Your perspective on the younger generations is powerful. It determines the underlying attitude and approach you bring into every conversation and interaction. It can predict your level of success in engaging, motivating, and empowering them. And your view of their generation is something you communicate to those young people every day, whether you mean to or not.
As a parent, educator, employer, or anyone else interacting with young people on a regular basis, your opinion about the 100 million Americans who make up Generations Y and Z is either helping or hurting your cause. I want to examine our view of today’s young people and uncover our true perspective. What you really think might surprise you.
Two Perspectives, One Choice
I’ve been working with educational and business organizations for more than twenty years to help them engage young people more effectively (not to mention 30+ years in the trenches as a dad!). Today, I’ve concluded that there are really only two ways you can view Generations Y and Z (anyone under the age of 38). They are either seen as:
- A challenge to be overcome, or
- A tremendous asset to be unlocked within your classroom, organization, or home.
The “challenge to be overcome” view starts in a negative place and puts the blame on young people for whatever shortcomings are perceived. This view is not just about what they do or don’t do; it’s about who they are. Entitled, lazy, unmotivated, complacent, self-focused, immature—the list goes on. The person holding this view often feels ill-used and put-upon by young people.
The “tremendous asset” view starts in a positive place and its optimism is often rewarded with superior performance. This perspective looks at young people’s skills, talents, and abilities as significant forces just waiting to be tapped. The goal is to tap their resourceful intelligence, unlock what they can really achieve, and then watch them change the world. A person holding this view truly believes in the greatness of these generations and works every day to help them unleash it.
Raising Expectations, Overcoming Challenges
Interestingly, the word “perspective” means stance or opinion, but it also has to do with the angle from which you look at something. Do we need to adjust our angle and point of view so we can see the big picture?
Those who hold a negative perspective on today’s young people often fail to realize that they are the way they are because that’s how we reared them. Many of our best-intentioned parenting strategies have had unintended consequences that are now playing out in our children’s lives. That’s a whole different blog, but the takeaway here is that blaming young people for how they were parented is not a productive approach to helping them reach their full potential.
I’m not saying that the younger generations present no challenges to overcome. They do, but they themselves are not the challenge. Some of these challenges are simply due to their youth, like how they don’t know what they don’t know. We overcome that by telling and showing them. Other struggles may arise from how they were reared, like their desire for frequent affirmation. We overcome that by keeping communication open and structuring time and space for feedback. Sometimes they may find it hard to put forth their best effort; that’s because the things that motivate older generations may not be as compelling to them, and we haven’t adjusted our approach yet.
I’ve written before about raising our expectations for the younger generations. I still believe that they will meet the expectations we place on them, whether high or low. When we raise our expectations for today’s young people, we have to provide the environment and tools to help them meet those heightened standards. And we can, when we first choose to view them for what they are: tremendous assets just waiting to be unleashed.