Artificial Maturity

Helping kids meet the challenge of becoming authentic adults

What Meaningful Work Does to Youth (Part 1)

Youth today have grown up in a SCENE that adults have created.

I sent a tweet about how good, hard work for a cause we believe in can transforms us. I got a re-tweet from a young person who cussed me out. He felt my thought was B.S. The young man (from overseas) obviously disagreed with my view. Am I safe in saying that? 

My challenge to everyone—young or old—is to consider the product of someone who’s learned the value of hard work, (and built a work ethic) and those who’ve failed to do so. Most of the time, those who’ve learned the value of work:

1. Live a life of meaning

2. See the bigger picture

3. Know how to add value to others

4. Are far better at working alongside others

5. Gain wisdom to manage both money and time

Those who’ve never learned its value—well, those virtues are likely theories.

The Generation iY SCENE

Consider the landscape we now live in. Youth today have grown up in a SCENE that adults have created. Sadly, it can be summarized with the word SCENE:

S – Speed. (Slow is bad)

C – Convenience. (Hard is bad)

E – Entertainment. (Boring is bad)

N – Nurture. (Risk is bad)

E – Entitlement. (Labor is bad)

In their book, Escaping the Endless Adolescence, Dr. Joseph Allen and Dr. Claudia Worrell Allen write,

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“We give our young people too few ways to reach real maturity, and so instead they seek out behaviors that provide the appearance of adulthood without the substance. And if adolescence doesn’t actually involve taking on real adult-like tasks and responsibility, if it’s become just an extended form of childhood, then of course nine, ten and eleven-year-olds might want to join in the fun. Adolescence has come to be associated with drinking, smoking, having sex, and acquiring material goods, legally or otherwise. These activities provide the veneer of adulthood, but with none of the underlying demands or responsibilities (like holding a real job) that would otherwise make adolescence unreachable for most preteens.”

Somehow, adults have created a scenario for young people that looks less like reality and more like a reality TV show: full of adventure and prizes, but ultimately its scripted and unreal (click to tweet). Kids today are definitely busy—more than ever—but their activities are about recitals, practices and rehearsals for games and contests. Their stress comes from a contrived activity instead of a meaningful task. What’s at stake is a ribbon or a trophy, not leaving their community something valuable.

Please understand—I am not saying that soccer or piano practices are bad. They can teach discipline and commitment which kids will need as they mature. But along the way, savvy kids begin to understand that their activity isn’t really changing the world as they hoped it would. And now, they don’t handle real stress very well; they never took real risks with meaningful work that adds value and meets a need.

What If…

1. Parents said to their teens: Instead of playing video games or rehearsing for a piano recital, I’d like you to look around our community and find a problem that needs to be solved—then create a way to solve it. I will help.

2. Coaches said to their players: In addition to practice this week, we’re going to serve at a local food bank or clean up a local pond or paint a house in the projects. This will take you out of your comfort zone and help you mature.

3. Teachers said to their students: A field trip this semester will help us understand history better. We plan to visit the Holocaust museum; then, we’ll engage with the Anti-Defamation League and work on a project to promote ethnic equality.

Call me crazy, but it seems these additions might just benefit the Generation iY SCENE. Next week, I’ll cover Part Two of this series.

Talk to me: Am I exaggerating? What do you think meaningful work accomplishes if done well?

Tim Elmore is the founder and president of Growing Leaders, an international non-profit organization created to develop emerging leaders.

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