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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Maybe We Should Try Something Different

Last month, I was in front of several faculty groups, as well as groups of athletic coaches, staff, employers and parents. Then—I spoke to various student audiences, as they launched a new school year.

May I reveal what the adults frequently said about the kids?

  • “They don’t listen to me.”
  • “I love their confidence but I see little humility.”
  • “They think they know everything.”
  • “They get distracted all the time; they can’t focus.”

May I also share what the students said about their coaches, bosses and teachers?

  • “They are so ‘old school.’ They don’t understand me.”
  • “I bring my laptop to class but I am on Facebook there.”
  • “I don’t know why they won’t let us talk.”
  • “They are boring and irrelevant.”

Try Something Different

So I asked a handful of the students to meet and talk. Nathan explained why there’s a disconnect between students and teachers. He said it wasn’t that he didn’t like his instructors; it was that he didn’t respect them. He felt they didn’t understand his world. The bottom line? Neither audience has gained the respect of the other. The kids feel the adults are irrelevant. The adults feel the kids are inexperienced. Hmm. Maybe they’re both right.

Becoming a Leader Young People Will Follow

I believe students actually want to follow a leader—but we must display leadership that deserves it. It’s not about our tenure or title, it’s about living a life worth emulating. One that is relevant and prepares them for the future they hope for.

Do you remember the movie, The Karate Kid?  In both the original and the remake, a mentor takes on a kid and teaches him karate. But this mentor does so by building skills and disciplines in his protégé that seem unrelated to his area of interest. The kid cannot see any relevance to karate. Remember: “wax on, wax off?”  Eventually, however, by developing those disciplines, it paid off in the karate matches.

In my book Artificial Maturity, I suggest a handful of steps you can do to enable the young people in your life to grow in healthy ways; to turn artificial maturity into authentic maturity. Based upon my experience with young adults, I believe the following are significant elements to the maturing process:

Exercises to Turn Artificial Maturity into Authentic Maturity

1.  Face-to-Face Relationships

To complement their time in front of a screen (interacting in virtual contexts), I suggest caring adults establish environments where students interact in face-to-face relationships. For instance, my wife and I have planned parties and asked our kids to help host the guests who came. Early on, they learned to connect with adults, take their coats, ask if they wanted something to drink and make introductions to other guests. While this may sound basic, it was a relationship boot camp for our children.

2.  Genuine (as Opposed to Virtual) Projects and Experiences

To balance all the data and virtual games they experience, I suggest caring adults furnish opportunities for kids to get involved with real, honest to goodness projects in the community. For instance, sit down and choose together a work project like painting mailboxes in the neighborhood, or raking leaves in friends’ yards, or even planning a fund raiser and going door to door to receive donations from neighbors. The project simply needs to be something that represents good, hard work.

3.  Multi-Generational Exposure

One primary cause of artificial maturity today is that so many kids, especially teens, live in a “social silo.” Adolescents spend about sixteen hours a week interacting with adults and about sixty hours a week interacting with their peers. What’s shocking, however, is to discover that not that long ago—and for most of human history—these numbers were almost exactly reversed. Adults were the primary socializing force, but they’ve been replaced by other teens. By creating places for kids to interact with people far older and younger than they are, it pushes them out of their comfort zones and self-absorption.

4. Saving Money Toward a Goal

This idea can serve many purposes. Together with a student, choose a goal they want to achieve that requires a significant sum of money to reach it. It could be a big trip they hope to take, or something they want to buy at a store or even a party they are planning. The catch is—they must come up with the funds to pull it off. Help them create a budget. Then encourage them to save, raise or earn the money it will take to reach the objective. Work with them to set incremental goals (if this is appropriate), to pace their spending and plan toward each step along the way.

5.  Cross-Cultural Travel

It’s been said that travel provides a greater educational experience than any classroom. The education kids get when they travel in a different culture is not simply about history or math or geography; it’s about life. When a young person travels, their perspective not only broadens, but their capacity to wait and endure differences in culture deepens as well. (Most other cultures are less time-driven than the U.S.) As my kids grew up, I took them on several trips to both industrialized countries as well as developing nations—and it accelerated their maturity.

6.  Participation on a Team

Far too frequently, our kids play on teams or serve on teams, but fail to gain as much as they should from the experience. I believe true teamwork is an art and very few get to enjoy the fruit of genuine camaraderie. Synergy is what happens when those serving together experience results that are bigger than the sum total of each individual. I wish every kid in the world had the chance to participate on a team that experienced a sense of destiny, a sense of family and a militant spirit about reaching their goal. Why not create environments conducive to this kind of experience?

7. Age-appropriate Mentors

In my book, Generation iY—Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, I share how both my kids spent time with mentors when they were thirteen years old. Bethany, our first born, chose six women who served as one-day mentors for her that year. Later, Jonathan and I spent a year together with five other dads and their sons, meeting with men who challenged and encouraged them as they matured. We met with an Army Colonel, a CEO, a football coach, a pilot, an athlete and a pastor. Both of my kids would say these relationships provided a model for their growth and vision.

Here’s a suggestion. Evaluate what your students are missing, and create experiences that will resource them in those areas (click to tweet). It may just be possible—that we should try something different. What do you think? Click here to leave a comment.


  1. Dennis D. Engbrecht on September 7, 2012 at 10:00 am

    You continue to remain relevant, Tim. This is good stuff, something all of us on college campuses need to read and hear continuously. Keep up the good work, brother. You just keep getting better!

  2. Dr. J. D. on September 7, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Everything within the content of your article is true. I teach at a community college and have found some students to be technologically astute but lacking in the basics of behavioral tenets or manners, a knowledge of English, Math and Communications; text language does not equate to nor replace proper English grammar and sentence structure. Our college provides students with a handbook that clearly spells out Conduct Guidelines, Academic Misconduct Policies, and Expectations for Civility and Safety. Whether they read it or not is a matter of choice.
    I try to speak into the lives of my students, try to be an active listener, and try to encourage them in their academic and career goals and achievements as well.
    Students are looking for role models, leaders and mentors who will make a positive impact in their lives. Unfortunately, most media and artificial social networks paint a skewed picture of reality or the truth.

  3. Tim Carpenter on September 7, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Wonderful Post – I love the fact that you bring out that we adults need to provide the environment and experience for the kids on purpose. We can’t be passive and just hope these growth opportunities will come their way. I love the idea of helping to host at a party. Educators, Parents, Pastors, let’s get creative and create experiences for our kids to grow, develop, step out and then sit down for a post experience discussion.

  4. Mary Spence on September 7, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Great post as usual, Tim. I am working with colleagues to develop a curriculum for middle school students on their way to high school and the importance of increasing our understanding of how we adults can be there for youth from their perspective it critical. Thanks for the reminder to be present fully and to listen deeply.

  5. Elaine Gentzler Wenning on September 7, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Thank you for the article. I homeschool our ten year old son, Christian. At times, I have tangible evidences of God’s blessing, and too many other times, I ask myself,
    “Did I really think raising a child would be easy?” I find when I slow down and listen to Christian, then I can hear the Lord’s heart for him. I must say, being a parent and homeschooling is the hardest but most rewarding job I have ever had.

  6. Karen Stella on September 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Your article is so true! For the past 5 months, students and I have been organizing a fundraiser for a wonderful organization needing a new home for special needs children and adults in Central Florida. Our students learned to go outside their comfort zones to raise awareness and money for someone else. Through the planning they experienced many great learning opportunities.
    These students learned to communicate in a professional way with businesses and individuals and speak confidently about something they were proud to be a part of as a team.
    I know the event on Oct. 6th will be a success.
    For me, seeing them grow in confidence and speak with knowledge about the organization proves this project has already been successful.
    Karen Stella
    Circle Christian School
    Winter Park, Florida

  7. Paul Jolicoeur on September 8, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Fantastic article, as a youth pastor and a dad, I can say you hit the nail on the head. In our youth group for example, we focus on leadership development for the youth, because when they graduate from high school they will be better off having a chance to contribute and lead others than to just consume a program. They are given direct adult mentorship. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Paul Farrell on September 10, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Great article. Was referred here by my Pastor. As a scoutmaster, I definitely see multiple connections between your suggested exercises and the methods of the scouting program.
    The annual program is organized and run by the scouts own leadership team. They’re organized into teams called patrols who are responsible to plan their own menu, set up their own tents, organize duty rosters to determine who cooks and who cleans, etc. They also have to cope with the consequences of making mistakes such as forgetting to pack tents *(build a shelter).
    The older scouts teach the younger scouts and bear responsibility for the quality of that effort (reflected in being able to advance when the younger scouts have mastered those taught skills).
    Setting budgets, savings goals and working for program money are part of the program (scouts may not solicit donations as a fundraiser — they must provide services for fees or sell products to earn their camping budget).
    Service projects are also a big part of the calendar to gradually shift the boys attitudes from “what can I get” to “what can I give”.
    They also interact with merit badge counselors who are experts in their field in order to get association with adults as they complete advancement requirements, and so on.
    One of the biggest issues we face is dealing with personal electronics — they can be helpful tools, but usually become distractions; therefore, we don’t allow electronics on trips — they have to learn the old school ways of navigation, first aid, weather forecasting, etc.
    Scouting may only be one tool in the tool box for character development, but I know that the boys love the challenges and have benefited from participation.

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Maybe We Should Try Something Different