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:
Last time, I wrote about some of the challenges facing Millennials and Gen Z while practicing social distancing. These include the increased potential for loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Here, I would like to share a few strategies for those of us who are parents, teachers, mentors, and leaders as we seek to engage and support the young people in our lives at this time.
- Pause and be present. As my husband and I have been juggling work with the kids at home full time, I often feel like I am always scrambling to catch up. Last night, my daughters were tired and stressed. So, we turned off all the devices, and just sat together in the dark stillness of the living room for a while. After a few minutes, one of my daughters started sobbing. When I asked her what was wrong, and just waited, she began sharing a situation that was making her feel stressed. We talked about it and I was able to encourage and affirm her. Everyone went to sleep with smiles. Sometimes, amid the busyness, whether it is with our kids, a student, or a young colleague, we need to make sure we are creating spaces to just pause and be present with them.
- Be proactive and intentional. As we are having fewer face-to-face interactions these days, it is important to be proactive and intentional to ask young people how they are doing. Engage them with open-ended questions (What is most difficult for you during this time? How are you feeling about…? What activities help you? How can I support you?). Practice active listening skills. Asking good questions and attentively listening is one of the best ways to communicate interest, care, and support. In many cases, young people do not need us to give them the answers, they just need to feel like they are not alone, and that someone is encouraging them as they work out the solutions.
- Extend grace. We are living in unprecedented times as globalization and technology are accelerating the change and impact of events in our world. We are absorbing information and change in ways people have never experienced before. While daunting for all of us, young people often lack the experience and maturity that help provide perspective and stability. As a result, we need to extend some grace when behaviors, statements, and attitudes in the lives of those around us are less than optimal. Love and acceptance help create opportunities for speaking wisdom and encouragement that can equip a young person to grow through this time.
- Model healthy coping skills. Many of us are managing extra stress and anxiety these days. One of the greatest gifts we can give young people is to model and engage them in healthy coping strategies. Take your kids for a walk or bike ride and get some exercise instead of turning on a movie. Have a “game night” with colleagues or extended family and talk while you play cards over video chat. Set aside time to “unplug” from all devices and read a book or build a puzzle. Serve someone in your community together.
History shows us that adversity and difficulty can build resiliency and character, if engaged effectively. As we mentor the young people in our lives, may we leverage the opportunities during this unprecedented season to build memories and skills that will help them for a lifetime!
The following is a guest article written by Katy White. Katy serves as the director of Goer Experience with GoCorps, where she coaches Gen Z college graduates who are considering how to use their skills to serve globally.
In my work with Generation Z students, I’ve become more and more convinced that Gen Z is poised to make a significant impact on the world. They are innovative thinkers with a desire to usher in change. Yet they face many challenges within themselves and their world. How do we as leaders and mentors help them grow into the world changers God has appointed them to be?
Over the years, I’ve discovered a few best practices to help lead this emerging generation. One of the most important is to engage your students from a coaching mentality. Commonly, mentorship involves the mentor imparting information to the mentee. This is a “download” approach, which involves the mentor spending the majority of the time communicating and the mentee spending the majority of the time listening.
However the coaching mentality flips this script. In a coaching relationship, the communicating primarily comes from the coachee. In a sense, this is an “upload” approach, allowing the student to process with their coach what is going on internally.
Your role as the coach is to create the welcoming space for the coachee to share, guide the conversation to draw out thoughts and ideas, ask questions that lead to opportunities for reflection and realization, actively listen to what is being shared, and reflect back insights the coachee was able to discover and conclusions they were able to reach themselves through the conversation. Practically, as a mentor this should look like spending 30% of the time talking and 70% of the time listening.
Why is this important? The desire to feel understood, I believe, is in all of our natures. Yet in particular, Gen Z has a deep desire to be seen and heard and is strongly motivated by individualization and personalization. When a student feels that you understand who they are, where they are coming from, and what is unique about them, you have earned the trust and authority to challenge, exhort, and encourage them. You are also then able to paint a picture of how God purposes to use them for His kingdom.
How can you accomplish this? First, seek to understand their interests, skills, doubts, fears, dreams, desires, future plans, etc. Then, use reflective words - their language of how they are describing themselves - and connect it to Biblical principles and kingdom purposes.
Learn to be a master at asking questions. Jesus was! Many times Jesus would even answer someone’s question by asking another question. Jesus asked questions to reveal the root of the issue, expose a heart condition, illustrate a kingdom concept, or create a relationship and communicate care.
Do you need help becoming a master questioner? Think of questions as a branch. Start with an easier, straightforward question that then has related questions that branch off to reveal more breadth and depth to an answer. For example, an easy question to begin exploring what a student’s interests is “What is your major?” Branch questions include, “Why did you choose that major? Did you start with that major, or did you switch into it? Why did you switch? Have you enjoyed the degree program? Why or why not? What has been your favorite and least favorite class and why?”
Another example of a starter question is “What has been challenging this week?” Branch questions include “Why was this challenging? Have you faced a similar challenge before? How did you respond? Are you happy with that response? How do you wish you could have responded? What can you do to help you respond in this way next time you face a challenge like this?”
Become a curator of good questions and you will be able to empower this generation to understand more of who they were created to be, recognize and address their fears and challenges, listen the Holy Spirit, and take steps towards fulfilling God unique call on their lives.
The following guest article was written by Josiah Cassellius, a Millennial manager and co-host of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast.
If you have ever looked into retirement investing you have likely come across a term called compounding interest. The earlier you put money into investments, the more you will have over the course of time as the interest compounds and grows your initial investment. If you keep putting money into a good fund, check in on it from time to time to make sure everything is still on course, compounding interest will be a significant reason you have a comfortable retirement.
Unfortunately, many people continually put off beginning those investments, believing they can better utilize the money themselves, and they miss out on those long-term gains. In much the same way, leaders feel the same pressure to simply plug holes today and kick the can of future gains down the road. They see a project that needs to be done quickly and, instead of teaching someone how to do the job, they simply do it themselves, or delegate to an experienced worker. When the same type of problem arises again, and it always does, it requires attention, and the leader again needs to take care of it themselves, taking up their valuable time. If they had followed the early investment strategy, they would have taken short-term losses, but the long-term gains would have increased.
There are promising young people entering organizations every day, talented individuals who simply need a guiding hand to show them the ropes and give them a chance. Unfortunately for many of these young people, there are not enough experienced leaders who are able or willing to sacrifice time in the present to teach them.
When I got my first full-time job, I had the good fortune of finding favor with my manager, and he took time to train me on a handful of tasks, and then he left me to accomplish them. When he returned I had done the work, and had some follow-up questions. This happened over and over until I had a good grasp of most of my area. After that, my manager simply needed to ask me to do something, and a task was accomplished without him needing to be involved, because he had invested in the short-term, he was able to see gains in the long-term.
As leaders we sometimes struggle to believe that someone will be able to learn what we already know, or we believe that we can do it better or faster ourselves, and that it’s not worth the effort to train someone else. When we go this route, we miss something very important: compounding interest. A good leader, like a good investor, will put in some work, and then allow the investment to grow.
While it is important to not interfere with an investments’ growth, it is critical to check in on it from time to time to make sure it is still working as efficiently as possible. Good leaders employ this approach with their followers: they invest in good people and allow them to work unimpeded. They check in with them from time to time and offer appropriate direction and affirmation, make sure they are still on track to meet the stated goals, and encourage them to pass on their knowledge to even newer workers. Using this approach, a good leader can multiply themselves, and find they are doing less work, while getting more results. Their employees or volunteers will be happy because the organization is operating smoothly, and everyone is growing and expanding their skillsets. The earlier the investment into younger leaders begins, the more time they will have to grow, and the greater the return on investment will be.
In his short story, A Christmas Tree, Charles Dickens writes: “I have been looking on, this evening, at a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas tree.” He describes the wonder of the children as they looked at the ornaments. “This motley collection of odd objects, clustering on the tree like magic fruit—some of the diamond eyes admiring it were hardly on level with the table, and a few were languishing in timid wonder on the bosoms of pretty mothers, aunts, and nurses—made a lively realization of the fancies of childhood.”
Our children today do not have the same experiences as the children Dickens describes. Lights on a tree hardly hold the same wonder when they compete with high definition screens. Imaginations are not ignited with wonder, sitting and staring at twinkling ornaments, when they are stimulated instead by continuous noise from handheld devices. Furthermore, innocent ponderings are interrupted by mature content, flowing into our homes and lives via technology.
Tim Elmore, in his book, Marching Off the Map, describes, “We have now begun to experience a strange paradox in our young: The extinction of childlikeness; the extension of childishness.” He explains that the “infectious flow of information” is exposing our kids to adult topics. As a result, they can “lose (1) their sense of innocence, (2) their sense of wonder and (3) their sense of trust.”
Not only are we losing our child-like wonder today, but also our ability to connect with our environment, the way people used to engage the beauty of simple things like Christmas decorations. Kirsten Weir wrote a fascinating article, “Never a Dull Moment.” She explains how in today's technological world, it's unusual to be stuck with absolutely nothing to do. “Most of us are bombarded by near-constant stimuli such as tweets, texts and a seemingly limitless supply of cat videos right at our fingertips. But all those diversions don't seem to have alleviated society's collective boredom.” She cites Psychologist John Eastman who says the reverse may be true. "These might distract you in the short run, but I think it makes you more susceptible to boredom in the long run, and less able to find ways to engage yourself," he says.
Weir reports that several researchers concluded boredom is best described in terms of attention. “A bored person doesn't just have nothing to do. He or she wants to be stimulated, but is unable, for whatever reason, to connect with his or her environment.” Connecting, and helping others connect, with the environment around us is critical as we seek to develop meaningful moments and lasting memories this Christmas. Most of us are used to our environment stimulating us, and if we are bored, we reach for a device. We have lost some of our ability to connect with each other. When we get together for holiday parties, and family gatherings, we often struggle to stay engaged with the people or activities around us and can be tempted to seek stimulation in our social media feed, text messages, or email notifications.
Creating meaningful memories may require some discipline and planning. We can start by being aware of when we are tempted to pull out our device, instead of engaging with someone who is in the room with us. We have to be intentional in creating focused time for interaction. For example, designing a fun box for phones and encouraging people to drop theirs in during family dinner. Planning some interactive activities (games, discussion questions, collaborative project) can give people tools to engage with each other rather than turning on video games or a movie. We must practice good emotional intelligence by asking questions, engaging others in conversation, and modeling for kids how to build relationships.
In her article, Weir cites researcher Van Tilburg. "We saw that boredom actually increased people's tendency to recall these very nostalgic memories and actually made them feel that life in general was more meaningful." Some boredom is essential to the wonder that Dickens described! It creates room for the most nostalgic and memorable moments to occur and be remembered. So, this Christmas, don’t just hand the kids a device, rather sit down with them to play a board game, decorate cookies, or share stories by the fire. When they complain about being bored, just smile!
I was recently in a discussion about what to do as a ministry leader when colleagues are not committed to and following through on organizational policies. This led to some observations that respect for authority has changed. There are several reasons why views on authority are changing, especially for those who are younger.
One major factor for decreased respect for leaders is the shrinking (or collapse) of power distance. In the past, experience, education, positions and titles meant an individual had knowledge, expertise, influence and information (ie. power), so they deserved respect. This power distance was physically represented by the distance from the podium to the students, the pulpit to the congregation, the corner office to the cubicles, etc. With changes in culture and technology, power and respect for authority are changing (a great book on this is The End of Power by Moises Naim). A 13-year-old can post on Twitter as easily as the President; students in my college classes can Google more information in 5 minutes than I learned in 6+ years of graduate work; a teenager can get more followers and influence on YouTube in three weeks than established experts sometimes do in a lifetime; and our congregations can listen to podcasts of other pastors all week long.
Power or authority can no longer be gained or leveraged through title, experience, knowledge or position. Influence, respect, and the right to be heard or hold people accountable must be earned through trust, authenticity, humility, service and relationships. We must be sure as we are building our organizational or team culture that we are doing so relationally. This is the best way to win and maintain respect as a leader in today’s context and earn the influence to provide accountability.
We cannot assume respect based on our role or position, we must actively earn and maintain it. Once we have earned this respect, it becomes much easier to have honest conversations with our colleagues and provide accountability.
A recent study revealed that 18 to 22-year-olds are the loneliest age group today. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this troubling statistic. One, of course, is the prevalent use of technology in our society today. While devices help us connect to people in new and beneficial ways, there are some drawbacks. Empathy, for example, has decreased as technology has increased. One study reported that college students are 40 percent less empathetic than they were 20 or 30 years ago, prior to the widespread use of the internet. Screens dull our ability to feel the pain and joy of others and to connect with them emotionally. This presents a threat to deep, committed relationships that are impossible to maintain without continuing empathetic interaction.
While Millennials and Generation Z are especially adept at communicating online, valuable intimacy often gets lost in virtual communications. Quantified Communications reports that an average adult today makes eye contact between 30 and 60 percent of the time in conversation, but emotional connection is built when eye contact is made during 60 to 70 percent of the conversation. When there is less eye contact, fewer connections are made. Virtual connections, while valuable, cannot replace the emotional connection and sense of well being that occurs with eye contact, touch, and physical presence.
Leaders and managers today often report that young staff lack the relational skills and emotional intelligence to connect with others effectively. In many ways, it is the older generations who must take responsibility for this. When we hand a 5-year-old a device instead of answering their tenth question about giraffes or princesses, we rob them of an opportunity to develop face-to-face communication skills and connect with us in a way that is meaningful to them. When we miss the body language or facial expressions of a 10 or 12-year-old in our life because we are busy checking our social media feed, we lose the opportunity to model good emotional intelligence. When we avoid a conversation with an 18 or 20-year-old in our life because we assume their earbuds mean they don’t want to talk to us, or we fear rejection, we miss an opportunity to demonstrate sincere interest or unconditional love.
Young people today need opportunities to practice healthy relational skills, and they desperately need to see them modeled. Many leaders, mentors, teachers and parents I talk to, however, do not know even where to start in actively engaging the young people in their lives. What I have found, in interacting regularly with 5 to 25-year-olds, is that there is great power in a good question and active listening. I have yet to encounter a young person who did not respond positively to someone sincerely asking about their perspectives and concerns. True, there might be an eye roll or two at first, but when they see you persist in your interest in them, despite their eye roll, trust and respect begin to develop.
So, what does a good question entail? First of all, it must be open-ended. If it allows the young person to respond with a simple “yes,” “no,” “good” or “bad,” a grunt or sigh, it is not a good question. Instead, it should require some thoughtfulness. Instead of asking, “Did you have a good day at school?” try something like “What was the best part of your day at school?” The response to a good question should give you some insight into the young person’s life and provide an opportunity for a follow up question. For example, if they respond that the best part of their day was chatting with a friend, you could follow up with a question like, “Tell me about your friend? How did you meet?” A good question can thus communicate that you care about what they care about. Check out some other great sample questions here.
Good questions are one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate interest, gain empathy, and develop deep connections. As a result, they are a critical tool for all of us as we interact in a society that is increasingly distracted and busy. Make it a goal to practice asking good questions and taking the time to listen actively to the responses.
As a sophomore in college, I served as a student leader. Our team was responsible for providing peer mentoring, planning student programs, and helping with various campus activities. We were volunteers, with leadership responsibilities piled on top of classes, homework, and part-time jobs. It was important for us to stay focused on the goal. One of our team leaders often encouraged us by saying, “It’s all about the one!” It didn’t matter if attendance at an event was low, if one lonely student came and found community and new friends, it was worth it. If we had a test looming the next day, but a student struggling with depression showed up at our door, giving up some sleep and taking time to encourage her was meaningful. That slogan helped keep us focused on how critical investing in just one person can be!
Our culture is obsessed with numbers as indicators of success. We measure success as the amount in the budget; the number of customers, guests, sales or conversions; or the size of our facilities. While there are great reasons for this, it can also be a distraction. I am often asked how to create a successful leadership development or ministry program for youth and young adults. Mass methods are only marginally effective. The best way to engage with and develop a young person is one-on-one, or in small teams and communities. Millennials and Generation Z have access to information unlike any other generation in the history of the world. They don’t need another great program; they need to process. Indeed, the number one predictor of a young person retaining their faith is a meaningful relationship with an older believer. Trusted mentors and friends and safe spaces in the frenzied worlds of youth today can provide opportunities for the development of strong values and convictions.
I call this period that we are in the “season of a remnant.” Regardless of your setting, it is unlikely that we will accomplish significant change or impact in young lives and perspectives through large group trainings, conferences, or classes. Relationships, community and meaningful conversation are where the most formative experiences occur. Wondering why a young people has a specific political view? Engage them in a conversation (not a lecture!) about it. Wanting to instill an essential character trait or leadership quality in a young mentee? Model it for them, inviting them to share in a meaningful leadership experience. Hoping to share faith or truth with a generation that desperately needs it? Begin with “the one” or a few…a remnant.
Will and Ariel Durant, Pulitzer-prize winning historians, in discussing the inevitable decline of civilizations, write the following: “Nations die. Old regions grow arid, or suffer other change. Resilient man picks up his tools and his arts, and moves on, taking his memories with him.” I often reflect on this statement and think about my students and my children, their children and grandchildren. As the civilization we belong to undergoes change, what tools and memories do we want young people to possess as they move on to a new or changed civilization? What tools do we want to ensure they carry with them into an uncertain future? There will always be a resilient remnant and equipping them means we sometimes have to remain focused on “the one!”
I have taught leadership courses for many years. It always amazes me to read student essays on who has greatly influenced them. Most of the time, they write about family or friends. These influential people are seldom rich, famous, or powerful. They sometimes live far away or are seen infrequently. To read students’ writing about grandparents, aunts, uncles or friends who have greatly impacted them, I am reminded of the importance of our relationships with family and friends. The holidays is a time of the year when we often see people who live far away or are busy other times of the year. As a result, interactions during Christmas gatherings can be awkward, forced or uncomfortable at times. If there is dysfunction or hurt in the family, it makes it even more difficult to have meaningful conversations. Nonetheless, these events provide invaluable opportunities to mentor and encourage. Our attitudes, behaviors, and responses influence and communicate regardless of our intent, especially to kids, youth, and young adults in our family circles. So, as we begin this season of celebration, here are a few tips to remember as we seek meaningful interactions this Christmas.
The following is a guest post by Bill Mann, who writes and speaks on inter-generational mentoring
The next generation (Generation Z, born 1995-2010) are those who have grown up with devices, such as a cell phone or an iPad, readily available. The first are now going to college, while the youngest are in elementary school.
Recently, some of the potential negative impacts of the digital world have been emerging. For those of us who mentor, teach or parent Generation Z, it is critical that we understand these dangers. There are now eight new mental illnesses resulting from internet use. According to Evin Dashevsky, writing in PC World, these disorders, which range from the “benign to destructive,” have just been recognized recently and didn’t even exist in the middle 1990s.
Some of these are variations of older disorders. While some may be familiar with FOMO, one of these new disorders is called “Nomophobia” which is a fear of not having access to your mobile phone (either it crashed, you lost power, or it was lost or stolen). The condition can be severe, as the PC World magazine article notes: “[T]he condition has found its way into the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and has prompted a dedicated Nomophobia treatment program at Morningside Recovery Center in Newport Beach, California.”
Another condition is called Cybersickness which results in physical symptoms like nausea and dizziness caused by interacting with things like virtual reality. The next is called “Facebook Depression,” which may be descriptive enough. It comes from the despair that accompanies one watching everyone else have more fun and lead more successful lives than yours.
The next two are described as addictions: “Internet Addiction Disorder” and “Online Gaming Disorder.” The former is descriptive of such an extraordinary use of the internet that it interferes with your daily life. The latter is limited to an unhealthy need to be online playing multiplayer games.
Finally, with the internet, information not otherwise available about medicine is now readily available leading to users having something called “Cyberchondria,” where one is led to believe they have diseases that they found online. Sites like WebMD give enormous amounts of information, resulting in people who may have a simple headache becoming concerned that it might be a brain tumor.
The last is one that I am most concerned about based on what I’ve been learning recently. It’s called the “Google Effect.” It describes how our brains are declining in the ability to retain facts or information because it can be found online via search engines like Google or Bing.
As a result, our brains are changed and we no longer have the ability to retain information as much as prior generations. The number of searches on Google has grown from 9,800 in 1998 to 4.7 trillion today. Since we now have nearly all the information ever created by civilization at our fingertips, our brain functions may be altering how and what we retain. In effect, people have started using Google instead of their brains to store information. Unfortunately, as one writer notes, our brains use information stored in our brains in order to “facilitate critical thinking.”
In his book, Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids and How to Break the Trance, author Dr. Nicholas Kardaras likens the addictive effect on young children as being the same as Digital Heroin. He has observed reactions of young children going through signs of withdrawal when denied the access to digital devices, including tantrums as if they were digital junkies.
Heady stuff, and some of it scary since these disorders are new, or at least variations of other disorders. For mentors, it means that we are likely to encounter someone in the next generation who has more than just a mild interaction with the internet or the digital world. As Marvin Brubacher suggests, if that interaction results in addictive behavior, a mentor needs to be able to identify it and help them through it, or at least direct them to counseling.
To mentor the next generation, one needs to understand them. Now, that understanding includes learning about emotional or addictive behaviors which are novel and new. Ryan Terrance put it this way: “Everything in moderation, and there's a perfect balance in this life if we can find it.” Our challenge as mentors and parents is to help our mentees navigate a safe route in the digital world and urge moderation and wisdom in their use of technology.
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!