Three Balancing Acts to Perform with Today’s Young Students


Dr. Tim Elmore suggests three balancing acts effective leaders must perform to guide today’s student into a healthy future.

You’ve probably noticed the new breed of students today, who bring with them new and different issues we leaders must face. Research is beginning to show that today’s teens look at money, social media, gender issues, family and careers differently than twenty-somethings do. They’re much more “out of the box” than older Millennials, and not afraid to acknowledge their differences.

Meet Carson

I met Carson recently. He turns 15 years old this year and is a classic case study. He entered his freshman year of high school a bit nervous but had already developed a style that was scrappy and independent. He plans to “hack” his way through his teen years. He games for 2-3 hours a day and surfs the web even more. He’s truly a “screenager.” When I asked him what he imagines doing for a career, he told me he’d been scoping out jobs in the Silicon Valley that would allow him to create digital games for a living. He would love nothing more than to continue his hobbies and get paid for it. He plans to do his post-secondary education online so he can stay close to home (maybe even at home). When I inquired if he had a girlfriend, he said he did—but added that they haven’t met in person. They met online. They text, Instagram and Snapchat a lot, but they attend different schools. He’s met several friends through a screen, playing games or interacting via social media. Several are global friendships. He later explained he doesn’t want to meet them in person because he feels safer in a relationship that he can start or stop on a screen. He can walk away at any moment. While his life is drastically different than mine at 15 years old, he’s found a way to hack his way through life so far. It seems to be working for him.

Three Big Balancing Acts

Most of us don’t get to choose the students we lead and serve. They’re like family—we inherit them. If you’re a leader, you understand that your job can be compared to performing a “balancing act.” (For example, you must constantly balance the organization’s goals with the personal welfare of your team members.)

I have noticed high school and college students are now pushing back on the kind of unhealthy leadership we educators and parents have offered up till now. In response, let me suggest three balancing acts effective leaders must perform to connect with and guide today’s student into a healthy future.

We Must Balance:

  • Being organized while being organic.

There is little doubt that the key to making progress with students requires organizing our efforts; planning and organization are a must. At the same time, our work with students must feel organic; it cannot be too packaged, but must come across real and authentic. Too often, Millennials avoid our plans because Baby Boomers have over-programmed them. And it’s often about meetings and mere words. Blah.

Question: The next time you plan an event or program for students, how could you involve them in the process to keep the program relevant? What’s more, how could you insure the execution comes across simple and real?

  • Embracing the real and the ideal.

Many educators and youth staff mourn the issues kids face today: suicide, mental health problems, addictions, gender confusion, etc. Our job as leaders is to continue to hold up the “ideal” for what they can become, and not lose sight of their potential. Simultaneously, we must embrace the messy reality they face today. Some kids will push you to abandon the ideal. Some adults will push you to ignore the real.

Question: When you communicate with your students, how can you relay that you are aware of the difficult realities they face (that your head is not in the sand), but also relay the noble ideals you believe they are capable of growing into as adults?

  • Celebrating diversity and harmony.

As we create resources and events for students, I’m reminded of the diversity of ideology and backgrounds kids possess today. They experience ethnic diversity, cultural diversity, values, philosophy, and passion diversity. We must somehow allow for these differences, yet foster harmony on what we all have in common. In the midst of everything that kids offer, we must enable them to see the value of collaborating on something bigger than any one of them.

Question: How can you communicate that you welcome the uniqueness of each student, while calling them to work in collaboration and harmony toward a common goal?

Are You Ready for This?

I don’t know what kind of students you lead and serve, but I believe we’re about to encounter a new batch of issues that are “firsts” for many of us. Are you ready?


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