for freethinking time.

We All Need This

I actually believe this is not just for kids, but for all of us. For years, 3M has allotted 20 percent of every week to work on whatever the employees want. They explore ideas and create new projects, and it’s completely their agenda. Google does the same thing. Friday is the day where team members make up their agenda. Call it both PUSH time and PULL time. I believe this is part of human development:

PUSH TIME. We need time where we are challenged. We grow best when someone is challenging us to perform at our best.

PULL TIME. We need time where we are playful. We grow best when balanced with time for our minds to choose the agenda.

Frankly, I believe American adults get this wrong with students. We over-do the pushing, then feel guilty and over-do the play time, and find kids haven’t learned to navigate that time on their own. We’ve not taught them.

So is there a way to have both challenging time and play time since both are important to kids? The researchers note that time for such activities could easily be preserved by replacing instruction on basic math concepts with the teaching of more sophisticated ones — especially when finding students aren’t benefiting from such basic coverage. Kindergarteners could be tackling more challenging math ideas while still spending plenty of time in the blocks corner and the dress-up closet.

So here’s my question. How could you adjust the day’s agenda to include both appropriate PUSH TIME, where we engage students with the toughest of challenges, then balance it by equipping them to lead themselves with PULL TIME, where they choose the agenda and use another part of their brain?



photo credit: Richard.Asia via photopin cc

photo credit: Richard.Asia via photopin cc

For four years now, I’ve written on the second half of Generation Y (aka “Millennials”), the young adults who are just now entering adulthood. Sociologists have attempted to help the rest of us understand this new breed of digital natives who are the first generation to grow up online and not have to adapt to technology. I’ve mentioned a variety of paradoxes they embrace, but today, I have a new one:  They are connected in so many ways, yet disconnected in so many, too.

According to a study conducted last month by Pew Research, these young adults have a unique set of character traits:

  • They are relatively unattached to organized politics or religion.
  • They are burdened by debt
  • They are distrustful of people
  • They are linked by social media
  • They are in no rush to get married
  • They are optimistic about their own future.

In an interesting sort of way, this demographic is basically saying: I want to stay connected to people, but I have a quiet distrust and suspicion of them. So many want a life that’s connected but disconnected. They want others to trust them enough to help them…but they may not trust those same people. When I first began working with college students in 1979, I began to see a similar cynicism toward institutions. But this time around, it’s more well-informed. Thanks to Twitter, SnapChat and Instagram, word travels faster now and expands distrust more quickly and deeply. All our heroes have flaws… and we know them well. Marriage licenses should involve a pre-nuptial agreement, in case it doesn’t work out. Pro athletes are all about the money, not the team. Working relationships need a contract with a clause, to protect your interests in case you get sued.

Their New Path

How low are the levels of social trust in this generation? In response to a long-standing survey question that asked, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” just 19% of Generation Y said most people can be trusted, compared to much higher percentages for Generation X and Baby Boomers.

It seems that Generation Y is forging a new, distinctive path into adulthood. How will this affect their adult life?  We can only guess, but if trends continue this way, look for possible attitude shifts in how young people view current institutions:

  • Marriage – I’ll wait and perhaps never get married. I don’t see many working.
  • Voting – I may not bother to vote. The whole system is corrupt anyway.
  • Faith – I’ll find my spirituality apart from an organized religious community.
  • Business – I won’t join an existing corporation, I will start my own company.
  • Friends – I’ll form many of my relationships virtually so I am safe from harm.

Their racial diversity may partly explain Millennials’ low levels of social trust. A 2007 Pew Research Center analysis found that minorities and low-income adults had lower levels of social trust than other groups. Based on similar findings over many years from other surveys, sociologists have theorized that people who feel vulnerable or disadvantaged find it riskier to trust others because they’re less fortified to deal with the consequences of misplaced trust.

What We Can Do

Here’s the challenge we must help them navigate. So much of our happiness, satisfaction and success is built upon trust. Research shows that the happiest people are trusting of others. They believe the best about others and forgive easily. They keep short accounts. They take risks. If we cannot help them begin to trust people and organizations, we’ll have a lonely world on our hands in the future. We must be trustworthy and help them build trust. Here are some steps to take:

  1. Be consistent and keep your word. Leadership operates on the basis of trust.
  2. Relay what’s good about your institution and help them see the positive.
  3. Don’t pretend life is perfect. Model how to work in a flawed organization.
  4. Equip them to resolve conflict instead of running from hard relationships.
  5. Enable them to be a “good-finder” rather than a  fault-finder.
  6. Mentor them beyond an attitude of entitlement: happiness is a by-product of work and trust, not something that’s given away freely.

Here’s to building trust in this new generation. What would you add to the list?


Free New Resources on Generation iY:

New Free Chapter to Generation iY


The news these days is filled with stories of students who get stuck in childhood, even though they’re old enough to be responsible for their behavior.

More and more university students are saying to their teachers, “I pay your salary, so you should give me what I want.” Think this is strange? Thirty percent of college students polled feel that they deserve at least a B just for showing up to class.

Ethan Couch is the teen you read about who crashed his vehicle and killed four people in Texas. His defense involved the word “affluenza.” It’s defined as the state of being unable to display responsible behavior due to an affluent lifestyle.

A New Jersey high school student, Rachel Canning, tried to sue her parents and force them to pay for college tuition as well as all her living expenses, even though she left home. She was denied and given harsh words from the judge.

We see symptoms of this too often in students. You hold the door open for them at a mall, and they saunter through, without even a “thank you” or a backward look of gratitude. When the phone rings at home, they don’t answer, saying, “Why should I get it? I know it’s not for me.”

Over the last several months, I’ve posted blogs covering a variety of actions leaders or teachers can take to develop student leaders and to help kids grow out of entitled attitudes and irresponsibility.

Why Do Even Good Kids Act This Way?

Adults commonly ask: why do kids act this way? I think it’s due to our:

1. Raving

Adults today, especially parents, applaud and rave about their kids, sometimes over normal and expected behavior like finishing an assignment, or putting their plates in the dishwasher or making their bed. I believe that in expressing thanks for such acts, but praising them as if they’ve just performed in an extraordinary way, diminishes their ambition to more than the ordinary. In fact, it can cultivate a “diva” mentality in girls, and an entitled mindset in guys.

2. Rewarding

You already know this, but we have rewarded kids far too much for performance and conduct that is routine. Kids get a ribbon just for playing on the soccer team, they get a trophy for finishing the season, certificates for attending and passing a class, and money for not screaming at the mall. I recognize why some do this, but it cultivates an expectation that will surely harm them later when a professor or boss requires them to actually excel before receiving compensation.

3. Removing consequences.

This third reason is the most sinister of all. In the name of mercy, love and empathy, many adults simply reduce or remove consequences for kids who act out or break rules or even commit a crime. I, for one, believe there are times we should do this. However, when this becomes a pattern, we disable kids from understanding how life works. Once again, we create an expectation of entitlement to special favors.

One Big Secret

I’d like to clarify one gigantic secret we need to share with every caring adult, teacher, parent, coach, employer and youth worker. It’s so simple, I’m sure you know it, but perhaps have failed to see how it can revolutionize student’s behavior and even incentive for great conduct. It can be summarized in a single word:


When we over-praise, over-compensate, over-reward or over-react to kids, they learn that we want their success more than they do. Perhaps its true—we do at that point. But they never learn to own their education if we feel a greater sense of ownership than they do. They’ll gladly delegate responsibility to us. When we step in and remove consequences, they think: “Great. Now I know you want me to get by without a scratch. I know I can be less careful in the future since you are here.”

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a New Zealand Primary School that learned this lesson and transformed a young student body full of energetic, no-boundary kids who often bullied each other. They put them in charge of their own playground rules. The teachers were still around, but the kids had to watch out for each other and make sure they were safe and accountable. It worked. Ownership is everything. And if you want students to own their education—you’ll have to cultivate it. If you’re a boss and want your young employees to “own” their job, not just rent it, you’ll have to build that spirit into them. Here are some initial steps you can take:

  1. Talk with students about what they want to achieve and why.
  2. Explain the necessary steps they must take, and the help you will offer.
  3. Post equations on the wall—clarifying consequences and benefits for actions.
  4. Be consistent. Don’t act in a way that will confuse them about consequences.
  5. Keep reminding them of their incentive and who “owns” their goals.

I witnessed an example in this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. Nebraska made brackets due to coach Tim Miles’ cultivating this mindset in his players. Miles’ had minimal rules and clear consequences. He’s high on initiative. His team knew it was up to them to perform. In the world of March Madness, where everyone’s connected to Twitter, Miles got a pleasant surprise. Just before a game, star sophomore basketball player Terran Petteway said to him: “Coach, tonight, at 8:00 o-clock, you’re taking our cell phones.” Coach Tim Miles replied, “That’s a good mindset.”

I say it’s the beginning of ownership.

Free Video Session Today: An Update on iY

New Free Chapter to Generation iY

A university faculty member shared a recent conversation she had with a student. After failing an exam, her student approached her to negotiate the grade. This is nothing new. What was new was the student’s complaints:

  • “You didn’t give us enough time. The test was way too long.”
  • “Why didn’t you tell us the exam was comprehensive?”
  • “We didn’t have sufficient tutors available!”
  • “This test was too hard for an undergraduate course.”

The student complained so much, the faculty member began to question her teaching skills. Then, however, she remembered that in the course of her 27 years as an instructor, at no other time had any student so absolutely rejected responsibility for his or her grade.

Becoming Resourceful

photo credit: J. Star via photopin cc

photo credit: J. Star via photopin cc

In 2005, Bradford Smart wrote a book called Top Grading. In it, Smart says that resourcefulness is the new “meta” competency people must possess. Think about it. Because information is ubiquitous, people no longer need to know a lot. Information is readily available. You can search and find answers to almost any problem if you know where to look. That’s why the virtue of “resourcefulness” is now the most important skill to teach and hire. Whether it’s students in school or team members on the job—we need people who know how to find answers, ones who can identify and solve problems because they can find solutions that are not fast or convenient. Instead of complaining about hard tests, they get creative and gritty… and thrive.

Herein lies our problem.

We, the adult population, have taken pride in resourcing our kids in every way. We have worked to make their lives safe, convenient and happy. It’s natural to do so. We’ve given them helmets and kneepads, smart phones and tablets, comfort food, praise and trophies just for being “you.” The challenge is this:

The more resources we have, the less resourceful we tend to become.

Consider the principle above. When I have a lot of “stuff” I don’t have to be resourceful. I always have enough. I don’t have to get creative—it’s all been done for me. My video game cheat sheet tells me how to win; my Lego play set tells me what to build and how to build it; my teacher spoon feeds me the answers before the big test; my mom does all my cooking, driving and cleaning; and my Monopoly game has even removed the “Go To Jail” card because I don’t want to waste time in jail when I want to play the game. This is a picture of middle class America today.

Do you know why our grandparents came from such a resourceful generation? Because many of them lived through the “Great Depression.” They had to be. They saved their money instead of spending it; they didn’t dispose of uneaten food so they’d have leftovers for tomorrow; they wore shoes and drove cars until they were no longer able to transport them any more. It was function over form. Today, we pride ourselves in the very opposite. If my clothes or car doesn’t look new—I want a new one. Ugh.

Make It a Game or a Challenge

So, here’s the big question: as caring adults in the lives of our students, how do we continue to provide for and resource our kids—while at the same time, cultivate resourcefulness inside of them?

Try this. What if we made this whole thing a game? What if we talked about resourcefulness with our students, and then once a week, created a challenge where we removed the normal “resources” at their disposal; we imagined that we were on an island with very few conveniences and had to make things happen with our grit and ingenuity? Think Jack Shepherd or John Locke on the TV show, “Lost.”


There are private schools—untraditional schools—that now take students out into the woods for an entire day and teach them to survive with nothing but a knife. You may think this is a bit of an extreme, and perhaps it is, but I can guarantee one thing. The students in that course are more marketable to a future employer because they have developed the meta-competency: resourcefulness.

What are your ideas, questions or thoughts on this principle: the more resources we have, the less resourceful we tend to become?


Bonus Chapter: Bringing Out The Best in Your Students