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.”
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.