Archives For Generation iY

Distracted by the Mirror

March 28, 2013 — 7 Comments

photo credit: Jenn Durfey via photopin cc

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 by falling in love with his own reflection when he looked into the water. He was infatuated with his own image. He was so enraptured by his beauty that he was unable to pull himself away from his reflection and wasted away and died.

On the other hand, his spirit lives on in America today. Especially among students.

Narcissism is on the rise in kids today. One study found that 30% of 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 a 40% decline among young people in empathy, a personality attribute inversely related to narcissism, since the 1980s. 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.

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 than “we” and “us”) and hostility (change from positive to angry words and emotions). And 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 rather 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. Sadly, their condition is now bordering on unhealthy. 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.


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This month, I got an email from my publisher, sharing a story from the student body president at the local high school. Her daughter attends this school. The student was grieving the fact that he’d been asked to “lead”, but every single decision his student council made was shot down by the administration. In his blog he wrote:

“We have lost our motivation to try to engage the students, generate enthusiasm and a sense of community and make being a Greeley student more than capitulating to the arbitrary decisions of the administration. Why bother working on proposals and trying to innovate when we know the administration is going to say no? It’s funny that we are all so frustrated with our elected officials in Washington, yet the same thing is happening right here. Each time a new idea comes to the floor, we get filibustered, then are left to take the blame for not taking action.”

As an adult, I recognize school administrators are often trying to insure the safety of their students, or perhaps save those students from demoralizing failure. But I fear something worse could happen. In our effort to protect the kids or our reputation, we are killing any ambition in these emerging leaders. We accomplish the very opposite of what school is supposed to do: build future adults. The blog went on:

“I don’t feel as if I’m doing even half the job I ran for as President and the reason for that is the administration. For us, high school is more than just getting into college. It’s supposed to be an experience that matures us not just intellectually, but in other ways too…This school has become so resistant to positive new ideas that students actually care about…that nothing even has a chance. For example, how do we know that the event I proposed would have an attendance problem if it’s never happened before?”

I believe there is nothing more frustrating for a student than to be asked to lead and prepared to lead, then not given the opportunity to actually do something. I fear we are leading schools that actually hinder the development of true leaders. The student body president concluded in his blog:

You are denying leadership opportunities to the next generation of leaders by rendering those who do want to lead utterly ineffective. It’s simply not worth my time to think of fun, creative ways to bring the school community together when I know that there is no chance of any of our ideas actually coming to fruition.

My advice to These School Administrators?

  1. Negotiate ideas with student leaders and learn to compromise. Teens must learn to mitigate risk, spend money and even fail from time to time. Let them.
  2. Talk to parents as the year begins, and help them see the big picture: school is about learning and growth and that happens via both success and failure.
  3. Reward effort and virtue. Student Councils will “win” some and “lose” some. The point is to grow in them the life skills needed for adulthood.

Never let it be said that you run a school that hinders young leaders.


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Nine Questions to Ask Prospective Athletes Before You Bring Them on Your Team

After years of helping athletic directors and coaches better connect with young athletes, we surveyed them to see what they’ve concluded about “Generation iY” players. Both NCAA and high school coaches noted they’ve seen a measurable drop in their youngest athlete’s life skills and virtues. The top seven diminishing ones are:

1. Resilience – Practice goes well, but even minor adversity defeats them.

2. Empathy – Parents often push them into individualism and self-expansion.

3. Ambition – Their internal drive to succeed has been replaced by external ones.

4. Work ethic – Because of short attention spans, the daily grind is a turn off.

5. Patience – Due to texts, microwaves and Google, its hard to delay gratification.

6. Academic Stamina – Their ability to stick with studies when the novelty is gone.

7. Self-awareness – Often no one has been honest with them about their blind spots.

I believe the kids born since 1990 are different than previous kids. I call them Generation iY because they’ve grown up on-line in an “i” world. Technology, culture, parenting styles and medications have harmed them. And now, you must coach them.

In a recent coaches training event, I was asked a great question: What should we ask a young “iY” athlete to signal a potential problem? Below are questions I recommend you ask to tip you off about recruits, ward off trouble with potential players, and help you when screening your recruits for character.

Questions to Ask a Potential Athlete:

1. Tell me about a difficult experience you’ve had with authority.

An honest answer to this one will reveal their attitude and respect for leaders, and how they tend to deal with submission to authority. A “rebel spirit” can be contagious.

2.  What’s your biggest frustration about being an athlete? What really gets you down?

Their answer may furnish insight into their resilience level—how much does it take to discourage them or cause them to give up. Can they handle adversity and obstacles?

3. What’s the longest amount of time you’ve gone without your cell phone?

Generation iY is aptly named because many are addicted to technology. Their answer to this one will signal how much they depend on screens to motivate them.

4. What has been your greatest challenge with teammates?

This will reveal their emotional intelligence and specifically how much empathy they possess for teammates. Their answer will tell you how well they see the big picture.

5. Talk about your three biggest habits that you’d like to break.

This answer could be huge. Are they in bondage to bad habits they cannot break? Can they delay gratification? Do they lead themselves well or are they a slave to addictions?

6. On a scale of 1-10, how much does criticism bother you from a teammate? A coach?

Many in this generation have never really been chastised or criticized, so their tolerance for it is low. Ask them to be candid, but listen to how they handle confrontation.

7. How much are you willing to compromise your personal standards?

Even if they try to give you answers you want, they may not know how to reply to this one. Do they possess strong personal values they won’t compromise? Are they ethical?

8. What word would your teammates use most to describe you? Your past coaches?

This question allows you to hear how others view the recruit. If you can get an honest answer, listen for key words that reveal what kind of teammate and leader they are.

9. Should fans leave you alone off the field and let you live however you see fit?

Some athletes don’t feel they must be a role-model, and do whatever they want off the field. The recruit’s answer to this one will let you peek into how self-absorbed they are.

Remember, the better your questions in the recruiting process, the better you can screen your players and get the right ones. You know the issues you need to cover to gain the right athletic abilities. Through the questions above, I’ve simply tried to help you get acquainted with a recruit…as a person.

Any other questions you would ask when screening your recruits for character? Leave a comment.


May I let you in on a little secret? Those of us who lead, teach, mentor, manage, parent and employ students have gotten sidetracked. I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps it’s the hype of media or social media; maybe it’s the fact we’re busy spinning so many plates or maybe, it’s just that we feel the pressure of catching and holding kids’ attention. Whatever it is, many of us have drifted from the number one most powerful weapon in influencing the next generation.

I was reminded of this secret as Pope Francis experienced his first day as Pontiff, the leader of the Catholic Church. On that first day, he didn’t sleep in, when the entire world would have forgiven him for doing so. After all, he just got the biggest job of his life. Nope, he got up early to pray for 30 minutes. He knew he needed it. Then, as he led mass that day for the Cardinals, instead of a formal sermon full of rhetoric, he gave an off-the-cuff homily on the need to walk with God, build up the people in the church and confess. While in the chapel, Francis was to sit down in the Papal chair, a sort of throne for the one who holds that office. He declined, wanting to stand instead. In fact, before greeting anyone else he walked to the back of the room to greet a Cardinal who was confined to a wheelchair. He wanted to meet everyone on their level. After appearing on the balcony to hundreds below, he declined to use the private Vatican car, (a luxury car with the license plate Vatican City 1), to return to the dormitory where he stayed before being elected Pope. He simply said, “I’ll take the bus since that’s the way I came here.”

He retrieved his belongings in his dorm, then stopped by the front desk to pay his own bill. (Yep, you read that right). Upon climbing into the bus, he asked to stop several times along the drive to greet well-wishers and to encourage them.

What a humble, authentic and fresh way of being the Pope. And do you know why he did this? When asked, he said simply, “I want to be sure to set a positive example.”

That’s it. That’s the secret we’ve forgotten.

The leader of 1.2 billion people—the one who doesn’t need to pay his own bill at the dorm or take a bus anymore—has not forgotten the power of being a role model. Somehow, in our pursuit of attempting to be a riveting speaker, becoming savvy on Facebook, trying to gain followers on social media, hoping to get noticed by doing something really creative in front of our students—we’ve forgotten what impresses them most. Quietly setting an example. Doing it before we expect anyone else to do it. I’ve found that when I’m intentional about modeling the way, my credibility rises with kids. It’s more powerful than a great speech. Our personal stock goes up faster this way than when we try to be “cool” or “funny” or “unique.”

The truth is, the number one management principle in the world is: People do what people see.  Period. They’d rather see a sermon than hear one.

So, when you’re tempted to spend extra time on your speech, or lesson plan; when you are trying to figure out how to get more followers on Twitter, remember that true followers aren’t found on social media. They’re found watching which leader walks the walk. That’s what I believe Pope Francis I is trying to do. I am not trying to get you to become a Catholic. I’m trying to get you to become the most effective leader you can be. Do it before you say it.

Hidden Treasure

March 20, 2013 — 4 Comments


This month, a story made headlines that I believe contains an important reminder for those of us who lead students.

Thomas Schultz bought a house in New York, and noticed it had a stack of paintings in the garage. They were paintings by a little known artist Aurthur Pinajian. The previous owner suggested Tom should just “throw them out.” He assumed they were worthless. Instead, Mr. Schultz and a friend asked if they could purchase the artwork, and did so for $2,500. As the Huffington Post reported, “Well, it turns out their decision to buy Mr. Pinajian’s art stash along with the house was a good one, as the collection has now been valued at a remarkable $30 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Individual works have already sold for a whopping $500,000, and now the abstract impressionist artist’s works are on view at a gallery opened by Schultz, as well as in Manhattan’s Fuller Building.”

Mr. Schultz is now rich. Great investment.

But that’s not the only lesson we learn from this episode. I believe those of us who stand in front of young people every day or every week have the same experience. At least we should.  Just as Thomas Schultz somehow saw something in those masterpieces that the former homeowner didn’t see—we must see the potential and the value in every student we meet. They are, if you will, masterpieces.

I love the fact that Schultz saw something valuable that others did not see. He rejected their suggestion that the masterpieces should be tossed aside. He invested in them, knowing he had no guaranteed return. He treasured the art, framing it nicely and displaying it for others to enjoy. And in the end…he was right. There was incredible value in that art.

I don’t know your story, but I personally have had the undeserved privilege of investing in thousands of students over the last thirty years. They’re masterpieces.

And I am now richer for it.