I was fascinated by this week’s cover feature in Time magazine (coverline: “The Me Me Me Generation.) Not only am I raising a couple of millennials, but I also used to work closely with college students from this generation.
What jumped out at me the most was a quote from Mark Bauerlein, author of (got to love this title): The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefied Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30). “Never before in history have people been able to grow up and reach age 23 so dominated by peers,” he says. “To develop intellectually you’ve got to relate to older people, older things: 17-year-olds never grow up if they’re just hanging around other 17-year-olds.”
As Time magazine author Joel Stein pointed out, before 1910, only a small percentage of kids went to high school, so most young people interacted with adults in their family or at the workplace. As high school became a more common pursuit, childhood was lengthened with the new concept of teenagers. Today, even past college, cell phones and social media are giving young people never-before-thought-of opportunities to interact with each other 24/7. Unfortunately, this constant interaction with peers of the same age seems to be affecting their maturity.
Now, I’m not about to suggest we go back to completing only an 8th grade education or even living without phones or computers, but as a parent of a couple millennials and friend to many others, I started brainstorming on what we could do to make sure our young people receive the benefits of modern life without having their maturity stunted. I’ve put my thoughts in two lists: one for millennials and one for parents of millennials.
1. Get a job as soon as you’re able. Don’t worry about its effects on your academics. Studies have shown that students who work are better at time management and get better grades than those who don’t. If you can’t get a job, consider volunteering.
2. Make a list of people older than yourself whom you trust. When faced with a challenge, consider going to one of these people for advice. (You can still ask your friends and consult the Internet, but an older person’s perspective can often be helpful.)
3. Limit the amount of time you spend online. Establish more face-to-face relationships.
4. Select a college with a low student-teacher ratio. I attended such a college and consider the relationships formed with my professors to be extremely influential in the transition from being a teenager to being an adult.
1. Encourage (or in some cases require) your child to do the things listed above. For example, after reading the quote from the Time magazine article to my 14-year-old son, I asked him to make an effort to interact with adults. Together we thought of adults he can work on building a relationship with.
2. Make an effort to be an adult mentor in the lives of your children’s friends. Not only is it good to know who your child’s friends are, but being there for those children could help them in the path to maturity, which could in turn benefit your child as they interact with other mature young people.
3. Spend time with your child doing things he or she likes. This is not saying you need to become a peer to your child. You’re still the parent, but people always learn more when they’re having fun. My daughter loves playing with her toy horses, so the other day as we were playing, I led the direction of our play so that the baby horses were cheering about how much they loved doing chores. She laughed and had a great time—and hopefully got a lesson about how to have a good attitude about work.
4. When choosing extracurricular activities, consider how much adult interaction that activity will provide for your child. At a recent end-of-year program for one of my son’s extracurricular activities, several students stood up and talked about how influential the staff were in their lives. I teared up and made a mental note to make sure my son is enrolled in that program again next year.
5. Consider homeschooling. I don’t say this just because I was homeschooled for a few years or because I’m currently homeschooling one of my children. I say this because I worked with a couple homeschool graduates at my university job—and you could certainly tell the difference. It wasn’t that they were unsocialized (as many adults fear), but that they were mature. We used to tease one of my formerly homeschooled student workers that she knew everyone on campus (definitely not unsocialized!) but we were also quick to give her responsibilities above and beyond those given even to students older than she was. While homeschoolers have plenty of opportunities for socialization, they also have more hours of individualized adult attention, which may be part of the reason for this.
As I read the Little House books, particularly those where Laura is a teenager or young adult, I am struck by her maturity. Yet, without this level of maturity, she might have crumbled under the challenges that life threw her way, particularly in the early years of her marriage. We never know what challenges we or our own children will face in the future. Perhaps the best way we can prepare for unforeseen challenges is to take conscientious steps toward maturity.