This is primarily intended for baby boomer generation teachers and coaches but can hopefully be helpful to all. Self-disclosure - I am a baby boomer. How often do you hear teachers and coaches say "kids today are different"? Teachers and coaches have always been saying that because every generation IS different. That doesn't mean they are better or worse, it means what it says it means, i.e. each generation is different. But as leaders, we always translate that into "our generation did things better". There are plusses and minuses to every generation and how they did things, but the important thing is to try to understand how this generation is different so we don't all become old "fuddy-duddies" in our teaching and coaching.
Some things about this generation are obvious. As an example, they are certainly more advanced technologically than any other generation. Their parents are, more often than not, too involved in their athletic and academic careers at the scholastic level and at the collegiate level (see my blog on Advice to Parents of Athletes). But some other things are not so obvious and are more important to understand. Let me share a couple of thoughts and observations and you apply them to your situation.
I like to read about history, especially biographies to find some insight into why yesterday's leaders thought and acted the way they did. In my readings, I have often come across the phrase "they had to grow up quicker than they should have had to" when describing the children of World War II vets. So many families were left without fathers as their dads went to war or unfortunately met their ultimate fate in that war. Many children had to grow up fast because they were thrust into situations of responsibility that required them to think and act more like adults. Then we baby boomer children came along and we grew up during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Perhaps we didn't have to accept responsibility like the WWII children did, but we knew there were more important things in the world when we were growing up than how many points we scored or what letter grade we got in a class. I can remember when I was about 12, my older brother was of the age that he went through the draft that our military had at that time. I can vividly remember the fear that my parents had that night and the palpable relief and thankfulness they had when my brother's number was called very late, thus meaning he did not get drafted. I also remember the riots and other struggles during the Civil Rights Movement and it seemed clear even at a young age that there were more important things than whether I struck out or not or made that free throw or not. Don't get me wrong, those things were very important to me, but I do believe I somehow had a sense, maybe conveyed to me through my parents, that there were so many other things far more important than my athletic achievements or my GPA.
Fast forward to today's youth and I'm not sure they have that same sense. In so many ways compared to the children of WWII era vets, our children's lives are so much easier. Technology has made all of our lives easier and while today's youth have had societal challenges like every generation has had, I do think their lives to date have been filled with more peace time than any generation before them (and that's a good thing)! That's probably debatable given the fighting that has gone on in the Middle East, but my sense is that today's generation feels more than others that those wars are so distant that they don't impact them like previous wars impacted us. I also think that most kids today have not had to get an actual job before college like it seemed every kid did in previous generations. So one conclusion one could make about the current generation could be that they have not had to "grow up quicker than they should have" but rather that they "grow up later" today than ever before. Some examples of this can be seen in couples getting married later, having children later, starting careers later, etc. Again, neither is right nor wrong. But as educators we must understand it is different and adjust accordingly. One area I believe this is being manifested is in the increase of mental and emotional issues kids today seem to be having. More kids today are having issues with depression and anxiety. They struggle with coping with problems more than ever before. I recall having high anxiety as well when I was their age but again, somehow I had a sense that my athletic performance and letter grades I achieved were really insignificant in the big picture of things. And they truly are.
So how do we as teachers and coaches lead today's youth? A couple of things seem to me to be very important for us to understand. One is that we need to acknowledge that they haven't had to mature as quickly in coping with problems as other generations have had to and be looking for signs that kids are struggling with mental and/or emotional issues. We should not hesitate to have them seek counseling. We must eliminate the stigma of getting kids help with their mental and/or emotional issues. If they turn their ankle, we send them to the trainer. We must look at mental and emotional issues in the same vein, i.e. send them to a professional (counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist) who knows best how to deal with these issues. We must also realize it is ok for them to be on medication for these issues if their doctor says so. We think nothing of taking medication for issues below the neck, so we also must understand that in today's world with all of the advances that we have made with medicines, that it is ok to take medications for above the neck also. And lastly, I think all of us adults need to back off of children at a young age with the constant pressures we put on them to succeed at everything, whether it be sports or academics. One train of thought for this is that the high cost of college today tends to make parents push their children more than they should so they can obtain a scholarship, academic or athletic. No question the financial pressures of the high cost of college cause pressures all the way down to today's youth. Then peer pressure among parents makes this worse, which eventually trickles down to the kids. We as teachers and coaches need to understand this and sometimes we need to take action to take pressure off of today's kids. Sixty and fifty years ago, I think coaches could be really tough on kids because they could handle it better. Today they don't handle pressure as well. Again, that doesn't make them better or worse, it is just different and we need to educate accordingly.
Maybe I am getting old, but it seems far too much emphasis has been placed on their letter grades or their athletic output instead of on them reaching their full potential. I would suggest that we need to get them focused on improving and let the growth and development proceed. Sure we all want to expedite their growth and development as students and as athletes, but we are probably defeating the purpose in many cases by adding pressure on them to succeed. In today's world , we might get better results in many cases if we keep the focus on the process, i.e. keep the focus on improving, and take the focus off of the results. Some food for thought.