Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Artificial Maturity"

Recently had a Twitter conversation with a new follower who referred me to a book that looks interesting. Tim Elmore has been involved in youth ministry for a number of decades. I've used some of his material in the past. His new book is Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Becoming Authentic Adults. Here's part of an interview with the author (posted on Amazon).

* * * 

Q: What caused you to write the book Artificial Maturity?

A: As I concluded my research for the book Generation iY, I began seeing so many students who were beginning well—then not finishing—in school, work, sports, and other areas. Adults assumed they were mature and ready for a task or commitment, but unfortunately, they were not. I compare it to “fools gold.” It looks real, but it's just an illusion.

Q: What exactly is “artificial maturity”?

A: Artificial Maturity is the result of two realities in our culture today:
  • Kids are over-exposed to information…far earlier than they are ready.
  • Kids are under-exposed to real-life experiences…far later than they’re ready.
This over-exposure, under-exposure enables them to appear very smart, savvy or confident, but [they] may lack emotional maturity, life skills or wisdom that comes in time.  

Q: Describe the world that kids are living in today. Do the challenges override the opportunities?

A: A shift has taken place between early Generation Y and later Generation Y kids. Although born perhaps less than a decade apart, there are measurable differences:

Early Generation Y (Born in 1980s)
  • Highly compassionate
  • Technology is a tool
  • Activists (They are passionate)
  • Civic-minded
  • Ambitious about future
  • Accelerated growth 
 Generation iY (Born since 1990)
  • Low empathy
  • Technology is an appendage…
  • Slack-tivists (They are “fashionate”)
  • Self-absorbed
  • Ambiguous about future
  • Postponed maturation
Q: What are some key steps that need to be taken for artificial maturity to evolve into authentic maturity?

A: Adults must perform some balancing acts with kids, helping them balance autonomy and responsibility; information and accountability; screen time and face-time (in-person experiences); community service opportunities with self-service time. Two examples are:
  1. We must be leaders who are both responsive and demanding. We must offer support but also enforce standards. I describe this type of leader as a velvet-covered brick: soft and supportive on the outside but strong and principle-centered on the inside. We must balance tough and tender leadership.
  2. We must relay messages early and later in their childhood and adolescence:
Early Messages (First ten years)
  • You are loved
  • You are unique
  • You have gifts
  • You are safe
  • You are valuable
  Later Messages (Next ten years)
  • Life is difficult
  • You’re not in control
  • You’re not that important
  • You’re going to die
  • Your life is not about you
* * *

Readers, what do you think about these ideas?

The distinction between children of the 80's and those of the 90's seems harsh, but (if accurate) may explain why so many young folks lack the passion and people skills I thought their generation was supposed to have. At the same time, I look in the mirror and my "emotional intelligence" is not what it could be. Often my fairly high level of self-awareness holds me back rather than empowering me to respond with maturity; I pick up on things and get upset about them but don't translate the insight or energy into a positive, helpful response.

I have a hunch we all have imbalances like those Elmore describes. Are they more or different among today's young people?

It seems an all-too-common flaw to measure others' journeys by our own, e.g., expecting them to know or do things at the same ages that we did. Both our kids are confident and accomplished in things I never would have tried (and, yeah, would tend not to value), but then they lack what seem to me "basic" skills. Don't get me wrong - I think our kids are great. But I'm still in step-parent culture shock and there are some things about their lives and the way they've been raised that I find hard to accept.

Our son has had his first girlfriend but asked me the other day for help defining what nouns and adjectives were. I think I owe him an apology for expressing too much surprise over his challenges in English class. After all, I well remember my mother's horror when I was his age and did not know my multiplication tables -- as well as the questions (not from my parents, but other friends and family) about how late and little I "dated." What is normal, anyway? Sometimes Hubs and I seem worlds apart on the question. I want to do a better job picking my battles, though. Sometimes it's easy, like accepting the new (to me) way "our family" makes peanut-butter sandwiches. Other times it's more upsetting, like the way "our family" sees adolescent dating.

Perhaps the journey to maturity is one with a variety of routes? 

Do you see a shift between early and late GenY? Do you agree with Elmore's description of this shift? What about his suggestions for how adults should respond?

1 comment:

Megan Noel said...

uh.. do you know all your multiplication tables up to 12x12 NOW?

you're a word geek. you're going to be ahead in some areas and behind in others. and i am guessing anyone in boys scouts as learned a few practical skills we lack. (what did girl scouts really teach? all i remember is basket weaving.)

i felt out growing up put an overemphasis on math, actually. though i do use math up to algebra and simple geometry on a regular basis.