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.
3 Tips for Millennial Managers
More and more Millennials are stepping into leadership and management positions. In many cases, they are overseeing various generations. Their teams can include Generation Z, now entering the workforce as college graduates, to Boomers, who are sometimes the age of their parents or even grandparents. This age diversity produces challenges for even experienced managers. For Millennial managers, often navigating their first supervisory role, it can produce stress and uncertainty. Here are a few reminders for Millennial managers as you learn and grow as a leader:
Healthy leadership requires incredible self-awareness, courage, and sacrifice. As a new manager or leader, you need support. Find a mentor or friend who can encourage you, help you process the situations you are navigating, and provide honest feedback. You’ve got this!
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.
The Census Bureau reported that 48% of Generation Z is non-Caucasian. Today's youth and young adults represent the most diverse generation in our history. In addition, they live in a world of globalization and technology that connects us to diverse people in our communities and around the world. As we seek to engage the next generation in our ministries, workplaces, and communities, we must be leaders who value and embrace diversity, and who model effective multicultural leadership. This month, Charlotte Kassis and Bethany Peters joined me on The Leading Tomorrow Podcast to discuss tips and strategies for growing as multicultural leaders. Here are a couple of key takeaways from our discussion:
As we discussed multicultural leadership, Charlotte reminded us that it can be harmful to ignore differences that exist, to work alongside someone and not know their story. It is important to acknowledge diversity, appreciate it, and seek to understand the perspectives and stories of those who come from different backgrounds. It is also critical to ask ourselves, "Do my activities, interests, relationships, and learning pursuits show that I truly value diversity? How can I grow in this?" To hear the full discussion, check out this month's episode of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.
May we continue to develop our cultural competency as we engage a diverse Generation Z!
Building Meaningful Relationships
The following is an excerpt from my book, Daniel Generation. For special promotions on the English edition, Spanish edition, or audiobook, visit our website.
One significant key to healthy relationships is emotional intelligence (EQ). This consists of understanding our own emotions and those of others. Developing emotional intelligence and soft skills—those people skills that help you succeed in today’s work environment—often requires more intentional effort than it did in the past. Due to the increasingly virtual nature of our interactions at home, school and work, we experience significantly fewer face-to-face interactions than did previous generations. While Millennials and Generation Z individuals are especially adept at communicating online, valuable intimacy gets lost in virtual communications. Quantified Impressions reported that the average adult today makes eye contact between 30 and 60 percent of the time in conversation. 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 wellbeing that occurs with eye contact, touch and physical presence. So, what can we do to grow ourselves and help others grow in their EQ?
Self-awareness is the first element of good emotional intelligence. This involves incredible honesty, authenticity and humility. Without self-awareness, however, relationships usually stagnate. Here are a few tips to consider for pursuing healthy self-awareness:
Can Your Advice Be Heard?
The following is a guest article, written by Ariana Chaparro. Ariana is a recent high school graduate and is now taking a gap year before college to explore different career paths and interests.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was going through a challenging situation. I knew about some of her struggles and wanted to share my thoughts and advice, but I was worried she wouldn't listen or would think I was judging her and turn me away. I truly cared about her and needed to find a way for her to see that. I knew she would only listen to me if she knew I was genuinely listening to her.
Sometimes we're too quick to give our opinion, share our advice, or shut others down because we think they're wrong. Yes, sometimes the other person is wrong, or they do need our guidance, but there's a time and place for that. There are situations where we need to say something immediately, but other times we just need to listen, empathize, and try to understand where the other person is coming from.
As time went on, my friend started to open up to me, and for a while I just listened. There were definitely moments I wanted to cut in and share my thoughts, but I waited. I learned that she did not need me to tell her the same advice that everyone was already giving her and opinions that others were already throwing at her. She needed someone to listen and honestly care about how she was feeling. She needed somebody to encourage her when no one else would. Eventually, she opened the door for my thoughts and advice, and she listened! She considered what I had to say because she knew I had the whole picture in mind, not just an outside view.
Maybe you know someone going through a tough situation. Perhaps you have a friend who is living a lifestyle you think is wrong. Maybe you have a child who doesn't listen to what you say or fights back when you try to help.
Take a step back. Look at the bigger picture. If you can’t see the whole situation or understand their point of view, ask them to show you. We cannot expect to reach someone when we don't really know where they are. It may take a while. It might be hard for others to open up because of things we've said before or past experiences with broken trust. There's a time and place for everything. Sometimes it's not the time or the place for us to speak, but to just listen.
In a 2014 Ted Talk, David Brooks discussed two sets of values that we can pursue in our lives: resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are those accomplishments and capacities we can represent on a resume. Eulogy virtues are those characteristics and attitudes that are discussed in our eulogies. While most of us would agree that eulogy virtues are more important, we live in a culture that consistently affirms resume virtues. If we are not careful, as mentors, leaders, and parents, we too can affirm resume virtues over eulogy virtues in the lives of young people around us.
Brooks described how the two sets of values, or sides of our nature, work by different logics. The external logic that drives resume virtues is economic; the internal logic that drives eulogy virtues is moral. Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak, in their book Generation Z Unfiltered, summarize the attitudes of these two sets of values or selves. The resume virtues tend to be worldly, ambitious, innovative, curious about how things work, and focused on accomplishment and success. The eulogy virtues tend to be humble, good, strong, curious about why we are here, and focused on honoring others, love and redemption.
In a world of standardized tests, social media posts, and a competitive global economy, it is easy to overemphasize those virtues that help get good grades, social media likes, and competitive job. As adults, we may unintentionally emphasize these virtues for Gen Z as we celebrate their resume virtues via our social media posts, and challenge or coach them regularly on school or work skills and accomplishments. Resume virtues are important, however, if they are overemphasized while eulogy virtues are underemphasized, we may find ourselves leading young people who lack internal motivation, a sense of moral direction, and empathy for others.
Gen Z needs encouragement to think beyond resume virtues and consider eulogy virtues. As an individualistic generation, they need to be reflective and determine their personal values, something that does not often happen in our busy, noisy world. Elmore and McPeak offer several suggestions to consider as we encourage young people. First, have them write their own eulogy, identifying key values. Consider also writing yours and sharing it with the young person you are mentoring. Second, ask the young person to identify actions that reflect those values they have identified. Third, ask them to put the actions that have been identified into practice. Last, provide support and encouragement.
What are ways that you currently encourage and affirm resume values in the lives of young people? Eulogy values? What are additional ways you could encourage the development of eulogy values?
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.
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!
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!