I have been musing for some time about a demographic group sociologists say has expanded worldwide. The years between 18-26 and even beyond have become a distinct life-stage—a strange, transitional never-never land between adolescence and adulthood—in which young people stall for a few extra years, putting off adult responsibility. Some call them “Twixters.” Often, they’ll finish college, then move back in with their parents and live rent free, as they experiment with jobs, trying to figure out their calling and pay off college debt. The percentage of 26 year olds living with their parents has doubled since 1970.
Where did they come from? And why does it take them so long to get where they’re going? Good question. The Twixters aren’t slackers, as so many in Generation X were. They aren’t lazy—they’re just reaping the fruit of decades of American affluence and social liberation. This new period is a chance for young people to savor the pleasures of irresponsibility, search their souls and choose their life paths. And their parents are allowing them to do it with a little less pressure than they had in school. They are taking their time to figure out who they are, who they want to marry and what their calling is; in other words, to discern their master, their mate and their mission.
Some demographers are worried. They fear that these young people won’t grow up because they can’t. They fear that whatever social machinery used to turn kids into adults has broken down; that society no longer provides young people with the moral backbone and the financial wherewithal to take their rightful place in the adult world. Some sociologists refer to today’s parents as “helicopter parents.” Why? They hover, brooding over their kids, making sure they get the very best coaches, courses, curriculum and extra-curricular activities. Unwittingly, they won’t let their kid grow up. But these over-protective parents aren’t the only culprit.
These twenty-something’s have gone through our school systems and come out ill-equipped. Five years ago, a new term became popular: quarter-life crisis. Yes, you read it correctly. Not mid-life but quarter-life crisis. It’s a term to describe those in their mid-twenties who are clinically depressed because they’ve not arrived at their career destinations as quickly and efficiently as they had hoped. Their bubble was burst, and now they are seeing a counselor. Somehow, each level of education merely prepared them for more education—but not for the real world, where you begin at the bottom of the ladder and work hard for little pay or recognition. According to research done by Time magazine, most colleges are seriously out of step with the real world in getting students ready to become workers in the post-college world. Vocational schools like Devry and Strayer which focus on technical skills are seeing a boom in enrollment, growing 48% from 1996 to 2000. Unfortunately, most don’t get those practical skills in traditional colleges, and experience a huge gulf between school and career. More than one-third of the Twixters don’t consider themselves “adults” or “grown up.” Why? They’re still depending on mom and dad for room and board.
So…What Can We Do to Help?
Let me suggest a few ideas on how we can help these young adults get ready for life:
1. Help them identify their strengths and match their gifts with real-life work.
Use an assessment tool like “Strengthsquest” or some other test to enable them to evaluate where they are strong. A clear sense of identity goes a long way in preparing a student for life. Once they know their strengths, personality, spiritual gifts and style—give them assignments or responsibility that matches who they are.
2. Arrange interviews with CEOs who can field their questions and talk “turkey.”
Bring into your class or campus ministry corporate leaders who can tell their story on how they got started, and field questions. Utilize local leaders in churches, businesses, and counseling offices.
3. Encourage time-limits on leisure activities.
Far too many young adults are addicted to PlayStation 2, Halo, X-Box and other electronic games. Do I sound like a parent? These games are not horrible, but healthy accountability might help them stop wasting too much time on them.
4. Talk about the future on a regular basis.
The majority of the Millennial generation thinks about the future every week. I believe we need to help them talk about the future, and think out loud about their calling. Even if they change their mind 500 times in school, help them to move in some direction.
5. Help them develop coping strategies.
They need to know how to deal with setbacks, stresses & feelings of inadequacy. They must learn how to resolve conflict and solve problems. These are normal. But just watch “American Idol” and you see how so many young adults struggle with reality. Most “singers” auditioning aren’t singers.
6. Make sure that childhood is not an impossible act to follow.
If you get them young—help insert responsibility right away. Make it appropriate, but give it to them. Don’t overindulge them. Avoid hyper-inflated egos and over-protection. We are doing a disservice to young people if we remove their chance to fail.
7. Nurture leadership qualities and skills in them.
Research from Helen and Alexlander Astin, out of UCLA, reports that in today’s world—every young person will need leadership skills. Leadership is not just for the elite, but for everyone who wants to get somewhere in their life.
This is why I’m so passionate about helping you lead well and to equip your students in leadership. On our “Growing Leaders” website, we offer ideas and projects you can do with students to teach them leadership. Your first step can be as simple as discussing one “Habitude” a week with your young people, and applying it to their life. “Habitudes” are images that form leadership habits and attitudes. (They are small books to be used in mentoring relationships.) You can find both the ideas and the books at: www.GrowingLeaders.com. Let’s prepare this generation to lead the way.