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on Leading the Next Generation


Leading the Next Generation Well: Over-Served

We are in the age of the “Wanted Child.” Sixty years ago, Dr. Benjamin Spock told parents to allow kids to express themselves and build a strong self-esteem. Today, we have taken this to an extreme. These kids most assuredly have developed a strong self-esteem. According to a nationwide high school survey, over 80% believe they are very important people. They feel entitled to special treatment as they enter the adult world. They know they are in the spotlight and all eyes are on them. I think Bill Strauss was right. He wrote, “Boomers started out as the objects of loosening child standards in an era of conformist adults. Millennials (a common term for this generation) have started out as the objects of tightening child standards in an era of nonconformist adults.”

As this generation absorbs the parental message that they dominate America’s agenda, they have come to believe that their problems are the nation’s problems. They feel very special. They have the “key” to the future in their hands. When asked which demographic group will most likely be the one to help America toward a “better future,” teens rank “young people” second only to “scientists.”

Where would they get this idea?
* From Mom and Dad who dote over them. Parents of the iY Generation need special orientation sessions to help them “let go” when they drop their kids off at college.
* From TV networks who’ve created entire channels just for kids like Disney, Cartoon Network, Disney XD, Nickelodeon, Boomerang, Discovery Kids, and The N.
* From retailers and marketing campaigns that create “Kids Aquafresh,” “Pert Plus for Kids,” “Dial for Kids,” and “Ozark (bottled) Water for Kids.”
* From nationwide programs sponsored by State and Federal governments, like “No Child Left Behind.”

Adults have chosen to focus on and serve this generation of young people more than any in recent history.

What has being “over-served” done to them? Let me get practical. I just turned off the radio in my car, after listening to a pop radio station. Three of the song titles I heard were:

1. “Because I’m Awesome!”
2. “The World Should Revolve Around Me”
3. “Doncha Wish Your Girlfriend was Hot Like Me?”

In a longitudinal study between 1975 and 2006, America saw a measurable climb in narcissistic tendencies in students (2 of 6 scored very high in this category) and a growing number actually have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, according to Dr. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. The majority of them believe the world would be a better place if they were in charge. Twice as many students make straight “A’s” today compared to 1975. The slogan back then was: “I’m OK. You’re OK.” Today, it’s: “You’re OK. I’m Perfect.” We adults have done this. We want them to feel good about themselves. And they do. Loads of kids go to to hire a fake paparazzi to follow them around and take photos of them.

Seth just quit his job. He couldn’t take it any more. This wasn’t abnormal. There are folks across the country who quit their jobs every day for the same reasons. What made Seth’s situation unique was — it was the fourth job he quit this month. Seth is seventeen-years-old and not yet used to working to make money. Up until this point, his parents gave him whatever money he needed each week. He spent an average of $87 per week through his junior year of high school. Life has been pretty easy for Seth. He attends a private, well-endowed prep school. He buys his clothes from Lucky Brand Jeans and Abercrombie and Fitch. He owns a Mac computer, an iPhone and an iPod. He’s your typical smart, good-looking teenager.

I know his parents. They are good people, but they are baffled at why their son just can’t hold down a job. I think I know why. Seth has never had to sustain a responsible position in his life. When he needed his clothes washed, Mom did it. When he needed his bed made — Mom was happy to step in. When he needed money, Dad had it for him. When he needed a car — Dad bought it. All of his needs were met by loving parents. But did they really demonstrate love for him? It depends on your definition for “love.” Seth’s parents have not prepared him for life because they have served him so well. Unfortunately, Seth is entering a world that doesn’t share his parents’ desire to meet his every need. Now, Seth is getting acquainted with that world, and he wants to quit.

What kind of adults will enter our world and lead our world if they have been raised in this manner? No one can tell for sure, but I have watched this scenario for years now. The teenagers are now twenty-somethings. They’re often impatient, demanding, self-centered, and short-tempered with a poor work ethic. Their desire to change the world is very real, but when it becomes difficult, they change their minds and move on to something else. The new term for them is: “Slacktivists.” They are both slackers and activists. Consequently, for most of them, their involvement is limited to buying a “Live Strong” wristband or signing a petition off of a website.

Your thoughts?



  1. Former TA on April 19, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Thanks for this insightful piece. I just spent two years working through grad school as a teaching assistant where I taught and graded undergrads who epitomized your arguments. Most of the students I worked with were convinced that the world was going to hell because they weren’t out there yet and that once they finished law school, they would set things straight. Now, I’m all for youthful exuberance and possessing a healthy sense of having something important to contribute to the greater cause, but these students were convinced that THEY were the deciding factor in the world being a better place.

    I have a young child at home and I want to raise her to believe in herself. In fact, she’s about the most special thing in the world to me and my wife. But neither my wife nor myself are deluded enough to think that other people are going to be as completely enrapt with our daughter the way we are and we fully intend on raising our daughter with that concept firmly rooted in her brain. I think that last bit is the part that’s been lacking with millenials – the reality that there are people out there that will not think they are the best, most unique and special creature walking the planet. The danger in not having this bit of reality is that when criticisms (whether fair or not) are levied against some members of this younger generation, in my experience, they are more likely to be amazed that their work has not been marked as an A+ and thus dismissive of that criticism than interested in correcting the problems.

    What concerned me most is that in my experiences as a TA, students from other cultures did not share this abhorrence to being told that their work product was not stellar. In fact, they welcomed feedback and were constantly on the look out for ways that they needed to be working harder, perfecting their performance and maximizing their absorption of the material. Even in cases where the work submitted WAS stellar, these students sought out input as to how they could have done more with it. If this is the next generation of workers, I think the U.S. has some troubling years ahead.

    • Tim Elmore on April 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks for sharing – especially pointing out the difference between students from the US and other countries. I often remind parents that their job is to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child. It sounds like you and your wife are well on your way to preparing your daughter for the path. I wish you all the best!

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Leading the Next Generation Well: Over-Served