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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Students are Overwhelmed But Under-challenged (Part One)

It’s been difficult to put my finger on what’s happening among students in today’s culture. On the one hand, 94% of college students say the top word to describe their life is “overwhelmed.” About half say they are so overwhelmed it is almost difficult to function, and nearly one in ten have considered suicide in the last year.


photo credit: Walt Stoneburner via photopin cc

At the same time, we see volumes of reports that lead me to believe they are under-challenged. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that not only does a large percentage of students cheat on tests, but so do the teachers who lead them. Once the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal broke last year, the AJC uncovered 196 school districts who also cheat. Sadly, investigations on the whole ordeal have been extremely lax; schools and students want to minimize and gloss over the flaw.

Not long ago, the U.S. Army re-shaped their training to make it easier for young recruits to make it as a soldier. This was due to both young soldiers failing to meet the standards and the fact that the Army was failing to reach their quota of recruits. While many of the changes made sense, military experts like James Martin (PA), warn we must run the risk of graduating sub-standard soldiers. Last year, Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein published a report that said the state of our youth is now an issue of national security. About 75% of teens today are not even eligible for the military due to obesity, criminal records or failing to graduate.

The problem is a paradox: Kids today are both overwhelmed and under-challenged. They’re busier than ever, but not with meaningful activities that prepare them for life (click to tweet). Tomorrow, I will blog about how we can better lead them.

Any thoughts you have on this issue? What paradoxes do you see?


  1. Jay Apking on October 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Great column and great subject.

    How about this paradox for young girls: America’s kids are obese and eat poorly vs. Don’t look like Barbie or be thin like movie stars.

    How about this one for all kids: Follow your passion vs. You must use the gifts that God gave you.

    Another one: It’s important to be well-rounded vs. If you specialize in what you excel in, you will get further ahead (i.e. stay focused on your career path).

    • Tim Elmore on October 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      Great paradoxes. Thanks for adding them!

  2. Jerry on October 2, 2012 at 11:42 am

    1979 General Motors commissioned an internal study to offset the common refrain the Japanese auto had higher quality. Perfect would a score of 100 and 70 (or 30 defects per car) would be passing. To their shock they found they average 44 defects PER CARD. So what did they do…changed the index to 144 start and 100 passing. The rest is history.

    PS. Today the best brands (including Buick and Cadillac) average less then 1 defect per hundred thanks to (ta-da) the Toyota Production System (called GMS internally at GM)

    • Tim Elmore on October 23, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      Amazing story. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Jeff Randleman on October 4, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I agree. I see some serious paradoxes when I see kids joining crusades to end the water crisis in Africa, or to end hunger through World Vision. But those same kids tell me they are bored with nothing to do. I believe that if we could motivate this generation as a whole, and not just small segments of it, it would look very Book of Acts-ish…

  4. Tcayton on October 23, 2012 at 9:12 am

    I totally agree. We are easing up on kids everywhere, we need to challenge their brains!!!

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Students are Overwhelmed But Under-challenged (Part One)