Neil Howe, is the president of LifeCourse
Associates and renowned author of Generations, The Fourth Turning, and
Millennials Rising, among others. Howe’s generational theory is a
groundbreaking filter for understanding both our history and our future.
He has a unique perspective on the cultural climate we’re living in,
and the challenges we’re likely to face on our horizon.

Recently,
GROUP Publishing hosted a conference on the Future of the Church which
featured Howe as a keynote speaker. Rick Lawrence, Editor of GROUP
Magazine has summarized Howe’s findings in the following points. Like it
or not, here’s what Howe has found in his research:

  1. “Students have a gathering mentality.”
    They
    crave consensus, and debates feel unpleasant to them. This is why so
    many young adults have gravitated to Barack Obama—they see him as a
    consensus-builder and a catalyst for community-based problem-solving.
  2. “Dealing with parents is the #1 problem in every youth-serving institution.”
    Because
    parents often see themselves as best friends, not as authority figures,
    in their kids’ lives, organizations that cater to teenagers must
    establish partnerships with parents or risk losing the opportunity to
    impact their kids. If you shut parents out, they’ll make noise. There is
    a near-complete obliteration of the generation gap between teenagers
    and their parents.
  3. “Millennials respond best in coachlike settings.”
    Leaders
    who show their commitment to understanding them are most likely to get
    buy-in from young people. In general, teenagers experience the church as
    an organization run by know-it-alls, so they see few opportunities for
    ownership roles. The #1 complaint of Millennials is lack of access to
    mentors, and regular feedback on their “performance.”
  4. “In our
    current ‘Fourth Turning’ generational ‘season,’ characterized by world
    crises that must be faced and overcome, salvation-by-works overshadows
    salvation-by-faith.” This means that Millennial kids are far more
    interested in the what of religion (what can I do?) than the who or the
    why of religion. They learn best by doing,
    not by contemplating. In
    Spain, for example, a recruiting video for potential new priests for the
    Catholic church emphasized helping people, not theological training,
    and the video exploded in popularity.
  5. “Millennials are the ‘no problem’ generation.”
    They
    are indulged and treated as special, so they have never tasted the
    generational bitterness that have defined previous generations. They are
    not cynical like their Gen X older cousins—they expect things to work
    out for them, and are surprised when they don’t.
  6. “It’s impossible for most kids to spend much time with any one thing, including their
    friends.”
    They have many more friends than kids in previous generations, but generally less
    depth
    in those friendships. They’ve moved from a “one best friend” mind-set
    to a “many more friendships, but shallower ones” mind-set.
  7. “Millennial teenagers are generally riskaverse.”
    They’ve been raised to believe that personal safety is the highest value in life. They
    are
    sorely afraid of failure, because it’s violating to their
    sensibilities—that’s why they’re generally ambivalent about the prospect
    of marriage down
    the road. Why commit to something they’ve been
    told, over and over, has only a 50 percent “success rate”? They are
    generally “left-brain” people who want to satisfy expectations.

How
have you seen these general characteristics play out in your teenager’s
life? Do you agree or disagree with these? How can understanding these
characteristics of this millennial generation help you be a better
parent, grandparent or mentor?

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