In college, I was speaking to another student alongside me. As we discussed just broad things of life, I found out this teen was clinging to beliefs on the other end of the spectrum from his parents. He was thinking different politically, he had stopped believing in God, he questioned an absolute truth, etc. Finally I asked my colleague what his parents thought of this and that is when he said “I haven’t spoke with them about it yet.
This is the future that we are arriving in. Ready or not, here they come. Like it or not, they are part of a generation that feels empowered; that feels they may not even “need” older adults to form their opinions or to fulfill their dreams. Often times they not only doubt the need of adults, but oppose whatever beliefs the adults in their lives hold. Consider these examples:
1. More students are moving away from their parents’ faith and religion.
According to the Pew Research Center, between 1989 and 2000, the percentage of emerging adults who believed in God changed very little. The vast majority not only believed in God, but also held a faith which mirrored their parents’ faith traditions. By 2016, a full one out of three emerging adults say they do not even believe in God, and even less actively participate in religious services. Teens today are the most irreligious population of youth in American history. Somehow, the adults who practice their faith have not been attractive enough to spark student interest.
2. More students are choosing a career path without consulting adults.
While they may talk to both parents and teachers about their dreams, the students I know do not look to adults for predictions on what careers or the economy will look like a decade from now. Many college students recognize they might just have a job that doesn’t even exist now. Further, they don’t need us for a launching pad—if they want to write and publish a song, they don’t need a record company. They can post it on-line through iTunes or Spotify. If they want to write a book, they don’t need a traditional publisher to get their story out; they can self-publish it. If they want to launch a business or non-profit, they don’t even need funding from parents or investors; they can utilize a “Go Fund Me” campaign. It’s a “do it yourself” world today.
3. More students are forming viewpoints apart from the adults in their life.
Today’s high school and college students are the first generation that doesn’t need adults to get information. Parents and teachers were once needed because we knew “stuff” that kids didn’t know. Thanks to Google, Alexa, Siri and other smart technologies, they now don’t need us for information. They scroll through hundreds, maybe even thousands of feeds on their phone helping form their own opinion and worldview. I am talking to more and more teens and young adults who’ve come up with their own perspective without the help (and sometimes even knowledge) of their parents.
What Can We Do?
The last thing teachers, coaches, youth workers and parents should do is to force a student to align with their viewpoint or to emulate their behavior. Good leaders don’t need to force this, they earn this kind of influence. Let’s face it, students don’t need adults the same way they once did because they feel empowered. And now, we must figure out how to make ourselves useful and helpful in this new world. The key is to provide something they can’t get other places. Let me suggest a few ideas below. These are rare commodities they still need from us:
1. Offer them Life Tips/Hacks.
Rather than trying to tell students everything to do, it is better to give them tips and advice which they can choose to use or ignore. Teach them how to negotiate, interact, interview, and live as an adult in the real world. Talk to them about insurance and how to balance a budget, maybe even give them a small one to care for! These things not only teach them useful life lessons, but also makes you more relevant in the eyes of your teens.
2. Offer them a Safe Sounding Board.
While students are connected 24/7 with peers, they often still don’t have a person who’s completely safe to bounce ideas off of and to get helpful feedback. Teens are often too worried about their appearance and image to share the most vulnerable aspects of their lives. Between the ages 16-24, young people are considering big decisions and choosing the potential path for their life. A listening ear and some good questions for them to think about are a rare commodity. This is something you and I can do for them.
3. Offer them Long-term Thinking and Experience.
Almost everywhere they look, students hear “short-term thinking.” Buy this now! You deserve this today! Don’t miss out! Today’s teens are surrounded by instant gratification and do not know how to wait patiently for things. What if you offered the rare commodity of “long term” thinking, showing students the consequences of doing what feels good today and the benefits of “pay now, play later.” Share what you learned from your own life and how this has always played out in celebrities whom they know and look up to as well.
4. Offer them Your Network.
While anyone, even teens, an build a profile on Instagram or LinkedIn, they still likely don’t have years of face-to-face friendships with the people you know. And the issue of technology and interacting in that sphere often cripples face-to-face interaction in emerging adults. Help connect teens to influential people in fields which they are thinking of joining as an adult to build their network and social skills young. Prepare them for the real world while you are still there to help them so they do not suffer as an adult from the lack of experience.
5. Offer them Belief.
Finally, most students still need an older, caring adult who honestly believes in them and their potential. It almost sounds cliché, but they tend to hang around those who can spot their strengths, who believe in their future and who can cheer them on as they grow. Why not be the adult you wish you had as a teen. Believe in them and cheer them on. Encourage and support their dreams where you can.
As you do these things, your teens grow trust and faith in you to listen to you more. When we seem more relevant to teens, they are more willing to listen and follow us. It may seem unorthodox, but not only can these things help your teens practically in life, but it can also help them listen to you and not reject the faith you hold because they reject or do not feel the ability to connect with you.