Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, are impacting many young people today. ACEs are potentially traumatic situations that occur before a child reaches the age of 18. They can include abuse (physical, emotional or sexual), neglect (physical or emotional), or household dysfunction (mental health, divorce, substance or physical abuse, or relative incarceration). Research indicates that around 30 percent of all children have experienced at least one ACE, that is roughly one out of every three Gen Z youth. Almost half of those have experienced more than one ACE. ACEs can have profound long-term effects on the mental and physical health of those impacted.
It is important for leaders, mentors, parents and teachers to be aware of negative situations affecting the young people around them and to provide support for those who have had adverse childhood experiences. Here are a few strategies to consider as we support Gen Z.
There is an African Proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Healthy, productive teams, however, require time, energy, and intentional leadership. This is especially true of multigenerational teams. I appreciate the perspective of former basketball coach, Pat Summitt who once said, “To me, teamwork is a lot like being part of a family. It comes with obligations, entanglements, headaches, and quarrels. But the rewards are worth the cost.”
The level of complexity and change in our world is increasing the need for self-directed and empowered teams. In his book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, General Stanley McChrystal, explains, “Much of what a leader must be, and do, has fundamentally changed. The heroic “hands-on” leader whose personal competence and force of will dominated battlefields and boardrooms for generations has been overwhelmed by accelerating speed, swelling complexity, and interdependence.” McChrystal and his co-authors describe the need for team leaders to begin viewing themselves more as gardeners, and less as chess masters. The new environment in which leaders today must operate requires less of the “move-by-move control” of a chess master, the approach more common in traditional team leadership. Instead, team leaders today can be more effective when they operate as gardeners, “nurturing the organization—its structure, processes, and culture” to allow team members to function with confidence, resources, understanding, and support that enable maximum motivation, collaboration, and innovation.
Tony Dungy, in his book, The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People & Teams that Win Consistently, echoes the importance of the leader’s role in creating an environment where teams can thrive. He explains that leaders must “engage, educate, equip, encourage, empower, energize, and elevate. Those are the methods for maximizing the potential of any individual, team, organization, or institution for ultimate success and significance. Those are the methods of a mentor leader.” Tony Dungy encourages leaders to walk alongside their teams. He explains, “If you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead, you must be willing to walk alongside them, to lift and encourage them, to share moments of understanding with them, and to spend time with them, not just shout down at them from on high.”
A lack of support from the leader is a key reason young people struggle on teams. Multigenerational teams thrive most when they have a leader who nurtures like a gardener, caring for the individuals on the team as a gardener cares and provides for the plants in a garden.
Reflect on teams where you lead or have influence. What about the culture or environment is healthy and empowering? What is unhealthy? Do you lead and influence like a gardener, who nurtures and supports the individuals and team? How could you do this more intentionally?
I was recently presenting on Gen Z, discussing the impact of cancel culture on young people today. Someone in the audience asked what cancel culture is so thought I would talk about it briefly here. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as: "a way of behaving in a society or group, especially on social media, in which it is common to completely reject and stop supporting someone because they have said or done something that offends you."
While cancel culture is currently playing out in significant ways in our society as anyone from celebrities to CEOs can get "cancelled" for saying or doing something that is offensive to someone or a group of people, it is also a very real part of young people's personal lives. A 2019 New York Time's article, Tale's From the Teenage Cancel Culture, offered some powerful quotes from teenagers on the effects of cancel culture. Neelam, a 17-year-old explained, cancel culture is "a way to take away someone’s power and call out the individual for being problematic in a situation,” Neelam said. "I don’t think it’s being sensitive. I think it’s just having a sense of being observant and aware of what’s going on around you."
The article quotes another 17-year-old, Ben, who highlights one of the difficulties of cancel culture. He said, "people should be held accountable for their actions, whether they’re famous or not, but that canceling someone 'takes away the option for them to learn from their mistakes and kind of alienates them.'” The Cambridge Dictionary agreed that "the main argument against cancel culture is that it doesn't enable people who have wronged society the opportunity to apologize and learn from their mistakes."
Young people today are often living in fear of saying or doing something, or associating with someone or something, that could get them cancelled. They can also struggle with understanding the power of unconditional love, repentance, forgiveness, restoration and redemption in a culture that simple cancels those who make mistakes or do something that is deemed inappropriate or offensive.
As parents, leaders, and mentors, we need to model the reality that love, forgiveness, and restoration can exist in relationships. By providing relationships that are strong, safe, and supportive, we can help young people gain perspective and hope to live humbly, honestly, and confidently.
For more on this topic, check out this month's episode of The Leading Tomorrow podcast.
This month, we are celebrating the release of Daniel Generation in Spanish and Audiobook (English)! The print edition of the Spanish book is now available on our website. The Spanish ebook and English audiobook are coming later this month. Watch for updates! To celebrate, we are including an excerpt from the book below. Check out this month's The Leading Tomorrow Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts for more on Gen Z's pursuit of happiness!
From Daniel Generation, chapter five:
In 1985, 25 years before the iPad, NYU professor, Neil Postman wrote an insightful little book titled Amusing Ourselves to Death. In it, he discusses the power of technology to create a culture of “uninformed pleasure seekers.” He further explains how media has slowly infiltrated our culture resulting in the promotion of entertainment as the standard of truth. Postman discusses writer Aldous Huxley’s vision described in Brave New World. The book was published in 1932 and set in London in the year 2540. Huxley understood that no “Big Brother is required to deprive people…people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” In Brave New World, Huxley depicts the reality of people controlled by their desire for pleasure, rather than by tyranny or pain. A century ago, Huxley feared that what we love, our need for pleasure, would ruin us.
Technology presents several real dangers for us today. First, is its highly addictive nature. Nicholas Kardaras, in his book Glow Kids, explains what he calls the “dopamine tickle.” “Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter that’s the most critical element in the addiction process. When a person performs an action that satisfies a need or fulfills a desire, dopamine is released…into a cluster of nerve cells that are associated with pleasure and reward, also known as the brain’s pleasure center.” This triggers a signal to repeat the activity again.
Technology consistently provides a “dopamine” tickle. Simon Sinek discusses its addictive impact. “The youth of today want to do good…the problem is…they're all addicted to dopamine. We pretty much raised an entire generation addicted to the ding, buzz, beep or flash of their phone.” Text message and social media notifications give us the same dopamine reaction as gambling, drugs, and alcohol. In some cases, we can’t wait a few minutes to look at our phone. Playing video games, posting to social media, or watching YouTube videos can produce addictions if we fail to manage our actions and time.
Technology’s power includes its pervading influence. It guides our behaviors and perspectives by getting us to click on ads, buy things online, or read the articles fed to us. Technology today allows companies to track our every click and enables the constant barrage of personalized ads, products and information right to the device in our pocket or under our pillow. Daniel encountered a powerful program of training that sought to influence his loyalties and attention. He completed the training but controlled its power to inform or control him. We must do the same with technology. Technology provides us with valuable tools, but possesses the power to manipulate our time, attention, and loyalties. If we simply respond to, rather than manage, its influence in our lives we risk responding to the powerful dings, beeps, and flashes of our devices rather than to God.
I was recently coaching a college student through some anxiety she was feeling. As she shared her struggles, it became evident that she did not feel heard, understood, or valued in key relationships. I was reminded of the importance of truly listening to the young people in our lives. As we head into the holiday season, where we are interacting with family and friends, it is a good time to refresh our listening skills.
I wish I could say I am really good at listening, but it is one of those skills I am constantly having to practice and hone. While it seems simple, it may be one of the most difficult leadership skills to develop and practice because it requires us to set aside our own perspectives, interests, and need to be heard to focus on another person and what they are thinking and feeling.
Today, with the constant noise and distractions of social media, news feeds, YouTube, and the busy world around us, we often give things our partial attention. This can become a habit that inhibits our ability to listen fully to those with whom we are interacting.
Active listening requires that the listener move from passively hearing to actively engaging with the speaker. This type of listening uses both verbal and non-verbal communication methods and shows the speaker you are interested. So, let’s reflect on some skills that are important for active listening.
The following is an excerpt from a blog post by Steve Moore. Steve is an author, speaker, and president of Growing Leaders. To read the full post, visit the Growing Leaders blog.
When transition collides with disruption, we can feel the need for an intermission. For students, this is often described as a “gap year,” and it is a growing response to the pandemic.
Research by the Art & Science Poll Group conducted in the summer of 2020 found that “Roughly one in six high school seniors say they definitely or most likely will not attend college in the fall because of the coronavirus; of those, 16 percent plan to take a gap year. That compares to fewer than 3 percent who have taken a year or more off between high school and college in the past.”
According to Year On, “Whether you decide to gap with a program or your own self-structured gap year, the personal, social, and academic benefits of gap years are indisputable.”
What Should Happen in a Gap Year?
One of the common and preferred components of a gap year is international travel. The pandemic increased the number of students taking a break while eliminating the possibility of exploring the world.
How can we help students experience the benefits of a gap year when they can’t leave?
1. Exchange adventure for curiosity.
Even if you can’t travel you can be curious. How could curiosity open a door for self-directed learning and the seeds of passion in your life?
2. Expand opportunities by growing your network.
You probably already know or have access to the people who can help you get where you want to go in life. They are friends of your parents or the parents of your friends. Make it a priority to connect with them. Leverage your curiosity to grow your network by asking questions. Relationship building is a critical skill for any career. Here are a few questions to help you get started:
3. Advance your career by investing in yourself.
College isn’t an end in itself. It’s to prepare you for a career, but don’t start with a career. Start with you. As Parker Palmer put it, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” The gap year is a perfect time to slow down for some self-discovery and personal development with a special focus on self-awareness.
4. Create an alternate ending.
It’s not healthy to deny or ignore the disappointment you feel about the disruption of your expected transition into life after high school. You may feel guilty about embracing these feelings because others have been affected in much worse ways by the pandemic. Begin where you are emotionally, then imagine yourself as a screenwriter, creating your own transition experience that brings closure to one season and opens a door to another.
Could This Happen During a Pandemic?
We began thinking about our current parameters (social distancing and remote learning) and how a young adult might still be able to experience an incredible “gap year.” What if a student could continue whatever they’re doing, but participate in a “virtual gap year?”
What if they could join a community of young adults who want to keep growing; who want to avoid getting stuck, but who may not be flourishing on a college campus yet? So, we are hosting a Virtual GAP Year. We’re focused on helping students create a Get Ahead Plan (GAP). The six-month experience begins and ends with a virtual event, supported by monthly engagement through video training, virtual cohort meetings, and two one-on-one coaching sessions.
We’re excited about this opportunity and would love for you to consider:
For more information, visit myvirtualgapyear.com
Do you know a student who could benefit from this opportunity? Encourage them to apply. Use the promo code LT2021 to waive the $50 application fee. Contact us at email@example.com with any questions.
The National Student Clearinghouse released their latest college enrollment numbers on October 15, 2020. They are showing that a month or so into the fall 2020 semester, undergraduate enrollment is running 4% below last year’s numbers. “Most strikingly, freshman students are by far the biggest decline of any group from last year, with a decrease of 16.1% nationally and a 22.7% drop at community colleges in particular. First-time students account for 69% of the total drop in undergraduate enrollment.”
It is not surprising that many undergraduate students may be putting their college plans on hold amid uncertain times. This means a lot of students who might otherwise be in college are doing something else right now. I couldn’t help but wonder what this season looks like for those who are waiting to reengage their college plans. While mental health risks for college students were high prior to the pandemic, we are now seeing an increase in depression rates for college students since the beginning of the pandemic. It is critical for students today to have support and encouragement in this season as they make decisions that will allow them to thrive amid the uncertainty.
If you know a college-aged student who has put their plans on hold, or who is reconsidering their plans, here are a few ways to encourage them:
Here at Leading Tomorrow, we are excited to be partnering with Growing Leaders and nexleader to offer a 6-month virtual gap year experience, beginning in January 2021. We will be working with students to pursue their goals and create a personal Get Ahead Plan (GAP). For more information visit the website. Do you know a student who could benefit from this opportunity? Encourage them to apply. Use the promo code LT2021 to waive the $50 application fee. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Do you know a young person who has put their college plans on hold? Maybe a young leader in your life is needing some direction and confidence in the midst of uncertain times. Here at Leading Tomorrow, we are so excited to be partnering with Growing Leaders and nexleader to offer a 6-month virtual gap year experience, beginning in January 2021. We will be working with students to pursue their goals and create a personal Get Ahead Plan (GAP). Online events and interactive modules, a small group cohort of other students, and a certified coach will help developing leaders grow in their self awareness and lead themselves more effectively.
For more information, visit the website or contact us. Use the promo code LT2021 to waive the $50 application fee.
In this season, our relationships have adapted to a world of social distancing and virtual interactions. Whether we are spending more time with our kids as they homeschool or do virtual courses, or spending less time with students or employees who are learning and working from home, there are unique opportunities to encourage and support the young people in our life. One way we can do this is to identify and acknowledge how they are smart, the natural intelligence they have, and affirm and encourage them in developing their abilities.
This is a generation that is incredibly individualistic and is growing up in a world that tells them identity is fluid. This can create uncertainty, confusion, and anxiety. This is further complicated as social media creates a tendency to compare ourselves to others. Young people today need confidence to understand themselves and grow in their abilities. We can help them.
Dr. Kathy Koch, in her book The 8 Great Smarts, talks about the different types of intelligences we can watch for in the lives of the Gen Zers around us. She gives descriptions of how each type of intelligence thinks, responds, and learns. There are great suggestions for activities to do with young people based on their interests, and ideas for guiding them into a career field that fits who they are.
The eight great smarts that she delineates are:
· Word Smart
· Logic Smart
· Picture Smart
· Music Smart
· Body Smart
· Nature Smart
· People Smart
· Self Smart
I highly recommend Dr. Kathy’s book. As a parent who is Word Smart, it has given me so many great insights as I raise Picture Smart and Nature Smart kids. As a People Smart coach and educator, I have learned to better appreciate and relate to the Self Smart people I coach and teach.
As you engage the Gen Zers in your life, I encourage you to pay close attention to the “smarts” they possess, encourage and guide them as they develop the unique intelligence they possess.
I have missed seeing many of you in person this year as face-to-face events have been canceled and schedules have changed. Like many public speakers, my calendar looked strangely different after travel restrictions began to take effect in March. In this unique season, I have often found myself, like so many leaders, pondering what the future holds and how to navigate it. Amid all the uncertainty and change, I have been encouraged and challenged by the following reminders and questions:
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!