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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Students are Overwhelmed But Under-Challenged (Part Two)

Yesterday, I blogged about the fact that kids today are overwhelmed yet under-challenged at the same time. This irony is due to the fact that they’re busier than ever, yet with virtual activities that don’t really prepare them for the world that awaits them as adults. My grandparent’s generation, for instance, modeled this reality—they were working the farm at 14, working jobs at 15, leading armies at 17 and getting married at 19. Even if you believe this was wrong—it proved that it was inside of young people to pull it off. They’re capable.


photo credit: U.S. Pacific Fleet via photopin cc

Today—we excuse childish behavior in a sixteen year old, saying, “He’s just a kid.”

Think Facebook, video games, texting, YouTube, Hulu, etc. It’s often busy-ness, yet superficial. Yesterday, I documented the fact that we dumb-down the teen world, and now expect far less than we did of kids two generations ago.

Even regiments like musical recitals, sports teams and most homework assignments are good disciplines but they are virtual; mere simulators of real life. We are masters of the artificial sweetener, artificial grass, artificial hearts, artificial flowers, artificial Christmas trees, artificial intelligence, even artificial insemination. And now, we’ve created artificial maturity in our kids.

Six Ideas

Instead of overwhelming our teens with imitations, what if we offered the following:

  1. Meaningful work – What if we challenged them to get a job that enabled them to labor, make money and use their primary gifts?
  2. Solitude and reflection – What if we paid them to read great books, then discussed their meaning and interpret their value with them?
  3. Altruistic Projects – What if we joined our students to serve in a charitable project that benefited people less fortunate than they are?
  4. Inter-generational environments – What if we planned gatherings where multiple generations mixed it up in conversation, to raise their EQ?
  5. Travel – What if we exposed them to other cultures that are very different than us, and learned from the differences yet found commonalities?
  6. Mentors – What if we introduced them to our network, where they could find mentors in the careers they hope to enter?

What do you think? Am I wrong? Or, can you think of items to add to the list above?


  1. pmchugh on October 2, 2012 at 7:39 am

    Tim — this post came across Twitter today. Maybe you saw it.
    It is about Princeton students complaining about the price of Sushi in their dining hall. Now I probably complained too when I was a student. But something about this particular complaint made me think of your posts. Here we have some of the most talented kids in the world with incredible opportunities at their institution and they are rankled about Sushi prices, very amusing and interesting. Looking forward to meeting you when you present in Chicago at end of the month.

    • Tim Elmore on October 23, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      Thanks for passing that article on. Interesting, indeed! Look forward to seeing you in Chicago.

  2. Damon Barber on October 3, 2012 at 6:36 am

    As always, I think you nailed it! Always enjoy your blogs.

  3. Brian Musser on October 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    “Inter-generational environments” I have been thinking about this a lot. We have quite often intentionally segregated our society based on age. A lot of this is an unintentional result of our extensive school system. We are trained to feel most comfortable in a group that is homogeneous in age. Is the religious congregation the only voluntary social institution with our culture that intentionally tries to be multi-generational? What effect does that have on church? And what effect could a multi-generational church have on our society?

    • Tim Elmore on October 23, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      I can’t overstate the importance of inter-generational interactions. We miss so much when we segregate. Students who interact with a variety of age groups have a chance to grow in their emotional intelligence.

  4. Kurt Earl on October 6, 2012 at 6:27 am

    Pay them to read books? There has to be another way we can motivate them to do what is good for them, right?

    • Tim Elmore on October 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm

      Parents pay for a lot of things. I’m merely suggesting we pay for something that matters. Establishing this habit early is life-changing.

      • Kurt Earl on December 8, 2012 at 8:39 am

        True. So you believe paying children to read will help them understand that reading is valuable? I like the idea of reward for doing something rather than punishment for not doing it, but I’m not a big fan of money being the reward. Great stuff to chew on. Thanks for getting me thinking.

  5. Kurt Earl on December 8, 2012 at 8:56 am

    As a teacher and coach I’m trying to brainstorm specific things I can do. One thing I have tried to do a lot more of is “describe a goal” rather than simply “assign a task” as you have recommended in other posts. Doing so would provides meaningful work and reflection. Any reading recommendations for me that might help me to further my thinking in this way?

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Students are Overwhelmed But Under-Challenged (Part Two)