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Parent Speaker Series: Raising Generation Z with Dr. Tim Elmore
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Parent Speaker Series: Raising Generation Z with Dr. Tim Elmore

We welcomed education expert Dr. Tim Elmore to campus this week for our Parent Speaker Series event. Sponsored by our GAC Parent Association, this series is one of the ways that GAC helps parents raise their children well. And it’s safe to say that parents walked out of Dr. Elmore’s session feeling a little more confident than when they entered, especially when it comes to their Generation Z children. 

Here are ten things we took away from this session:

  1. You CAN be a life-giving parent for a generation Z child. You just have to learn to understand them. And maybe “change the container.”

    To really understand what we mean, you have to picture a 21st century water bottle. The idea is that for all of history, humans have needed water; it’s just that the container has changed. You wouldn’t bring a clay pot to your child when he or she asks for water. You’d use a cup, glass, or bottle of some sort. Just as you use whatever is necessary (and culturally relevant) to deliver the water, you will also use what is necessary and culturally relevant to deliver timeless messages that your child needs to hear. A real test of this: how well do you understand emoticons? These are one of the primary means by which Generation Z communicates (which is an even further departure from how Millennials communicate using texts). 
  2. Generation Z kids (born between 2001-2018) are the most anxious of all generations in history. 

    Studies published in the American Psychological Association show that adolescents today have the same anxiety levels as psychiatric patients from the 1950s. This stems from a number of reasons, one of them being social media. At no other point in history have your failures and successes been broadcasted the way they are now. “How is it possible to have healthy self-esteem when a barrage of people are judging you all the times?” asked Dr. Elmore. He played “Sick Boy” from the music group The Chainsmokers. One of the lines that hit home was: “Feed yourself with my life’s work; how many likes is my life worth?” For a generation whose entire life is online, social validation (and invalidation) are feeding anxiety levels that have reached epic proportions.
  3. The pendulum swings between generations from confidence to caution. Maybe that’s why your child’s anxiety doesn’t make sense. 

    Dr. Elmore walked us through the generations and demonstrated how, from one to the next, a generation’s attitude shifts from a circumspect attitude of caution to one of confidence and optimism for the next. The Builders (or Silent Generation) experienced the Great Depression and their life paradigm was: “Be grateful for what you have”. The next generation (Boomers) had a completely different perspective fueled by the Roaring 20s : “I deserve better”. Then came the Baby Busters (“Keep it real”), Millennials (“Life is a cafeteria”), and now Generation Z (“I’m coping and hoping”). Generation Z approaches life cautiously. More on that next.
  4. Generation Z has paid close attention to Millennials and they’re taking a different approach. 

    In small and large ways, Generation Z is learning from its predecessors. While viral posts might have been important to Millennials, Generation Z is more comfortable with vanishing posts (think Snapchat and Instagram Stories). They’ve learned from the mistakes of Millennials who paid the price for inappropriate social posts through the loss of jobs and relationships. And whereas Millennials attacked education (and accumulated the most student loans in history), Generation Z is hacking an education, patching together internships, courses, and gigs to form their resume. They are saving more money than Millennials and turning the former generation’s idealism into pragmatism.
  5. Kids need a quarterback, not a referee. 

    One of the reasons why Generation Z feels so anxious is because of their lack of agency and control. In fact, the research on locus of control shows that since the time of Generation Z, there is an increase in external locus of control and a decrease in internal locus of control. This means that children today don’t believe as strongly as past generations that they (and not just circumstances) control the outcome of their life. And according to research, those with internal locus of control are more likely to be successful in life. The shift stems in large part because almost everything for Generation Z is prescriptive, from what they get from their parents and coaches to even more subtle things like the suggestions they get from platforms like Netflix or Amazon. Dr. Elmore shared: “Today’s kids need descriptive leadership that utilizes the power of metacognition to put their lives in their own hands.” “There are two leaders on a field: the quarterback and the referee. Referees call penalties. Quarterbacks make progress. Quarterbacks provide leadership. Life-giving leaders equip quarterbacks to lead. Be careful that you don’t drift toward the spirit of a referee.”
  6. We can be counter-cultural in the way we raise our children.

    Dr. Elmore shared that in raising his kids, he only allowed them to do one thing as their after school activity (but to pursue it to the fullest if they wanted). This flies in the face of culture today which tells us that children need to do everything possible to be well-rounded. It might be time to rethink all those extracurriculars before our children miss out on their childhood completely (and then spend part of their adulthood trying to reclaim it). 
  7. “You are never alone, but you still have to drive.”

    Dr. Elmore shared an anecdote about his son which illustrates what it looks like to empower a Generation Z child. He took a special trip with his son to Minneapolis and while they were there, he pulled the car into an out-of-the-way parking lot and told his son to change places with him. He asked him to drive and then proceeded to give him all the steps (not before spending a half-hour trying to convince him he could do this). He was trying to prove to his son that he can learn and do a hard thing. You’ll have to read Dr. Elmore’s book to learn his complete PROVE acronym but we’ll give you P which stands for “Problem”.  Generation Z learns best when they are addressing a real dilemma, something relevant and not just hypothetical. Dr. Elmore asked his son to practice learning to drive, not to read a book to learn to drive a car. More about this here.
  8. As parents, you have three options: isolation, saturation, interpretation.

    You can (try to) isolate your child from the world (isolation) or expose them to everything and let them figure it out (saturation). The middle road, and the one that Dr. Elmore recommends, is that of interpretation: exposing them but helping them learn how to think and to value what God values. “We have been GPSing our kids their whole life. Do they have their own compass to make decisions when we are not around?” asked Dr. Elmore.
  9. The best thing you can do for your child is to connect them to mentors.

    Dr. Elmore and his wife established a rite of passage for their children when they reached the age of 13. They worked with each child to identify six mentors from among all the adults their child interacted with. The mentor allowed the child to spend a day with them on-the-job and shared one major life truth with them. This became a life-changing, formative experience for his children and something they each looked forward to. His daughter, for example, spent the day with her mentor delivering babies in the maternity ward. He saw visibly as “his little girl was becoming a woman” through this experience. He shared that there is great value in having trusted outside voices join in the journey of raising your children.
  10. These children who only remember the 21st century have the highest potential to transform society. It’s our job to help lead them into a great adult life. 

    Dr. Elmore pointed to 1 Chronicles 12:32 where it is says about the tribe of Issachar that they “understood the times” and had “knowledge of what they should do”. He shared the story of Virgil Smith, a teenager in Texas who helped save 17 lives during Hurricane Harvey. No one made his answer a call for help from a neighborhood friend. Or gave him the idea to take his inflatable mattress and use it as a raft to rescue his neighbors from the flood. Or asked him to take initiative and show leadership. He used all his resources and gifts and made more of an impact during that crisis than most people twice his age. We need to make space for Generation Z and allow them the opportunities they crave to step up and make a difference, even if it means that as adults we have to risk a little more. 

Dr. Tim Elmore’s book, Generation Z Unfiltered: Facing Nine Hidden Challenges of the Most Anxious Population, is filled with rich insights, data, and action steps for parents of Generation Z.

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