A Generation of “Firsts” (Part One & Two) by TIm Elmore
Your high school or college students are among a generation who’s the first to experience a number of realities. In fact, because they’re initiating these realities, they may present a challenge to your parents and teachers. Adults are grappling with how to raise this population of kids who grew up on-line, with a screen in their hands. The pixels and format of those screens have re-wired their brains: they think differently, react differently, communicate differently, and process information differently than adults. Some call them “screenagers.” Consider the following “firsts” they represent.
This is the First Generation of Youth Who:
1. Doesn’t need adults to get information.
Consider how this difference changes the role of an adult. Because information is everywhere, we are no longer brokers of data. They don’t need us for information, but for interpretation. We must help them make sense of all they know. Our job isn’t to enable them to access data, but to process data and form good decisions.
2. Can broadcast their every thought or emotion to those who follow them.
You see this every week. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, your kids can send messages to huge populations who matter. They are the new PR for your youth department or your school. Some posts actually get famous…good or bad. Most have not been equipped to harness the megaphone in their hands.
3. Has external stimuli at their fingertips 24/7.
Because a portable device is in their hand, they receive outside stimulation any time they’re bored. Many don’t think well on their own. This outside entertainment may have reduced their internal motivation. They’ve never had to motivate themselves. They depend on a screen to push them. We must equip them to find it within.
4. Is socially connected at all times, but often connects in isolation.
This is the most connected generation in history—but perhaps the one who’s experienced the least community. They’re rarely disconnected, but are lonely and often connect virtually, in isolation, on a screen. Their empathy, soft skills and emotional intelligence are lower because of it. They’ll need those skills for life.
5. Will learn more from a portable device than from a classroom.
This one is a game changer. The portable device they hold in their hand is now the compass that guides them, not their teachers. They’ll consume more data on this device than through any other means. It may be inaccurate or damaging, but it’s available and they are digesting it. They’ll need us to help them navigate this tool.
6. Adults have enabled to be narcissistic instead of valuing a team.
Adults have told them they’re special, gifted and smart. This affirmation was intended to build self-esteem. Sadly, instead of helping their self-esteem, as a whole, it’s produced a high level of narcissism. They’re into themselves not the whole. You may be needed to furnish them with bigger picture perspective.
7. Uses a phone instead of a wristwatch, camera, wall calendar or board game.
Students no longer manage their lives the way we did growing up. Their phone tells time, provides entertainment, takes pictures, gives directions, connects with friends and broadcasts their messages. Designed to make life simpler, this non-stop information center has made them the most stressed out generation to date.
8. Scores lower on global comparisons, but believe they’re “awesome.”
This may be the most notable “first.” American kids continue to score lower on standardized tests than their peers around the world. Despite this fact, the one category they keep scoring highest in is: self-confidence. They’ve been empowered to believe they’re awesome, but not equipped by adults to enter adulthood.
Despite the unintended consequences to this world of “firsts” I continue to believe in the potential of this emerging generation. I pray they truly will transform the world. They can be role models for younger kids—but they will require direction and equipping that earlier young adults may not have needed. They need conversations about how to navigate an overwhelming world of information, and they need help to see they are only part of a much bigger world than themselves. Are you ready to expand your definition of “teacher” or “leader”?
Part 2: This is the First Generation of Youth Who:
- Doesn’t need adults to get information.
- Can broadcast their every thought or emotion to those who follow them.
- Has external stimuli at their fingertips 24/7.
- Is socially connected at all times, but often connects in isolation.
- Will learn more from a portable device than from a classroom.
- Adults have enabled to be narcissistic instead of valuing a team.
- Uses a phone instead of a wristwatch, camera, wall calendar or board game.
- Scores lower on global comparisons, but believe they’re “awesome.”
So What Do We Do?
So—how do we lead them? How do we provide wisdom to help them navigate this new world? How can we enable them to embrace new technology but not lose the timeless relational skills that enable them to be good with people? Let’s start here.
- Provide an agreement on how to use their cell phone, not be used by it. Talk it over, then both of you sign it which will provide accountability on the use of this tool.
- Balance “screen time” and “face time”. Match the hours they spend in front of a screen with the hours face-to-face with people.
- Determine that both of you (your class, team or family) will do a technology “fast” once a month, where no one texts, emails or is on Facebook for a whole day.
- Teach them to use the “employer” rule when they tweet or post. Would they want their boss to see what they’ve said?
- When they see a show or movie (or if you watch one together) discuss its meaning and through reflection on plot and values, begin cultivating critical thinking skills.
- If you discover something they really “want”, create a game that enables them to “wait” on getting it, thereby developing the ability to delay gratification.
- Help them discover redemptive ways they can use technology to serve the world around them—either helping their community or their campus.