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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Alarm Bells For Those Who Lead Students

I rarely take time to respond to critics. Today, I will. It’s not because I feel the need to defend myself, but because the students we lead are at risk if we bury our heads in the sand.

There are some well-intentioned academicians out there who’ve read Generation iY—Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, and thought I was too alarmist. They say things like: “Hey, adults always felt that teenagers were disrespectful, lazy and aimless. Why all of a sudden is the issue so earth-shattering?”

I can understand this sentiment. In fact, for most of the thirty-two years I’ve worked with young people, I was the one saying it. Today, however, I am not. Let me tell you the difference between our concern for students in our culture today, versus thirty years ago, or even three centuries ago.

1. We have a bulge in the youth population, much like we did as the Baby Boomers came of age in the 1960s. Today, the bulge is in dangerous places.

2. Technology allows information to reach young people without the filter of a caring adult or parent. Kids don’t need adults to get information.

 3. Thanks to social media, youth can converge (we now call it a flashmob) on a location and do whatever they wish: steal, rape, kidnap, pillage.

This can be a good thing, as we saw in Cairo this past January where the “youth revolution” ousted their failing president. It can also be a bad thing, as we’ve seen more recently in Chicago or London.

The bottom line? Millions of students have little guidance or boundaries. To them, the adult population, by and large, has no moral authority. Look at how we’ve handled our money (credit card debt, mortgage foreclosures and even government bankruptcy) and look at how we’ve handled our marriages and families (high divorce rates and 62% of kids today growing up without their biological father). So, while society has had evils in the past, the potential for implosion today is higher than ever, thanks to the youth population and ubiquitous technology.

In the Generation iY book, I made some predictions that have already come true. First, the expanded youth population will lead to riots and revolutions. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in the Middle East: Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen. Get ready to watch CNN or Fox News as these kids express themselves in the years ahead.

I also made a prediction about long-term commitment. I forecast that by 2030, a five-year marriage contract would be normal. Today, lawmakers in Mexico have joined two other nations in proposing short-term marriages, as little as two years.

I am not a prophet of doom. I am asking that adults wake up to the need to lead. We must re-establish our moral authority. For many adolescents, we have no credibility. Many of our kids around the world are a part of a “leader-less generation.” We didn’t stick to the values we claimed to live by, we haven’t been transparent about our mistakes and we haven’t offered a clear compass for our kids.

Am I making too big of a deal over this?  I hope so. Let me know your thoughts.


(For a copy of Generation iY, go to:


  1. Guy Chmieleski on October 25, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Hey Tim!

    Thanks for this. I get your 2nd and 3rd points, but I’m interested to hear more about the population “bulge.” Are you suggesting that there are more young people than: jobs to be had or college placements to be filled — and therefore more of them will find their way in to trouble… or something else?

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insight!

    • Tim Elmore on October 25, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      Hey Guy!

      Yes I would say that there are more young people than jobs to be had. Recent stats are showing that 80% of students are moving back home after college. I believe the slow economy and high unemployment rate is to partially to blame for this trend as older, more experienced workers are taking even entry-level jobs after being laid off or downsized. This definitely creates the problem of a growing youth population who lacks a meaningful way to contribute to society. This can lead to much greater problems like the riots we’ve seen recently in London.

      What are your thoughts? 

      • Guy Chmieleski on October 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm


        I don’t know if he have any insight to give, but maybe a few questions… Why do you think the youth population might be more inclined towards trouble than towards innovation and entrepreneurship? Or might it be both? And what will determine which way any given youth might go? 

        Thanks for engaging me!

        • Tim Elmore on October 27, 2011 at 10:37 am

          Great questions, Guy!

          I do believe that this generation has tremendous potential for innovation and entrepreneurship. I think they believe this is true, too. For many of them, the message, “You can be anything you want to be” has gotten through loud and clear.

          The disconnect comes when success doesn’t come quite as quickly and easily as they hoped. The quarter-life crisis, where someone around age 25 experiences clinical depression because they haven’t made their first million or married the right person or achieved all they thought they should by such an early age, is a fairly recent but growing phenomenon.

          Rather than persevering, it seems like more students than ever are giving up. This is where I believe things can get dangerous. A mild example of this would be a student who’s perpetually in a state of extended adolescence not able to make the transition into adulthood and pursue meaningful work. The extreme example would be students who feel stuck and turn to crime and rioting to get their own way at the expense of others.

          The bottom line is that we need to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child. As parents, teachers, coaches and leaders, we have to lead this generation differently if they are to reach their potential.

          • Guy Chmieleski on October 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm

            Tim! I totally agree with you! Some how we’ve got to teach today’s youth the art of perseverance (I know, easy for me to say, right?). 

            Some how we have to expose our youth (at a fairly young age) to struggles — and walk with them through it (as opposed to doing all of the work for them). 

            I think the biggest strike against this current generation of young people (for most, but not all) is the home they were brought up in. Well-intentioned parents who simply did too much for their kids — all with the hopes of seeing them succeed — but never giving them the chance to learn from their failures. So now, in the face of opposition, too many will crumble rather than lean heavy into God and rise above.

            Is that fair to say?

          • Tim Elmore on October 27, 2011 at 8:46 pm

            Couldn’t have said it better myself! It is a balancing act for parents but it is so essential.

  2. Shanecarter on October 25, 2011 at 7:20 am

    Great article! Love this! Thanks for the insight!

    • Tim Elmore on October 25, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      Thanks for reading and taking time comment!

  3. Rob T on October 25, 2011 at 8:47 am

    I think you are right to raise the alarm.  And this definitely is a culture shift, not a continuation of the norm (“we were just like them in the 70’s”).  As a young adult pastor, though, I am more optimistic than ever of what God is doing among this generation!

    • Tim Elmore on October 25, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks for the reminder, Rob! I try to strike that balance between sounding the alarm and remaining optimistic. I say it often, but I really do believe this generation of students. I believe they are capable of being a great generation of leaders. It’s just that we have to change how we lead them in order to prepare them to reach their potential.

  4. Cody Chapman on October 25, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Tim, first I would like to encourage you and say NO you ARE NOT making too big of a deal about this. It’s a real issue that will not just go away therefore warranting real response. I am a youth pastor so these issues are no news to me. What I would ask is this, how would you say that youth pastors move forward boldly confronting this while in the midst of parents that are blind to these things and believe that their children are still “innocent children” and that their child is somehow exempt from this culture?

    • Tim Elmore on October 25, 2011 at 4:28 pm

      Great question, Cody. I do think that as a youth pastor you are in a position similar to teachers where you are not only attempting lead the students but their parents as well. I know it can seems like an uphill battle at times 🙂 

      It may take a creative approach to awaken parents to the reality that their children are affected by the shifts in culture regardless of how well-protected they may seem. Building relationships with parents is a critical step to being able to share this information with them. The time you spend with their students will give you concrete examples to share as well. This is a good chance to remind them they are not in this alone – as a youth pastor, you share their concern for their students. This may be a time to gather other parents together as well to allow them to discuss problems and reach solutions. It’s amazing what happens when people realize that they are not alone in facing problems and others are facing similar obstacles.

  5. Student on October 25, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Why is children having unfettered access to information dangerous? A deluge of information has been common place since at least the printing press (at 12, Christ was free to learn in the temple), and increasingly so with each passing generation. Children don’t need parents guarding the gates of information, they just need adults to give them a philosophical framework with which to interpret the information. Parents should raise children in such a way that they aren’t worried what they see, because they know they will handle it appropriately.

    • Tim Elmore on October 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm

      Thanks for taking time to comment. I agree that parents should provide interpretation for the information that students are exposed to. This had been norm for hundreds of years until the internet made all information accessible all the time. 

      Now an 8-year can type a phrase into google and be exposed to images and information that they have no framework for understanding. This is not progress – it’s damaging. 

      One important thing to remember is that the human brain is still developing well into the adolescent stage. In the past, we have protected children from exposure to certain content before a certain age – hence the movie rating system – R, PG-13, PG and G-rated movies were all intended for different audiences at different stages of development. 

      Our end goal as parents and teachers should be to teach students to think critically so that when they reach adulthood, they will be able to handle information appropriately. But part of that process of maturity is not allowing them to be exposed to information that they are not mature enough to interpret yet. This is a key role that technology is side-stepping today and parents have to be more intentional than ever about helping students interpret the information they interact with.

  6. Jason Presley on October 25, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Your right on.  Our generation has not done much to prepare and improve the future for the next.  We all need to step it up, find some morals and ethics and help the younger generations find their way.

  7. Craig Hauri on October 29, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Hi Tim,
    It seems they’ve bought into the class warfare argument as well. This will only lead to the entitlement attitude.

    • Tim Elmore on November 1, 2011 at 7:29 am

      Hey Craig!
      Unfortunately, I believe you are right. For those that have bought into the class warfare argument, we shouldn’t be surprised that the entitlement attitude follows close behind.

  8. Don on October 30, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Thank you for your article.
    As a leader of student ministry since the late 80’s I agree with the trends that you stated.  I have also had the privilege to raise 2 sons during the early 90’s and of course still working with them as they approach their 20’s.   I have found it difficult at best to work with 20 somethings due to Yes it’s true, their entitlement ideal, and their almost cynical views of “all” leadership.  It is alarming, trying and sometimes actually burdensome– for as a leader it would be much easier to try and find students that are open at least a desire to understand that all from the past “ain’t” so bad.  That there is something to be gained from a good work ethic, that “they” are only at the starting line, that they don’t have all the answers and that there are people out there that want to lead them for their benefit.

    • Tim Elmore on October 31, 2011 at 10:37 pm

      Thanks for these great reminders – I especially like the idea that we are here to lead them for their benefit. Thanks for taking time to comment!

  9. Josh Bishop on October 30, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Tim. These are good points. How does your view differ from Chap Clark’s and others’ theory of Systemic Abandonment?

    Over and over again, when we discuss these issues with our adult volunteers and parents, it’s not so much that they don’t have the moral authority or aren’t offering a clear compass, it’s that they themselves (whether they are now in their 20’s of 40’s) talk about feeling a similar abandonment when they were teens and never had the type of social capital they are being asked to model to their teens.  What are your thoughts on the idea that the plight of the iY generation is actually a symptom and a perpetuation of a loss of social capital that has become progressively worse since the baby boomers or earlier?

    • Tim Elmore on November 1, 2011 at 7:26 am

      I think Chap Clark right on in his estimation of what’s happening in our culture today, especially with males. A young man today is likely to lack the social capital to mentor a kid, because he never had it modeled for him; and his dad, likely never had it modeled for him. Author Patrick Morley writes that 80% of males today are not only unable to express their feelings, they cannot even identify their feelings. We can tell people what we think…but not how we feel. As I have stated before, 62% of kids today are growing up without their biological father. Perhaps the answer is that we must begin practicing the mentoring first with the adult leaders we work with, before expecting it from them.

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Alarm Bells For Those Who Lead Students