FLORIDA, September 28, 2012 — Much has been said about Generation Y and its distinctive brand of social pathologies.
From the rise of technology to the decline of conversation skills, America’s youth, generally speaking, live by anything other than the norms and standards of their elders. The reasons for this are extensive — one could point to the self-esteem movement just as easily as the Information Age.
Regardless of the root cause for Generation Y’s unfortunate traits, dealing with these can be very difficult. Tim Elmore has made it his mission to teach younger people about developing leadership skills. He is the founder and president of Growing Leaders, a nonprofit group, as well as a bestselling author who aptly dubbed Generation Y as Generation iY.
In a detailed discussion with me, Dr. Elmore explains how Generation iY is coping with a world where all problems cannot be solved by use of laptops and cellular phones.
Joseph F. Cotto: Technology is a wonderful thing. Nonetheless, it does come with downsides. Has technology has negatively impacted Generation iY?
Tim Elmore: Yes, for all its positives, in some ways, technology has had many negative impacts on Generation Y. This is the first generation of kids who, because of technology, don’t need adults for information. The result is a generation of kids who know too much, too soon, with no context to process the information. They aren’t bad kids. They simply know too much. They have content without context.
Because of the overexposure, inability to filter, and lack of empathy, they are more comfortable in engaging in activities they aren’t emotionally ready for. They are bullying or being bullied, becoming depressed and in worst cases, committing suicide at alarming rates.
Cotto: One of the gravest concerns cited with those now entering the business world is a poor work ethic. How did laziness become so prominent?
Dr. Elmore: I like to call this group of kids Generation iY because they grew up with iPhones, iPads, iMacs, etc. They are used to the instant gratification an abundance of technology has provided them and have never had to work to uncover information. They are both benefactors and victims of what I like to call the “Google reflex.”
Now, a few years older, these young adults are entering their first jobs and facing new challenges, wholly unequipped to see them through to success. Hence the reputation for being lazy and having poor work ethic.
Cotto: The danger of becoming self-absorbed is present for all of us. Yet, many say that Generation iY is more narcissistic than its predecessors ever were. Do you agree with this idea?
Dr. Elmore: Yes and no — Generation Y is a paradox. And one of their most distinctive traits is that they are self-absorbed, while at the same time typically very generous. More so than their predecessors, students today are more likely to be narcissistic and not even know it.
They spend more time getting ready in the morning than Generation X and the Baby Boomers, and they spend more money on themselves as well, even when you factor in inflation. However, these students give their time and money away to community and charity at a much faster pace as well. In fact, you might say they see money as “easy come, easy go.” They love giving and helping others — once their needs are met.
Cotto: By and large, do you think that the self-esteem movement has proven to be beneficial for Generation iY?
Dr. Elmore: As a whole, no, it has not been beneficial. This generation of kids has a false sense of confidence that is sure to be shattered as soon as they enter adulthood. We are already seeing it from some of the older members of Generation Y.
By giving kids trophies for participation or A’s when they deserve C’s, we are setting them up for failure in the long run. Parents and teachers must become velvet-covered bricks —soft, loving and encouraging on the outside, but tough and steadfast to standards on the inside. Of course, kids need to understand they are loved, important and special, but they also need to learn, through experience, that failure is a part of life and signifies growth.
Cotto: Generation iY seems to be maturing at an alarmingly slow rate. Is there any central reason for this?
Dr. Elmore: I actually believe that Generation Y is maturing in opposite directions. Mentally, these kids are the most intelligent, talented generation yet. Emotionally, they are lacking. Adults are fooled by this “artificial maturity,” because intelligence is often mistaken for maturity. In reality, intellectual maturity and emotional maturity are two very different things. It’s why we are seeing young adults graduating college with perfect GPA’s, unable to make it in the workforce, and moving back in with mom and dad.
Cotto: Social networking is the hub of social life for Generation iY. Generally speaking, do you believe that this is a good thing? Why or why not?
Dr. Elmore: No, because so many kids aren’t utilizing social media in moderation. They are on it as much, or more, as they are interacting with humans — debilitating their communication abilities. It’s easy to type out in 140 characters when something is upsetting you, but having to confront difficult situations face-to-face is more challenging.
I have interacted with many teens and young adults who couldn’t even make eye contact with me, too uncomfortable with a simple conversation. This lack of communication skills simply won’t translate in adulthood or business.
Cotto: How has the rise of social networking related to the intellectual development of Generation iY?
Dr. Elmore: If by social networking you mean connecting with peers via technology, I would say it has had both negative and positive impact on Generation iY. Brain researchers tell us their brains are literally being re-wired due to the long hours they spend in front of a screen.
They are able to digest lots more data more quickly than their parent’s generation did at their age. “Speed” is their middle name. I say this partially tongue and cheek, but they can multi-task carrying on a live and in-person conversation, while texting someone else while being on iChat with a third person.
Unlike their elders, however, research for them is not as grueling a process with Google and Wikipedia. Athletic coaches and faculty tell me that mental tenacity is down. At the same time, statistics show they have emotionally atrophied, because conversations are often through a screen.
A teenage boy may break up with his girlfriend on a text because he didn’t have the emotional backbone to do it face to face. The sociology department at the University of Michigan tells us that college students today are 40% less empathetic than ten years ago. This part of their mind must be strengthened.
Cotto: Many think that the Information Age has severely altered the human socialization process. Do you believe this to be the case?
Dr. Elmore: Absolutely — one of the most unfortunate effects I have noticed from the Information Age is a severe lack of empathy. Instead of breaking up with their girlfriend face to face, these kids are sending texts. Instead of working out problems face to face, they are cyber bullying. I can’t help but think that the increase in screen time coupled with the decrease in face time has severely atrophied these kids’ emotional muscle.
Cotto: In the future, might Generation iY become more productive? Or, could it be expected to introduce new norms to our society?
Dr. Elmore: I believe that as Generation Y becomes fully integrated in the workforce and managers learn to lead them effectively, they will collectively become more productive. Recently, I have worked with a few managers who refuse to alter their management style to better communicate with and engage this new generation of professionals. That isn’t the best approach.
We are already seeing some of the positive effects that come with a little attention to the favored work styles of Generation iY and how productivity increases dramatically as leadership recognizes that an evolution in leadership is necessary, and inevitable.
Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering how you became such a noted writer about Generation iY. Tell us a bit about your life and career.
Dr. Elmore: I began working with middle school, high school and college students in 1979. I was not too much older than they were, so adolescents were easy to understand. Later, I recognized a gap was emerging between how kids thought and how I thought. (I suppose every parent or teacher or coach would admit the same thing). I determined I would use my work with young people to provide a laboratory for research.
We now work with over 6,000 schools and organizations and are in front of about 50,000 students and teachers every year. My goal is to not only lead these kids well, but enable others to do so as well.
It sounds cliché, but kids are our future—and they will be leading the world in the next 20 years. Every book or recording we create is either to equip adults to lead students well, or it is for the student to enable them to become effective leaders as they enter their career.
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