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!
A couple of years ago, Millennials (b. 1980-1995) officially surpassed Baby Boomers (b. 1946-1964) as the largest component of the workforce in America. As Generation Z (b. 1996-2012) now starts to graduate from college, Millennials are taking more leadership roles, and Boomers are continuing to retire. The influence of younger generations working in our companies, organizations, and churches continues to grow. While young leaders bring many beneficial perspectives and needed skills to the workplace, they sometimes lack other essential leadership skills that are becoming less common in our culture today.
One of my favorite movies is The Intern, a film starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. It beautifully depicts the value and necessity of inter-generational relationships, and why we desperately need older leaders and mentors who refuse to fully retire. Hathaway plays the role of a young, highly successful Millennial entrepreneur who struggles to find balance between her demanding, evolving role and her young family. De Niro, a widower, is a retired professional whose old job in printing is all but obsolete. As a retiree, he does it all...learns Mandarin, tries yoga, and travels extensively. He becomes dissatisfied, however, with this lifestyle and applies for an internship at Hathaway’s company.
As an older intern, working for a Millennial entrepreneur, De Niro’s character represents what mature,
wise, and sacrificial leaders have to offer to the younger generations. First, he was present. Ignored by
his Millennial boss at first, he spent his days sitting in front of a computer with nothing to do. So, he
engaged with the young interns to his right and left. He got to know the employees. He helped with
various tasks and was just there: available and consistent. He wore a suit and carried his old-school
briefcase. His calm and thoughtful presence became a gift to young, frazzled professionals around him.
Second, he was observant. Years as a professional had taught him to notice and appreciate skills and
dynamics often lost on younger people. As a result, he was able to ask questions, provide assistance, or
give counsel and affirmation that others overlooked. His input changed the lives of those he interacted
Third, he was patient. The young people around him often failed to acknowledge his contribution and
wisdom. He remained constant, patiently doing his work and just being himself. Eventually, he found
his boss asking him for help and advice, fellow employees recognizing and celebrating his significant
contributions that changed the organizational culture, and his fellow interns wearing suits and buying
briefcases. He had earned the right to be heard, followed, and imitated. His example and presence
proved influential to young professionals who were learning and forming habits that would follow them
for the rest of their careers.
Mentoring young leaders is not a task for the faint of heart. It requires personal sacrifice and humility.
Often, experienced leaders find it easier to just withdraw or surround themselves with those in a similar
stage of life. Sadly, this often results in the wisdom and experience they possess failing to become a
legacy that will follow them for generations to come.
So, I propose that the talented, wise, and mature leaders in our midst shouldn’t retire, at least not
entirely. They may at some point retire from formal leadership roles or positions. In some cases, they
may allow others to take more prominent roles to gain experience and have influence. Nonetheless, we
desperately need them to stay engaged in the lives of those young leaders around them—in their families, churches, communities, and organizations—to never retire from the work of mentoring and
encouraging those who will lead us tomorrow.
“Why are we learning this? If I ever need to know it, I can just Google or YouTube it.” A common question for Generation Z learners, it often makes a lot of sense. Gone are the days of needing to memorize long lists of facts, dates, and processes to have them available for quick recall. While memorization still has a role in learning, it has changed dramatically with the presence of instant answers at our fingertips.
The prevalence of technology impacts education and learning in a variety of ways. No longer do students need teachers to access information. In many cases, my students are now sharing new information with me! What they do need help with is assessing, processing, interpreting, and applying the information they access. As many proponents of the “flipped learning” model explain, we need to move from being the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.”
Another effect of technology is that our attention spans have shortened. Many say the average American now has an attention span of eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish! As a result, sitting and listening to a lecture or lengthy presentation is extremely taxing to young learners. They did not grow up watching the cartoon at the date and time the network chose to air it. Rather, they have been choosing, interacting, posting, and sharing according to their preference via screens since early in their learning. They need to engage with content in order to relate to and learn it.
One of the best paradigms I have encountered for helping me design better learning for Gen Z is the EPIC model. This concept was initially introduced by Leonard Sweet, and is further discussed by Tim Elmore in his book, Marching Off the Map. EPIC teaching is a great approach to connecting with today’s students. It stands for experiential, participatory, image-rich, and connected. Here are a few questions to help us think about what this might mean for our teaching.
Does your lesson or presentation allow for students to experience the content? Can they see it, touch it, smell it, feel it? Could you incorporate a simulation, role playing exercise, or experiment? Perhaps a field trip, out-of-class assignment, or even an internship could help students engage the content in an active way.
Are students able to participate in this lesson? Do they have some choice in how they interact with the content? Can they insert their questions, opinions, and ideas about the information into a conversation, chat, or presentation? Discussion, group projects, assignment choices, and online tools are great ways to get students participating with a lesson.
Recently, I sat on an airport shuttle and observed the high school student in front of me communicating with several friends via Snapchat. With great speed and accuracy, she opened each chat, viewed the picture, then took a quick selfie with an individualized expression in response to that specific chat message and sent it in reply. In under a minute, she had read (or viewed) 4-5 messages and responded with pictures she took right then. I was impressed. Gen Z often communicates in images. The more we can incorporate pictures (perhaps even having them take the pictures!), illustrations, videos, or examples into our lessons, the more effectively they will be able to engage the information.
It has been noted that Gen Z often connects in isolation. This is true. They can sit in their bedrooms, and connect with friends, ideas, and information from around the world. They are used to connecting and learning through engaging with others. As a result, we need to ensure that learning incorporates connecting with others, hearing different ideas, and getting input. For some younger students, connecting in person can be difficult. We may need to provide some direction, structure, and coaching for this to occur effectively. As we do so, we are not only teaching the lesson objectives, but also important social and emotional skills that are sometimes getting lost in today’s technologically connected world.
When I am preparing to present to audiences where there are Millennials or Gen Zers present, I assess my lesson through the EPIC grid to ensure I have experiential, participator, image-rich, and connected elements. I want to ensure that younger learners can engage with the material, visualize it, and process it in order to understand, engage, and retain it!
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:
Professor and generational researcher, Jean Twenge released her book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us. Packed with powerful research and statistics, it presents a profound glimpse of the challenges and opportunities facing iGen, or Generation Z, those born 1995-2012. Here are some of the findings of Twenge’s research:
The oldest members of iGen were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced in 2007 and high school students when the iPad entered the scene in 2010. This makes them the first generation to enter adolescence with smartphones already in their hands.
In Twenge’s research, people answering the questions were representative of the US population in terms of gender, race, location and socioeconomic status. With only a few exceptions, the generational trends appear across all of these demographic groups. This points to the power of technology to transmit culture and norms. iGen includes 74 million Americans, about 24% of the population.
Despite feeling pressured and busy, iGen teens are spending less time on homework, paid work, volunteering, and extracurriculars combined than older generations did at their age, not more. iGen teens are less likely to go out without their parents, date, have sex, drive, work or drink alcohol. The number of teens who get together with their friends every day has been cut in half in just fifteen years. This is due in large part to concerns about safety and young people being able to connect via devices and not needing to go out to talk with friends.
However, research shows that teens who spend more time on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy….all screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Depression has skyrocketed in just a few years, a trend that appears among blacks, whites and Hispanics, in all regions of the United States, across socioeconomic classes, and in small towns, suburbs, and big cities. In 2016, for the first time, the majority of entering college students described their mental health as below average.
With iGen’ers less likely to work, manage their own money, and drive in high school, perhaps they are not developing the resilience that may come from doing things on your own.
So, what do we do to help Gen Z maximize the opportunities around them and minimize behaviors that can be detrimental to their mental and emotional health?
Generation Z is a cohort with amazing information and tools at their disposal. As mentors, leaders, parents, and teachers, we have a responsibility to help them access that information and leverage those tools in ways that can help them be successful and healthy.
Take advantage of opportunities this summer to help Gen Z with these Twelve Ideas for Student Activities This Summer.
Many churches, non-profit organizations, and missionaries are experiencing an aging donor base and significant financial challenges as a result. When long-time, committed donors retire, younger donors are often failing to fill their role as a new generation of sustaining supporters. John Dickerson, in his book, The Great Evangelical Recession, reports that “each subsequent generation is giving less than the previous generation, even as they mature.” Responsible leaders today must consider alternate ways of funding their ministries and services as we look to the future. In the meantime, we must consider how to engage a new type of donor. Many Millennials are incredibly generous. They are, however, a different type of donor and require a different style of engagement. Here are some tips for fundraising with younger generations:
1.Tell the stories (vs. the stats)
Older generations usually want to know where their money is going and what it is accomplishing…in measurable terms. As a result, many organizations emphasize numbers in their fundraising efforts. This is not bad, but most Millennials are much more concerned with the individuals impacted than they are with measurable outcomes. Stories matter significantly to them. A powerful story of a specific person or group your ministry or agency is serving, along with some great pictures or video that bring the story to life, will go much further than a graph indicating the numbers achieved. I am hearing more and more of individuals and organizations producing two reports or newsletters to meet the needs of diverse donors.
2.Provide short-term giving opportunities
Many non-profit organizations rely on sustaining donors, those who commit to give regularly for an extended period. Unfortunately, some Millennials are not able to be this type of donor. Saddled with student debt or struggling to find a good job, they are focused on their own financial stress. Even those with jobs are often uncertain how long they will stay in that position (most young adults are changing jobs every couple of years). They are, therefore, uncomfortable making indefinite financial commitments. Find ways to provide one-time or short-term commitments (special projects, six-month commitments, etc.). Use social media, your website, and other forms of communication to keep your needs before them (remember, tell the story and use pictures to make the impact of their gifts personal and real!). Make it easy for them to give online (preferably from their smartphones) when they have the resources to do so.
3.Request funds for people (vs. programs)
Millennials have lost faith in many institutions. They have seen the effects of corruption, bureaucracy, and mismanagement in a variety of programs and organizations. While older generations often believe in programs to accomplish great things, Millennials tend to believe in people to accomplish important things. As a result, they follow, prioritize and support people over programs and institutions. They are more likely to give to an individual or need they know about directly or read about on a crowdfunding site (where they can use their credit card to donate in that moment) than they are to contribute to a capital campaign for an established organization.
Tim Elmore, in his book Generation iY, explains that many young people “really do desire to change the world; they just don’t have what it takes…when the work becomes difficult, they change their minds and move on to something else.” He describes their involvement in important causes as “limited to buying a ‘Live Strong’ wristband or signing a petition on a Web site.” While this is certainly not true of all young people, it unfortunately does represent the unwillingness of some to sacrifice or contribute in traditional ways. It is important to understand, as we seek to develop new financial partners, that there may be fewer who are willing to contribute the way previous generations have. Even as we work to engage a new type of donor, we need to be creative as we think of new funding models and opportunities to sustain our work into the future.
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.
The following was adapted from a post by my good friend, Bill Mann, who writes and speaks on the important topic of inter-generational mentoring. - Jolene Erlacher
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13.
Over 60 years ago, my mother told me that you can count your real friends on one hand.
I didn’t appreciate her wisdom for a long time, but it’s pretty accurate based on my own experience. And now studies show exactly that: five is the magic number.
Of all the things in life that are underrated, I think forming a deep friendship with another person is high on the list. I’ve written posts on how to choose friends, the value of friends and even what real friends do for one another.
C.S. Lewis even commented on the need for friends:
“The safest road to hell is the gradual one . . . the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. This is why it’s so dangerous to do life alone.”
Smartphones burst on the scene with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. After 12 years, we are now getting a look at what havoc it has caused to our relationships. Not surprising (to me, anyway), there has been a decline in true friendships in the past decade.
A recent study showed that social media has made most people’s friendships superficial and shallow. Another study of 3,000 adults concurred. High social media use affected both the quantity and quality of friendships.
It turns out that our brain limits us as to the number of friends we can digest. The number is 150, including family, according to R.I.M. Dunbar, a Psychologist at the University of Oxford.
To have true connection with your closest five, you need to spend time connecting at least once a week. That takes time, which is another limit on relationships. If you love someone or are married, the number drops to 4.
For the next 15, you need to connect at least once every month, and once a year for the rest of the 150. Interesting stuff. The takeaway is that the more your spend time on a relationship, the stronger it becomes.
Social media doesn’t increase our capacity for friends, and the number stays at 150. While getting “likes” is gratifying, it doesn’t replace face-to-face conversation.
In other words, if you have more than 150 “friends” on social media, the number above 150 is meaningless. They are just acquaintances. They are not your friends.
Connecting means some kind of back and forth conversation which takes time. Fast forward to today where WhatsApp, Snapchat, texting, Instagram and Facebook have become platforms for interpersonal communication.
Jean Twenge, who has researched this area, has noted that FOMO and increased use of social media has resulted in less time hanging out with friends. The result: increased loneliness and isolation.
The next generation (18-34) spends upwards of 43% of their digital use on apps, and adults in general spend over half their day interacting with media. For the next generation, that’s 8 hours a day.
But what is it getting them? Shallower relationships, superficial friends and often loneliness and depression. Certainly not a friend willing to lay down his life for them.
A friend of mine went through a tough patch in his life. He did some pretty bad things which caught up to him. I spent time with him in the aftermath. I told him that the good news was that he would really find out who his real friends were.
Those who were shallow would distance themselves and abandon him. He later came to me and said: “You were right; I now know which friends I can count on.”
This morning, I chatted with a friend, Steve Noble, who has started meeting with some from the next generation. He asked them a couple of questions. The answers didn’t surprise me.
None of them had a close friend that they felt they could call on in need, and none of them ever connected in any meaningful way with someone older.
In a challenging article in Christianity Today, Jen Thorn describes the 6 costs of real friendship: Time, personal convenience, intimacy, comfort, love and prayer. This is a biblical view of what real friends do for each other. Lest I forget, every study I’ve seen reports that those who have close friendships tend to be happier in life. Nuff said.
I’ve had the good fortune to have close friends, but it has taken effort and intentionality. I’ve met with 2 other men for over 25 years weekly, and we share life together.
Proverbs tells us to seek wise counsel, and we have provided each other with invaluable support, direction and feedback through the years. I count my group as a peer mentor group, although we never gave it that label.
The challenge here is that the next generation is missing out by not having real friends. They need someone to come alongside and help them understand the importance of friends in their life. Real friends are the people who stick by you in the good times and the bad.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: In your interaction with your mentee, find out who his friends are (or aren’t), and encourage him to develop close relationships. It may be the best advice you can give him.
Read the full post by Bill Mann at his blog.
Research continues to link the overuse of technology to depression, attention issues, and poor social skills. Many parents and grandparents I talk to feel overwhelmed by the powerful influence of technology in their families and homes. Technology, if not managed, can impair our family’s wellbeing. One of our best defenses against devices controlling our time and relationships is to develop a culture in our homes that encourages healthy technology use. So, how do we go about inspiring a tech-smart family? Here are a few strategies and resources:
Book Jolene to speak to your church, school, or community group on Tech-Smart Parenting or visit the Leading Tomorrow podcast for more on this and related topics!
Gen Z (b. 1996-2012) is being raised and educated in a culture of fear. This is the result of many factors. We live in a post-9/11 world, marked by ongoing wars and terrorism, an economic recession, and 24/7 coverage of global, domestic, and personal tensions, trauma, and anger streaming into our lives via our smartphones. Many adults have succumbed to the perspective that the world is an uncertain, dangerous, and scary place. As a result, we work diligently to protect the young people in our lives. We monitor them via video feed throughout their infancy and track them by GPS when they get older. We feed them organic food, buckle them into every seat they sit on, give them helmets and knee pads, and keep them in safe, enclosed spaces. We discourage them from doing anything dangerous or risky, citing the great harm that could befall them. They listen as we talk to one another in frightened or angry tones about what is happening in the world or with our neighbors. They see what we post on social media. They get the message repeatedly that the world is a scary and unsafe place.
In a world perceived as dangerous and uncertain, safety has become the priority. This has had some positive results. Jean Twenge reports in her book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, that there are several positive indicators of increased physical safety for kids and teens today. Homicide rates, sexual assault and rape, and alcohol consumption have all been on the decline. However, there are some other troubling statistics emerging. Depression, anxiety, and suicide among young people are on the rise. In fact, some experts believe that Gen Z is on the verge of a mental health crisis.
Twenge explains how we have not only focused on physical safety for young people today, but also on emotional safety. We have taught them to be tolerant and that they should never be made to feel uncomfortable emotionally. As a result, many do not know how to handle criticism, conflict, or even conversation about tough issues in a healthy and constructive manner. Instead, many young people see words and social interactions as potentially dangerous and harmful.
The emphasis on physical and emotional safety is promoting an aversion to any kind of risk or danger. We neglect to teach and model that it is in failing and experiencing pain that we realize how strong and resilient we are. Healthy conflict, disagreement, and dialogue are where we learn new things, gain diverse insights, and deepen our understanding of ourselves, others, and important issues. It is only through getting hurt that we can ever truly learn the beauty and power of forgiveness and healing. So, while safety is important, it can also be dangerous. Too much safety can strip young people (and the rest of us!) of desperately needed confidence, resilience, perspective, and hope.
So, how can we encourage young people in our lives to avoid the inherent risks of too much safety?
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!