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:
- “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.
- “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.
- “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."
- “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.
- “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.
- “It’s impossible for most kids to spend much time with any one thing, including their
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.
- “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.
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?