Dr. Tim Elmore is the founder of Growing Leaders, an organization that teaches middle school, high school, and college students how to become “authentic leaders.” He has presented internationally, written more than 25 books, and worked with students since 1979. As a result, he has plenty of experience with young people and in figuring out what motivates and challenges them.
In this, his latest book, Elmore offers the culmination of his experience to advise parents, teachers, and leaders on how they too can empower the current generation of young people to become authentic adults and develop more than just an “artificial” maturity. Yet despite his decades in the field, Elmore may not be as reliable a guru as he’d have us believe.
To define the current generation, Elmore has coined the term “Generation iY,” which he explains as follows:
Because of the ubiquitous technology available on our phones and at our fingertips, we are raising, not Generation Y, but Generation iY. They have grown up online and have been influenced by the ‘iWorld.’ … In short, the artificial maturity dilemma can be described this way:
- Children are overexposed to information, far earlier than they’re ready.
- Children are underexposed to real-life experiences for later than they’re ready.
This overexposure-underexposure produces artificial maturity. It’s a new kind of fool’s gold. It looks so real because kids know so much, but it’s virtual because they have experienced so little.
This is the starting point of Elmore’s book, as he argues that today’s young adults have been denied the opportunities to truly develop their own personalities due to the perfect storm of spending too much time in the “virtual world” of technology, an increased dependency on prescription drugs, and being overprotected by their parents.
Elmore then summarizes four key areas to respond to this issue:
- Provide autonomy and responsibility simultaneously.
- Provide information and accountability simultaneously.
- Provide experiences to accompany their technology-savvy lifestyles.
- Provide community service opportunities to balance their self-service time.
These certainly make sense, and over the rest of the book Elmore offers a number of tips and techniques that can be used as interventions when working with these young adults. Every chapter is summarized in concise “Chapter In A Nutshell” segments. Elmore also provides “Talk It Over” suggestions, to encourage discussion over some of his suggestions, as well as real-life examples of “Exercises for Maturing Kids,” where various contributors offer their own stories and share what worked for them.
There is undoubtedly a lot of useful information in this book, and parents who are keen to see their children develop into “authentic” leaders may glean a great deal from Elmore’s wisdom. Many of the techniques and suggestions here could be applied to a variety of situations, rendering the book a potentially useful reference tool for those who regularly work with young people and are looking for a little help in how to control or guide them. Still, Elmore’s perspective is a narrow one.
One such example comes when he reminds us of the importance of using technology to involve young adults in activities and encourage them to work together. Unlike some social commentators, the author does not believe that Facebook, iPhones, and video games are the root of all evil; rather, that they are wonderful tools that need to be used appropriately and in the right measure. Elmore shares a story to illustrate this point:
“When faculty and staff at Conlee Elementary School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, started having students do five minutes of Just Dance (an active video game for Nintendo’s Wii) at the start of each new day, they noticed a trend: tardiness went down. Kids began getting to school on time. What’s more, they got some exercise every day playing the game. Students love it. Teachers love that they’re now engaged. Not a bad trade-off.”
This story may be true, but it’s also quite simplistic. Elmore doesn’t acknowledge the fact that enticing kids into school with a video game could in fact be seen as bribery, or indeed pandering to what the children want. And there are several occasions in the book where he suggests something that might seem to be simple common sense, but could equally be interpreted as patronizing, or condescending. He writes:
We all know that people need to find a career in an area of their personal strengths. When this happens, we come alive. We deepen our passion and tend to become the best versions of ourselves. I am suggesting, however, that before students take that plunge they may be served well to do something outside of that ‘fun’ area in order to build discipline:
- Waiting tables at a restaurant
- Inputting data in a computer program
- Washing and detailing cars
- Filing folders or shipping products
- Cleaning offices and restrooms
What Elmore is clearly saying here is that humility is important, and that we shouldn’t allow our young adults to become too self-serving or narcissistic, or to allow their egos to get out of control. This is obvious. But I’m not convinced that cleaning restrooms, washing cars, or waiting tables is a fundamentally worthwhile activity for anyone, no matter how much of a character-building exercise it might seem.
Furthermore, the author doesn’t look into some of the systemic problems that often prevent our young people from moving into the careers they desire, or the hurdles along their journeys toward trying to achieve their own goals and dreams. It’s easy to point the finger at “Generation iY” and blame them for all of their flaws and foibles, but what about the society that puts them in that situation in the first place?
“This is actually a book of hope. I love kids,” Elmore says in his introduction. But much of the book comes across as being genuinely skeptical about the ability of young adults to make informed decisions of their own, and can as a result seem rather pessimistic and cynical. Headings such as “What the Next Generation Needs Most” left me feeling uncomfortable, almost as though Elmore were trying to dictate a cure-all panacea for everyone to follow, without pausing to think about what young people’s wishes might be, or whether he might have his own agenda.
The book does have plenty of commonsense tips and techniques, plus a large helping of real-life experience and information that could be put to use when working with young adults.
But I was ultimately left feeling that the world would be a much duller, less vibrant place if every child were raised to become the kind of carbon copy “authentic adult” Elmore has in mind. I have faith that the children of today can become the successful and independent young adults of tomorrow. But I believe they can get there of their own accord, using their own unique skills and abilities — and that they’ll be able to do it without cleaning toilets.
Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Becoming Authentic Adults
Hardback, 272 pages