Archives For Generation iY

Parents and teachers have intuitively felt that lots of affirmation and care builds self-esteem in children. This is why millions of moms and dads compliment their kids for even little things they do. It’s why some teachers have found it difficult to let a kid fail a course or endure hardship. Yet, since the self-esteem movement took root in America over the last forty years, we have learned an important truth. Affirmation alone does not breed self-esteem. It breeds narcissism. Dr. Jean Twenge now oversees a longitudinal study of college students that dates back to the 1970s. She tells us narcissism continues to climb as parents dote over their children, validating their every move and telling them they’re special. In the 1950s, when teens were asked if they were a “very important person”, less than ten percent said they were. Fifty years later, more than 80 percent said they were. Unfortunately, they continue to show signs of depression, angst, and poor self-esteem when it comes to risk taking and responsibility.

self esteem

What we’ve found is that self-esteem is strengthened when adults are both:

  1. Responsive: Encouragement, belief, understanding and support.
  2. Demanding: Setting standards and holding kids accountable to them.

Believe it or not, genuine self-esteem is built from achievement not just affirmation. Kids need to feel they can accomplish something with their own skill set. When adults do things for their kids, it eventually sends the message: “You are unable. I must do this.” Eventually, even good kids will begin to feel poorly about themselves. They may hide behind a façade of pride and confidence, but deep down it is what psychologists call: “High arrogance, low self-esteem.” I believe by the time they reach ten years old, kids must gain a sense of pride through accomplishment (i.e. I performed with excellence in my gift area), and through effort (i.e. even if I didn’t win, I know I gave my best effort).

Ron and Melanie are parents of a teenage daughter named Melissa. They’ve admitted to me that they’ve been guilty of too much affirmation and doing too much for their daughter. As Melissa entered her teenage years, she grew overweight, selfish, and felt entitled to nice clothes, smart phones, expensive restaurants—you name it. Needless to say, she was less fun to be around for both family and friends. This led to Melissa making poor decisions just to get a guy to like her. To make a long story short, Melissa got pregnant. It was a crucible for her and the entire family. Once she had her baby, things had to change. Mom and dad continued to do things for her, but they became exhausted. While Ron and Melanie continued to offer support and belief, they set standards for her and stopped doing so many things for her. Melissa became a changed young woman. As she performed and took responsibility, she soon became happier. While it felt counter-intuitive, the less Ron and Melanie did for their daughter, the better things got. Melanie took initiative with tasks, helped out around the house, lost sixty pounds and looks great.

I don’t believe this is a coincidence. Every student needs a responsive adult, but they also need a demanding adult to pull the very best out of them.

Do you tend to be more responsive or demanding? How can you balance yourself?

self esteem

Advice to a Would-Be Intern

September 3, 2013 — 2 Comments

A friend just told me he had a bad experience with his summer interns. He invited six college students to serve at his company between May and August. He whispered to me he wished he could have dismissed them in June.


This is sad because it is so unnecessary. I believe in the potential of today’s college students. There are millions of them who’ll be graduating over the next year and entering the workforce. Unfortunately, the adults in their lives have failed to prepare them for that world. My friend believes his interns are proof of that.

I suggested to him that he introduce the internship differently from now on. From this point on, he should let those students know:

An internship is a twelve-week interview.

It’s a simulation of the job you’ll have one day.

For us, this is a game changer. Suddenly, they realize every day is a time to observe and be observed. A time to both labor and learn. It’s not about tweeting, or posting photos on Facebook about the cool internship you landed. See it as a long interview. Or, see it as a simulator, allowing you to practice now what you’ll need later. This is the kind of perspective that leads to healthy internships.

The top qualities we look for in our interns are about attitude more than aptitude:

  1. Teachability – We want students who are hungry to learn from us.
  2. Initiative – We want students who look for what needs to be done.
  3. Responsibility – We want students who “own” the tasks they’re given.
  4. Energy – We want high-energy workers who have passion for our mission.

Certainly, we look for giftedness in them; talents that match what we need in our organization. But more than anything, these three ingredients generally lead to a positive experience for both them and for us at Growing Leaders. We just finished with our team of summer interns—and they were stellar. We loved co-laboring with every one of them. They had great attitudes. Great work ethic. Great passion for their jobs. And great hunger to grow as emerging leaders.

But we tell them: it’s a twelve-week interview.

By the way—we are now accepting applications for our Spring 2014 Internship. It begins in January and goes through May. Check out details here:


A Labor Day Parable

September 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

It’s Labor Day…a day to commemorate the work ethic and prosperity of American workers. The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City. In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday. It was a “workman’s holiday” according to the Central Labor Union.

labor day

One of my favorite stories illustrating the value of work ethic in the emerging generation is about a teenage boy who walked into a convenient store and made a phone call. The clerk overheard the teen say:

“Hey—I heard you guys were looking for a new employee to work in the stock room. I just wanted you to know that if you are, I may be your guy. I’ve got a great attitude, an incredible work ethic, I show up early and often stay late to be sure the work gets done. I try to encourage my teammates and will do whatever it takes to succeed on the job. Can you use me?”

The employer on the other end of the phone call said he already had great stock room leader, but that he appreciated the call.

The teen hung up the phone and began to walk out of the store, when the clerk stopped him and said, “Excuse me, son. But I couldn’t help overhearing your phone call.  If you are looking for work and you really have that kind of work ethic, I will hire you right here on the spot!”

The boy just smiled and responded, “Oh, I am not looking for a job. I was just calling to check up with my boss on the job I already have.

May you develop students with this kind of spirit.

Happy Labor Day!

I’ve been watching a trend that I believe every teacher, parent, coach, youth pastor and school administrator should be watching these days.

It’s the changes toy makers have made in board games to engage today’s kids.

students today

Recently, Hasbro — the toy and game maker — reported it lost more than $2 million last quarter, compared to a $17 million profit in the same period last year. That’s enough to make any executive re-think their product.

So — like many others — Hasbro has begun adjusting their toys and games to fit today’s generation of kids, who are… well… different than past generations who grew up in a slower, less convenient and “play outside” period of history.

The Rules of Engagement are Changing

For example, when I was growing up, the game of Monopoly could go on for hours, maybe even days among family members. Families would leave the board out on the kitchen table so they could pick it back up the next evening. Consumer research reveals that kids want to play Monopoly faster these days. So, Monopoly is making some changes. First, “Monopoly Millionaire” is now in stores. The first person to accumulate a million dollars wins the game. Second, Monopoly is doing away with their “Jail” and the “Go to Jail” card in the game. Kids don’t have the time or patience to spend time in jail — they want to keep moving forward.

Recently, Lego’s made some changes, too. Do you remember playing with Lego’s when you were growing up? I do. I had a big box of those little bricks and built “stuff” for hours in my room. Today Lego’s has undergone a change. Seeing a dip in sales, the makers of Lego’s decided to include “instructions” in the product, telling kids exactly what to build and how to build it. They’ve found it fits the “I need you to spoon-feed me the answer” mindset adults have created in kids today. They now need us to be more prescriptive, not just descriptive in our instruction.

A new version of the game of “Life” allows players to use iPad’s touchscreen as a high-tech spinner, and then watch a video to see the results of their “life decision.” John Frascotti reports introducing several new gaming innovations this year that will feature this convergence of analog and digital play — both a board and a screen. You already know that the toy “Transformers” has transformed itself into two box office hit movies over the last five years. It’s now both in a box and on a screen.

What’s Our Take Away?
Today’s student, from Generation iY, wants an experience that includes:
• Speed — I get bored easily. Keep the pace of change high.
• Screens — I am visual. I’m more comfortable looking at pixels then people.
• Stipulations — I need you to prescribe what you want me to do.
• Stimulation — I need quick rewards and outside pay-offs to keep me engaged.

While it’s important for us to exegete today’s young person, it’s also important to recognize what we’ve done to them. Have we done too much? In our effort to keep them happy and entertained, have we sabotaged their ability to persevere, bounce back, learn soft skills and find internal motivation? Perhaps its time to re-ignite their imagination, ask them to make up the game and learn to wait for prizes that come from being committed to a goal.

At Growing Leaders, we’ve begun to explore what it means to “gamify” the life skills our kids desperately need for life. We’re excited about building a bridge from their world to the world they’ll soon enter.

So, here’s my assignment for you. When you examine the young people around you, what skills sets are they missing? Is there a way to somehow create an engaging game to begin to develop those skills instead of diminishing them?

Every year, teachers tell me they receive new “mandates” from the top. They’re asked to include new methods for teaching math, new standards for reading levels, new disciplinary measures and new procedures for advisement or study hall. One faculty member said to me, “Basically, our score card changes each year.”

Well — I’ve got a new one for you teachers.


According to two reports released by the Daily Mail, schools are being requested to instill values and responsibility in their students. According to Joan McVitte, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, this has to be a top priority. The Harvard Graduate School of Education shared a recent poll indicating that 70 percent of public school parents want schools to teach “strict standards of right and wrong,” and 85 percent want schools to teach values. Research suggests that many overworked, frayed parents, doubting their capacities as moral mentors, are now looking to schools to take on a larger role in their children’s lives. They now “expect their child’s teacher to be a moral advisor”; the one who offers life skills, ethics and social norms to their offspring.

Richard Watson, a futurist and founder of “What’s Next,” which charts trends in society, business and technology, said schools are increasingly expected to teach beyond conventional subjects to give children a moral framework for their lives. It has resulted in parents blaming teachers — and threatening legal action — if their children go off the rails or misbehave outside the classroom.

Hmmm. So when did this become the school’s job?

Since Parents are Busy with Their Own Careers and Lives.

A majority of families are now double income homes, just to survive. There’s little time to teach values. Ms. McVitte said “since parents and TV shows set poor examples, teachers are needed to show pupils how to consider others, control their anger and resolve conflicts peacefully. They are being forced to fill the void.”

Since the Majority of Teens’ Guidance Comes From Peers.
Unlike past generations, adolescents spend the vast majority of their time interacting with peers not adults. Peer influence takes precedence. They spend the equivalent of a full-time job in front of a screen, watching video or interacting on social media. Their role model isn’t Socrates…it’s Josh down the street on Facebook.

Since the Media Has Made Celebrities a Role Model.
According to data presented at the ASCL conference, television shows like the X-Factor which promotes a “quick fix” solution to becoming successful over sustained hard work now set the expectation. Celebrities are followed like never before, who offer no help in revealing what the real world looks like.

Since Culture Values Pragmatism More Than Principles.
Because we live in a pluralistic culture, it is often difficult to decide what values should be taught. A moral vacuum emerges, as we choose tolerance of any behavior, fearing we cannot impose a value on a kid. So we become pragmatic: whatever gets you to your goal. We celebrate people who find loopholes in the system and get rich quick, rather than those who work hard in an honest job — but have no glitz.

So… What Do We Do?
“Schools have become surrogate families to pupils due to bad parenting and the damaging influence of celebrity culture,” said Sir Michael Wilshaw, a chief inspector of schools in Great Britain. “Teachers are being forced to step into the vacuum and set good examples where few exist at home.”

While I believe families should be the models for virtues and values, it just isn’t happening in many places. So, schools must do what they can.

1. Prioritize relationships with your students.
You’re much more apt to have a voice of influence in a student’s life if you actually become interested in them and make a connection. We must build bridges of relationship that can bear the weight of truth.

2. As a school, choose what values are timeless.
This is challenging, but if you give it some thought, I believe you’ll conclude there are some timeless and universal morals to be passed on, such as honesty, valuing people, discipline and work ethic, empathy, service to others, seeing the big picture, responsibility, etc. Our most popular resource, Habitudes–Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, actually furnishes these truths.

3. Practice ’em before you preach ’em.
Creating a set of values to build character in your student body is hollow if you don’t choose to live them out yourselves. In fact, it doesn’t matter what posters you hang and what pithy definitions you offer for character if you don’t model the way. People do what people see…not what they hear.

4. Get beyond a “word of the month” club.
Hundreds of programs exist to build character and values in kids, but they tend to be little more than a poster and a word to memorize each month. I’ve looked at the research- – these programs don’t move the needle in adolescents. At Growing Leaders, we’ve developed a guide that combines images, conversations, exercises, movie clips, assessments and activities that make learning experiential.

5. Do what you can — and don’t sweat the rest.
While I believe schools must step in and teach these life skills, remember you are still an educator, not their parent. Don’t demand more of yourself than you should. Be a role model, share timeless principles with them, help them apply those principles…but don’t sweat the “uncontrollables.”