Generation iY (i.e., students born since 1990) are different from earlier generations in their decision-making skills, communication methods, values and style. So what does that mean for parents? How can we help Generation iY respond well to the needs of the world around them? Let me suggest some practical ideas:
1. Let them be different from Generation X or Y.
They want to create a new reality. Things lose their novelty fast for students today. Don’t chide them—encourage them to be themselves and define their own identity. This means building a healthy sense of interdependence—not a narcissistic independence or needy co-dependence. Help them to develop personal values. I believe this should come before vision. They live in an eclectic and pluralistic world. If they are not value-driven, they will shift as they encounter pressure from the culture. They must see themselves as individuals who possess a set of values, but who collaborate with other generations.
2. Help them to make and keep short-term commitments.
Generation iY has a tough time making long-term commitments, since so many things in their world are instant. Help them put wins under their belt, which could lead to longer, deeper commitments. If they commit to a team or a project, see to it they fulfill that commitment (even when the glamour wears off). Remind them that they don’t need to commit the following year, but they must follow through this year. This is critical to their future development.
3. Work with them to simplify their lives.
Often, this generation’s kids will put pressure on themselves to be perfect, all at once, in every area. The beauty is that they have a passion to make a difference and get all they can out of life. The balance is that they must learn to simplify, to figure out what really matters, so they can then enjoy the process. Enable them to set realistic goals. You will find they often possess lofty dreams, and they need help turning them into bite-size objectives with deadlines. Don’t rain on their parade—just help them take realistic steps, one at a time, toward their target. Encourage them to set short-term goals that are achievable and keep momentum toward the long-term goal.
4. Communicate that there is meaning in the small, mundane tasks.
Give them a sense of the big picture, and how all the little things they do fit into the big picture of history (or at least the big picture of the organization). Provide a macro view in their present micro world. Provide consistent feedback, at least in the beginning of a task. Celebrate even small wins when they achieve them. Help them determine personal achievement goals, and participate with them in a mentorship capacity so they begin to learn perseverance.
5. Help them to focus.
Generation iY kids often becomes fuzzy because they scatter themselves too thin in a variety of different activities. They don’t want to miss anything life has to offer. Work with them to focus on one meaningful objective at a time. To illustrate this idea, our organization has created a curriculum called Habitudes®: Images that Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes. Specifically, I often remind them of the Habitude® “Rivers and Floods.” We must become rivers (which are focused and move in one direction), not floods (which are unfocused and flow in many directions). Rivers are helpful; floods are damaging. Translated for iY: You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Sometimes, you must say “no” in order to flow.
6. Establish environments where they interact with multiple generations.
Highlight the strengths of people at different ages in life, and how each person adds value. Find or create situations where both adults and students interact meaningfully. In addition, help them become willing to function independently of their friends. Work to build interdependence rather than co-dependence. Create face-to-face relationships with them, providing opportunities to be mentored as well as peer communities where they meet in person and add value (e.g., mutual mentoring). As parents, my wife and I have had our kids “host” parties where they learn how to initiate in face-to-face relationships. Yes, it’s a hassle, but we believe they must learn to communicate and handle conflict or differences in order to succeed in this world.
7. Provide options to participate in a cause that’s bigger than they are.
Over the years, I have exposed my kids to needs in their community, as well as hardships across the globe in developing nations. They get to serve and see how most of the world lives (one in six people in the world live on only $1 a day). So challenge your children to expand their horizons. Ask them to give their own money sacrificially for a cause they’ve observed. Fulfillment comes not from personal pleasure but global purpose. They must learn to invest their lives in a worthwhile cause.
8. Enable them to take control of their lives and “boss” their calendars.
Allow them to set their priorities, and let them know that they must live with the consequences of their decisions. Help them become drivers, not passengers, in life. Hold them accountable and responsible for choices they’ve made; do not bail them out. Let them see that failure isn’t final, and that poor judgment isn’t necessarily poor character. Help them slow down and make sense of what goals they really want to pursue. Balance schedules and allow young people to ease into challenges that are beyond a parent’s ability to shelter them. Allow them to grow into adulthood healthily by learning in safe places first.
To learn more on how to connect and equip today’s students, order the book Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future. It contains a fresh diagnosis of today’s young people (who are growing up in a world of screens, speed and self-absorption) as well as a prescription on how to lead them into healthy adulthood.
Tim Elmore is founder and president of Growing Leaders, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mentoring today’s young people to become the leaders of tomorrow. He is a best-selling author of more than 25 books, including Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenges of Becoming Authentic Adults, and the Habitudes® series. Find information on Tim and Growing Leaders at www.growingleaders.com, @growingleaders and @timelmore.