Much has been written about the increased mental health concerns facing Gen Z and Gen Alpha. In addition, as I talk to employers and educators, I often hear how many young people today lack the problem solving and critical thinking skills we saw in older generations at the same age. As we consider ways to support the health and growth of young people around us, we often overlook some of the best tools and opportunities at our disposal: fun and free play.
Neil Postman wrote, “It is not conceivable that our culture will forget that it needs children; but it is halfway toward forgetting that children need childhood. Tim Elmore, in his book Marching Off the Map wrote that childhood as we have known it historically is disappearing, and that a strange paradox is emerging in young people as a result. We are witnessing the extinction of childlikeness and the extension of childishness.
The reality is that free, unstructured play builds skills and maturity. When young people can play without an adult to dictate every action and guideline, and provide every resource, they have to start relying on their own abilities to problem solve, find solutions, resolve conflict, and exercise creativity. Furthermore, when they achieve something on their own, whether it is building a fort, designing a new game, writing a song for fun, or creating a small business idea, the resulting sense of fulfillment produces intrinsic motivation that helps them overcome apathy. When they encounter a complication and are able to overcome it, using their own skills and ideas, they gain confidence and resilience to face the next obstacle.
Fun activities that have no predetermined purpose allow young people to just explore, problem solve, and test their skills and ideas. Free play can also help decrease stress and anxiety by giving them time to just think and be. One of the best gifts we can give young people around us this summer is to model what it looks like to disconnect from our devices and step away from our structured task list and just have fun. Invite them to join you, or give them opportunities to do so themselves. If this is a skill they have never developed, they may need some help getting started, but it will be a skill they can benefit from the rest of their lives.
For more on free play, check out this article, or listen to the most recent episode of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast.
As we seek to engage Gen Z, the most diverse and global generation in history, we must continue to grow as multicultural leaders and organizations. I recently read a research study by international church planter, Mark McKinstry, that provided some powerful encouragement on multicultural leadership from the Bible. The following is an excerpt from Mark’s Thesis on how the leaders and church at Antioch modeled multicultural leadership:
Musvosvi (2010) wrote, “The church at Antioch was as close to being a model as one gets in its ability to understand and constructively deal with multi-ethnic situations” (p. 48). If this is the case, what did the leadership and membership look like?
Some of our best clues are found in the words of the Bible. Luke, the author of Acts, describes the leadership team of the Church of Antioch, “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul” (Acts 13:1). Based on this, we know the Antioch Church leadership team was formed out of a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-class group of people.
Barclay (1957) explains the diverse team further,
Barnabas was a Jew from Cyprus; Lucius from Cyrene in North Africa; Simeon was also a Jew but his
other name Niger is given and, since this is a Roman name, it shows that he must have moved in Roman
circles; Manaen was a man with aristocratic connections, and Paul himself a Jew from Tarsus of Cilicia
and a trained rabbi. (p. 115)
Regarding the leadership team, Steel (2018) commented,
Paul and Barnabas were both Jewish but had been raised outside Palestine. Both were fluent in Jewish
language and customs, but they also spoke Aramaic and Greek. Then there’s Manaen, a man who grew
up with incredible opportunity and education within the household of Herod Antipas. Next there’s Lucius
of Cyrene, from North Africa, who may have been one of the initial evangelists who arrived amid
persecution and began \ reaching out to Greeks. And last but not least was Simon called Niger, who
was most likely a black African. (para. 12)
The unity of this diverse leadership team became a powerful symbol to the membership of the church and to the city where they lived (Steel, 2018). Additionally, the membership of the Church of Antioch was a reflection of the leadership team. The members were made up of multiple cultures, language groups, ethnicities, and social classes.
When I interviewed Mark on my podcast, I asked him what lessons leaders today can take from the life of Barnabas, one of the key leaders on the multicultural team in Antioch. He encouraged:
Good questions for each of us to ask ourselves include, “How am I actively engaging those who are different than me or who disagree with me?” “How can I embrace the discomfort and learning that can come with diversity?” “How am I developing and encouraging a multicultural team around me?”
Barclay, W. (1957). The letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. Westminster John Knox Press.
Musvosvi, J. (2010). Race, ethnicity, and tribal conflicts. Journal of Adventist Mission Studies,6(1), Article 5.
Steel, D. (2018, July 25). What the diverse Church in Antioch can teach us today. Retrieved from
In the midst of what many are calling the "Great Resignation," record numbers of employees are leaving their jobs. In November 2021 alone, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs. While there are a number of reasons for this trend, there are some steps leaders and managers can take to create a work environment that young adults find difficult to leave:
I am often asked how to remain motivated in leading young adults when they often leave an organization despite our best efforts. With this generation, we need to see every engagement as an investment into the future. Even if a young person moves on to another team or organization, they will take memories and lessons (good or bad) with them. May our legacy in the lives of the young people we work with be one of empowerment, wisdom, and encouragement.
Despite many schools and work activities being back in person, virtual classes, training, and work meetings continue to be a significant part of our daily interactions, and will likely continue indefinitely. As a result, we must constantly hone our virtual interaction skills. Her are four of my favorite tips for communicating and building relationships in virtual contexts.
-Tip 1: “Push” Important Info to Students/Team Members
We live in a world where notifications and reminders help us focus on what is important amid the onslaught of information we encounter. As a result, we need to “push” important information to students and colleagues. Extra reminders to team members on upcoming meetings or tasks can be helpful. Students may need support as they navigate online learning. I do this by posting and emailing weekly updates, highlighting what is important in each module. During the first couple of weeks of class, or when there is a new type of assignment or activity, I post/send a special reminder or explanation, even though all this info is also clearly posted online. Students benefit from knowing what to focus on, understanding how to manage their time, and getting information that minimizes mistakes or confusion.
-Tip 2: Be Present/Engaged
In the online context, students and employees cannot “see” us the way they do in a classroom or office, so we need to be intentional to show we are present and engaged. We can do this by contributing to discussion on forums, liking or responding to comments, and making specific comments unique to each student or participant when responding. I also try to reference student comments or insights when giving video lectures or facilitating discussions to show I am paying attention to what they are saying and doing.
-Tip 3: Be Personable/Authentic
Being personable online requires us to really express our personality. Including some videos and facilitating live discussions helps convey our teaching style. I always host a virtual orientation the first week of class so we can see facial expressions and hear voices. We can let our personality shine through in videos, posts, and comments by sharing personal fun facts and stories or using emojis. Also, responding to employee or student needs and requests for help with empathy goes a long way toward building rapport.
-Tip 4: Connect Individually
Learn specifics about each student or team member, reference these, share resources they might find interesting given their interests, etc. I create an introduction forum and ask everyone to post a short bio during the first week of my courses. This helps me learn and remember names and backgrounds. Responding promptly to questions and creating times or opportunities for appointments if students or staff need to connect via phone or video chat communicates you are available to help them.
Why We Must Innovate in 2022
Almost two decades ago, futurist and inventor, Ray Kurzwelli stated, "We're entering an age of acceleration. Because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today's rate of progress; organizations have to be able to redefine themselves at a faster and faster pace."
As we look at the world around us today, we can see evidence of rapid change. Change in technology, society, and generations requires leaders and organizations to adapt and innovate. This month, I had the honor of sitting down and chatting about innovation with Jacob Hancock, Executive Director at Seeds Global Innovation Lab. To hear our full discussion, check out this month's episode of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast. Jacob gave the following definition of innovation: "proactively generating and executing new ideas that create value." He went on to explain, "If we solve for challenges in the future, we are so much more prepared than if we remain in a reactive posture."
One of the challenges of innovation is the fact that it requires some tolerance of failure as we seek to learn what will work in a new context. William Pollard indicated why being willing to learn is so critical: "Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand. The arrogance of success is believing what you did yesterday will be sufficient tomorrow."
As we consider engaging, equipping, and encouraging a new generation of young leaders, we must be willing to innovate and model what courageous learning and growth look like in a complex and rapidly changing world. Below I have listed some great resources on innovation, growth and design thinking! I encourage you to add one or two to your reading list for 2022!
Resources on Creativity, Innovation & Growth:
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Kelley & Kelley
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Catmull & Wallace
Innovation by Design: How Any Organization Can Leverage Design Thinking to Produce Change, Drive New Ideas, and Deliver Meaningful Solutions by Lockwood & Papke
Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Kit for Managers by Liedtka & Ogilvie
101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization by Vijay Kumar
What is "Sharenting?"
“Sharenting” is a term that describes sharing about kids or young people online. “Sharenthood: Why We Should Think Before We Talk About Our Kids Online,” is a new book by Leah Plunkett. Plunkett argued that “sharenting” happens any time an adult in charge of a child’s well-being, such as a parent, grandparent, teacher or coach, transmits private details about a child via digital channels such as social media. Some of these activities clearly involve a public share, such as posting pictures of your child on Instagram, or blogging about your kids. Others seem to happen in private, but often end up turning your child into a set of data points, via fertility apps or Amazon wish lists, the use of a Nest cam, or photos stored on a cloud server. Though these platforms and devices aren’t necessarily exploitative, Plunkett argues that they involve adult decisions that accelerate a child’s entry into “digital life.”
A struggle for many of us is that we want to share about our kids for family and friends; cute kids are a positive feature on social media as compared to some other types of posts; they get likes and comments which make us feel good; and social media is now part of the world we live in. So, is concern over too much “sharenting” warranted?
Tim Elmore shares a story on his blog that illustrates one of the potential dangers of too much “sharenting:”
It all started when April, Christine’s youngest daughter, was five years old. Christine knew April would be their family’s last baby and wanted to document each milestone and comical moment of her childhood. By the time she was ten, April was avoiding photo ops; shying away from the camera. By 13, when she had a phone of her own, April witnessed on social media just how much mom had posted on both Facebook and Instagram. She felt violated.
Eventually, as a teen, April requested her mom stop sharing photos of her. It was embarrassing and drew sarcasm from her friends.
In my relationship with my own kids, I have seen the shyness or embarrassment on occasion that result when they realize I have shared something about them. It has made me realize that no number of likes are worth hurting my relationship with my kids. While kids may not need full agency to dictate what can be shared about them at a young age, we don’t want to violate their trust. It can be difficult finding the balance between honoring and celebrating or sharing, and jeopardizing trust.
Another real factor is privacy and security. The BBC reported on a study by Barclays bank estimating that by 2030 nearly two-thirds of identity-fraud cases affecting today’s children will have resulted from sharenting. The bank warned that parents might be "lulled into a false sense of security" and fail to understand that they are making their children "fraud targets" in the future, by publishing so much personal information which will remain online forever.
Tim Elmore shares some practical guidelines to consider as we share about our kids, grandkids, or other young people online:
James Emery White, in his book Meet Generation Z stated, “As the first truly post-Christian generation, and numerically the largest, Generation Z will be the most influential religious force in the West.” Author Jonathan Morrow explained that Gen Z is growing up in a world that rejects a Christian worldview, but desires the world that has the characteristics that biblical principles allow to exist. In addition, young believers often lack the education and discipleship that allow them to understand how faith applies in real life.
As America becomes increasingly post-Christian, church attendance and biblical literacy are on the decline. Data from the General Social Survey and the Pew Research Center corroborated a downward trend in church attendance in the U.S. “In the most recent GSS studies, 43% of respondents say they attend religious services at least monthly, down from 47% in the early 2000s and 50% in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the share of U.S. adults who say they “never” attend religious services now stands at 27%, up from 18% in the early 2000s and roughly double the share who said this in the early 1990s (14%).” A LifeWay Research study found that only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church actually read the Bible more than once a week and almost one in five churchgoers say they never read the Bible. Barna reported, “Since 2009, Bible reading has become less widespread, especially among the youngest adults. Today, only one-third of all American adults report reading the Bible once a week or more. The percentage is highest among Elders (49%) and lowest among Millennials (24%).” As we seek to encourage young people in their faith, we must recognize that they may not possess a basic understanding of healthy spiritual growth. As a result, they need intentional training, encouragement, and mentoring.
Even young believers with a strong faith, who desire to grow spiritually, often confront opposition to their faith that did not exist in our culture a couple of decades ago. David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, in their book Faith for Exiles, contended that “today’s society is especially and insidiously faith repellent.” They reported that it is hard to grow resilient faith in this generation of young people growing up in a post-Christian culture. It is possible, however. Here are a few of the strategies we can employ as we seek to encourage spiritual growth in the lives of young people around us:
Cancel Culture's Impact on Gen Z
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.
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:
4 Keys to Engaging Students Online
During two decades of teaching in both K-12 and college contexts, I have had to adapt a lot of my teaching strategies to the many changes we are seeing in technology and students today. I have taught online courses for several different schools and developed a deep appreciation for the opportunities that exist in virtual classrooms. I believe virtual learning can provide opportunities that are unique to the online setting. As you engage students online, here are a few keys that I find essential to effective online education:
Key 1: Allow for Choice
When we have some choice in a situation, we tend to feel more motivated. As a result, I often give options for assignments. For example, sometimes students can choose between participating in a written online forum discussion (introverts tend to prefer this!) or a live virtual discussion (verbal processors love this!). On some activities, I allow submissions to be either written or a recorded video. They can often choose between a paper or a project. I also like to give some freedom, when possible, for students to choose topics or applications to explore in course assignments.
Key 2: Encourage Student Ownership
Sometimes students prefer that instructors do the hard work of teaching and providing feedback but engaging them in these processes ensures better learning. I like using peer reviews, student-led presentations, and group activities to maximize student ownership in learning.
Key 3: Get Feedback!
The greatest contribution to my learning as an online educator has been student feedback. I do at least one mid-course feedback survey/form with open-ended questions, in addition to final course evaluations, in every class I am teaching. I ask the following: what is working, what is not, what would improve your learning experience? I immediately respond to areas of concern and make changes to the course based on helpful student input. Students value that I listen to them and care about their learning experience.
Key 4: Learn from Colleagues
I have found solutions to so many of my challenges in online teaching by connecting with and learning from colleagues. I also regularly take courses or watch webinars that help me learn new tools and methods. It can be easy to get into a routine, so adding some new tech tools regularly helps keep our online teaching sharp!
I hope you find these tips helpful and encouraging as you engage students in online learning! For more on this topic, check out the most recent episodes of The Leading Tomorrow podcast.
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!