The “I” Generation

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But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him.  1 John 2:5

There have been attempts to use the “I” word to describe the next generation – Tim Elmore and Jean Twenge  came up with “iGen” which is a play on iPhone and iPad from Apple. There is merit to the association because the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 changed the digital landscape of the world.

The McAfee’s, millennial authors of Not What You Think, said that getting an iPhone in college was a huge step for them. Groundbreaking, actually.

The McAffee’s wrote a book to millennials, by millennials, and it contains some interesting stuff for non-millennials. I really like their chapter on who or what is a millennial using five “I” words:

Immense.  It is the largest generation, now exceeding the Baby Boomers, the generation that grew up following World War II. In America, they number around 78 million. In other parts of the world, their numbers are even a larger proportion of the population. In Africa, for example, the median age of an African is only 19. The sheer size of the generation tilts them into knowing that they are in a position to be culture-changing.

 Informed.  This, of course, has an upside and a downside. What makes millennials different is not just the information that they have at their fingertips, but where they get (and trust) their information. Millennials have a basic distrust of all institutions such as business, government or education, so experts from those fields do not have the same weight as a friend who has had firsthand experience.  Sixty percent obtain news and analysis on-line rather than print or other media. This can lead to groupthink.

 Impatient.   They want their information fast and have little tolerance for having to wait in line for anything. Again, the downside is they want fast advancement in their careers, which is often an unachievable expectation. They seek instant gratification and instant results.

 Impassioned.  According to Thom Rainer, 90% of millennials “believe it their responsibility to make a difference in the world.”  A smaller percentage (60%) believe “they will make some great contribution in their lifetime.” They are interested in working for causes, and 75% of millennials made a financial gift. They also volunteer more than any other generation.

 Integrated.  They are digital natives and are integrated with technology, which creates a new level of social integration. Nearly 100 percent of millennials own a cellphone. While they may be socially connected, they are often not intimate with real friends. Platforms like Facebook permit them to put on a good face for others, yet that same media often causes unhappiness and loneliness when it seems others are having a better time doing wonderful things.

To which, I would add one of my own “I” descriptive word:

 Incomplete.  They lack soft inter-personal skills, savoire faire and EQ.  They have been known to take their parents to a job interview. When they land a job, they have become ghost employees by never showing up for the first day of work,  nor contacting their new employer to tell them they are not coming – ever. This is an area where the millennials are in the most need of mentors.

They are also spiritually incomplete, and the majority have little or no bible literacy, That same majority believe there is a God, so there is an opportunity to connect the dots which is why the McAfees have written their book.

While the McAfees are writing about millennials, some of the traits listed above also apply to Gen Z, who are now just entering college. Gen Z is not as large as the millennial generation, but they are all informed, impatient, impassioned,  integrated and, yes, incomplete.

Like all attempts to characterize a diverse generation, I found these descriptions a useful overview of the next two generations.  It may be of interest that the millennial in America is not that different from a millennial in other parts of the world such as Africa.

The challenge here is to tap into the millennials and guide them along their path.  One thing that is important:  once you have gained their trust, you can speak into their lives, even if you are not from their generation.  Trust, however, means being transparent and authentic.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:   Mentoring a diverse and large generation requires understanding what makes them tick. Learning about their distinctive traits is key to being able to communicate with them.  They are incomplete; they need your guidance.

FURTHER READING10 Things to Never Do When Starting a Job

Not What You Think– Available from Amazon

WORSHIP: Listen to What the Lord Has Done in Me by Hillsong.

MentorLink:For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Think Again

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Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

When I encounter millennials, I am often surprised at their defensiveness over their label. Admittedly, it has some baggage. Recently, at a birthday party, I spoke with a young woman who is a millennial by her age, but was reluctant to identify with the label.

She asked me: “Tell me something good about millennials?”  Her question really indicated a bias that being labeled a millennial is something negative. It is not, although it may seem that way due to all of the cultural traits and obsessions this generation has garnered.

To any millennial reading this, I want to assure you that I do not “look down” on millennials. Paul exhorted Timothy in the same way – “do not let others look down on you because you are young”.

I see millennials as the next (and largest) generation and I see potential.  Like generations before them, I see them as the future of the world and my goal is, in some small way, to help them on their path to maturity, leadership and influence.

I have spent a lot of my life investing in them by mentoring, and still do. It is rewarding and challenging. Some of my mentees have made good decisions. Some have not. But that’s life, I suppose.

When I mention things like “millennials hate church”, I get some affirming nods from them. The reality is that millennials generally have a deep distrust of most institutions: business, education, government, and yes, even the church. Any large organizational institution is on their distrust list.

One millennial who attended my Friday morning bible study said that the negative attitude towards the organized church is partly because of the hypocrisy they see going on. People who profess being Christians do some very un-Christian things.

I can relate to that. That very attitude kept me from becoming a Christian until I was 38. When I went to Church,  I was put in the position of listening to people I knew,  and what they said in Church and what they did outside of Church didn’t remotely align.  I thought they were phonies and I wanted no part of that.

Our church has an email prayer chain which is contains prayer requests of the members. Many of them deal with health issues. One recent one, however, hit me. It was a prayer request by someone who had renewed his faith but was having a hard time integrating into church because of his bad experiences with other Christians.

After I came to faith, I realized being a Christian in a church does not mean you are a finished work of God. If you go to the hospital, you are going to see sick people. If you go to Church, you will see people who are imperfect and broken. That’s where they are. That’s one of the reasons for Church – to worship God and to become more like Jesus. Sometimes people take only baby steps along the way.

From that, I want to turn to a new book, written by two millennials who just turned 30. It is titled Not What You Think.  My daughter shared it with me.  It was suggested reading to parents of students at Iron Academy, a Christian boys school in Raleigh. It is good stuff.

It challenges some preconceptions about millennials. It is not about how to engage them in church. It is about how to engage them with the Bible. As I have noted, there is a remnant of millennials – something around 27%  read the bible once a week – and the vast majority are what are termed “bible open”.

The latter may have had some Christian family background but are not currently engaged. Three fourths of millennials consider the Bible to be a holy book, and 56% believe it contains everything you need to lead a meaningful life.  These are statistics provided by Barna Research.

One thesis of the authors, Michael and Lauren McAfee, is that millennials are susceptible to “group think”. They often eschew input from traditional sources for news, and instead are more likely to believe what others think for their perspective of what is true. This is a little like the blind leading the blind.

I will unpack some of the book written by the McAfees in future posts. They have researched their generation objectively and accurately (based on my own study). They correctly write that millennials are easily stereotyped, yet they are very diverse which makes those stereotypes inaccurate in many cases.

The authors admit, for example, that they (the authors)  fit right in with many of millennial attributes, but as Christians, they are very different. Their journey is intriguing.

Our challenge, as always, is to help our mentees become the best they can be, which often includes helping them along in their spiritual journey.  This new book is packed with useful information for parents and mentees alike.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Every mentor who meets with a millennials or Gen Z mentee should read Not What You Think as a basic resource book.

 FURTHER READINGNot What You Thinkis available from Amazon.

WORSHIP: Listen to This We Knowby Vertical Church Band. Beautiful song.

MentorLink:For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Screen Time

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Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.  Proverbs 22:6

I have been writing this blog over the past three years. Many of those posts deal with the adverse effects of the digital world on our next generation. Less happiness, higher rates of anxiety, loneliness,  sadness, hopelessness, depression  and, sadly, suicide.

Most of the evidence has been anecdotal – reports by psychiatrists and the medical community of the uptick of these disorders. One of the most popular courses at Yale (Psych 157: Psychology and the Good Life) is a course on how to have more happiness. Twenty five percent of the student body have signed up for it.

The evidence has been anecdotal. Until now. The verdict is in.

JAMA Pediatrics Journal recently published a study of 3,826 adolescents in Canada. The study is titled “Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence” and it was published in July, 2019.

It shows definitively that “each hour of screen time increases the severity of depression in teens.” Not just screen time, but involvement with social media and video games.

No, that’s not a misprint. Most parents who care about their children have tried to help them limit screen time, often by locking up their phones overnight. But screen time includes mobile phones, television and the internet.

Some of the consumed content plays a role, too. Girls who watch television depicting “idealized bodies” leads to greater dissatisfaction with their own body. “Comparing yourself to others on social media leads to lower self-esteem.”

This study on the impact on mental health of screen time is reminiscent of the finding that smoking cigarettes causes cancer fifty years ago. It is an “Aha” moment that should not be missed.

In essence, every hour of screen time increases the risk of adolescents being vulnerable to “anxiety, depressive episodes, loneliness, sadness or hopelessness.” What could be more damning?

This is a clarion call for parents and mentors to take action. I don’t think any parent would knowingly give their child something that would harm them. But the ubiquitous use of social media is just that, and not doing anything about it makes adults enablers.

Tim Elmore suggests (and I agree) that you print out a post on this topic and discuss it with your children. It’s no longer conjecture that excessive screen time = vulnerability to depression, loneliness, anxiety or worse.

Weaning an adolescent or millennial out of their digital world will not be easy. Tech companies have invested millions in getting a generation hooked on social media. That’s why tech executives in Silicon Valley send their children to schools devoid of computers, like the Waldorf School.

Another Bay Area school – Brightworks– is a low-tech school. Sixty-per cent of the student body have parents in the tech industry. It’s founder, Gene Tulley is quoted as saying: “We don’t have many rules (about tech in the classroom), but one of them is that if you want to play a video, you have to make it yourself.”

Hopefully, the tech industry will wisely start taking steps to help adolescents get normalized lives with limited screen time, but I doubt it. The tobacco industry could have taken that tack years ago, but instead, it chose to deny the link of smoking to cancer. They spent decades litigating the connection.

The challenge here is that tech industry is dedicated to getting you addicted to their product. As an adult, you can take steps to help your adolescent realize that it can be harmful to their mental health.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentors are in a position to guide their mentees in limiting their screen time. It is now a mental health issue.

FURTHER READING:   JAMA Study on Screen Time/Mental Health

 Psychology Today – Teenagers Facing Depression

Jean M. Twenge – The Atlantic on Have Smartphones Destroyed the Next Generation?

Silicon Valley Parents Choose Low and No-Tech Schools– The Good Men Project

WORSHIP: Listen to Good, Good Father

MentorLink:For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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