Generation Me: We Didn’t See it Coming

by / Friday, 17 September 2010 / Published in Leadership
Generation Me: We Didn't See it Coming

By Dr. Tim Elmore |

Something is happing in our culture. There is a subtle but very real shift taking place. If you work with adults, you may not see it because adults often get stuck in steady routines. They won’t reveal the shift. If you work with students you may not see it because you are so close to the change you can become numb to it.

Let me explain it this way. For almost twenty years, I lived in San Diego, CA. While there, I learned rapidly about earthquakes. They cause a shift in the earth beneath me. What I didn’t realize was that following most every earthquake, there is an aftershock. It’s a second shift that occurs as a result of the first. It can cause about as much damage as the original quake.

I believe our American culture experienced a cultural quake between 1985 and 2000. Today, we are experiencing the aftershock of that quake, which includes unintended consequences to our culture and society. Most never saw it coming.

Generation iY

Just take a look at the emerging generation of students today. While they are part of what sociologists call Generation Y (born in the ‘80s and 90s), the latter half of their population is different than their earlier counterparts. The young adults born in the 80s are part of an amazing population. During their adolescence:

  • Teen pregnancy was down.
  • Drug abuse was lower than their parents.
  •  Crime had dropped measurably nationwide.
  • Civic engagement was at a record high.
  • The prospects for changing the world had never been better.

The wave of kids born since 1990 is unique. I call them Generation iY, due to the impact of the “I” world. They have grown up on-line and are products of iPods, iPhones, iChat, iTunes, iMovies, iPads—and for many of them—life is pretty much about “I.” They are much more self-absorbed than the older Y population. Empathy has dropped 40% in college students over the last decade, according to a University of Michigan study. In a longitudinal study by Dr. Jean Twenge, students today are 70% more narcissistic (and less altruistic) than when I was a college student. Ten years ago, 90% of high school students laid plans to attend college. Today, 30% don’t even graduate high school. The bottom line? They’re getting stuck.

So, what has happened?

This shift actually has been slowly evolving throughout the 20th century. There has been a perfect storm of elements that have contributed to the state of our current culture that we, as church leaders, must understand if we’re to respond well. Allow me to provide a handful of reasons why we see what we do today

1. The Invention of High School

By the 1920s, students were pressed into age-graded groups and began to interact mostly with peers. The church followed suit with her programming. Social silos. The downward spiral of EQ began. We get lazy when connecting only with others like us.

2. Video Games

All the legitimate research shows the more time spent with a video game the poorer kids do in school. Male teens spend 13.5 hours a week in gaming; this delays their readiness for life. The adult world ambushes them. Stanford will no longer accept “gamers” into their med school.

3. Prescription Drugs

The U.S. represents 5% of the world’s population, but we consume 90% of the prescription drugs given to kids (ADHD, depression). Sadly, long after the meds are gone, the personalities of these kids have been altered. They’re artificially lethargic. Adults have become lazy when dealing with energetic kids.

4. Parenting Styles

Along with a new generation of kids, we have a new generation of parents today. They’ve made their kids their trophies—they hover, emulate, serve and erupt over them. They don’t mother, they smother. Kids have a difficult time growing up if their parents have not done so first.

5. Endocrine Disruptors

BPA and other chemicals in plastics have entered our human systems. BPA mimics estrogen, the female hormone. It wreaks havoc on student’s bodies and delays a clear sense of identity. It’s a gender bender. Testosterone levels are dropping in boys as 90% of our kids today have BPA inside them.

6. Teaching Methods

Students today are right-brained, upload kids forced to attend left-brained, download schools. The gap between adult and students styles causes a disconnect; adults are not teaching the way kids learn best. They’re passing but not learning. Most teachers are heroes, but the school systems are failing.

7. Niche Marketing

Decades ago, retailers and marketers picked up on youth as a target market. Success came as they preyed on adolescent insecurities and desires, creating hunger to look and stay young. Marketers are better at this than ever—prolonging adolescence. 60% of students move back home after college.

8. Media and Technology

We all love them, but television, YouTube, Google, Twitter, Facebook, iPhones and Second Life provide instant gratification and results. If it takes too long or isn’t fun students can delete, stop, block or log off. This is nothing like the real world.

So what do we do? In my next article, we’ll begin to dig in to some ministry solutions to this worldwide phenomenon.

Dr. Tim Elmore, the author of the Habitudes® series, is the founder and president of Growing Leaders, an Atlanta-based non-profit organization created to develop emerging leaders. Through Growing Leaders, he and his team provide public schools, state universities, civic organizations, and corporations with the tools they need to help develop young leaders who can impact and transform society.

By Dr. Tim Elmore |