Where Do We Focus When It Comes to Student Development?


When we consider the lack of maturity in our high school students today, it seems overwhelming. Where do we begin the process of equipping them for adulthood?

I spoke to the school administrators in a large school district this past week, and had a principal ask an interesting question during the break: 

“When we consider the lack of maturity in our high school students today, it seems overwhelming. Where do we begin the process of equipping them for adulthood?”

What a great question. There are hundreds of issues that parents, teachers, coaches, mentors and youth workers could focus on, in an attempt to prepare them for college and career. But may I offer a suggestion?

Start with their emotions.

That’s right. I believe the arena we must first address is the emotional maturation of our young people. Let me explain. When educators measure the growth of students, they generally evaluate four categories:

  1. Cognitive growth
  2. Biological growth
  3. Social growth
  4. Emotional growth

It appears to me that kids today are advanced in the first three categories: their minds contain so much data; they’ve matured physically and enter puberty faster than former generations; they are socially connected more so than ever before. But emotionally—it appears they have fallen woefully short. It’s a weakness. They get stressed easier; they do not rebound from failure quickly; and don’t handle criticism from superiors well at all. This have been verified nationwide among adolescents. We have failed to get them ready emotionally.

Further, when you study where graduates fall short in job interviews or on the job, it almost always surrounds some issue of emotional immaturity:

  • Lack of resilience
  • Poor emotional intelligence
  • Bad work ethic
  • Low empathy
  • Lack of ambition
  • Absent soft skills
  • Fragile demeanor

These are not issues of intelligence. They are emotional issues. They have more to do with attitude than aptitude. Emotional intelligence continues to be a glaring weakness in Generation iY when I talk to HR executives. Empathy continues to decline at 5% per year in teens and twenty-somethings nationwide. Ambition, work ethic and soft skills are so absent that some companies are hiring special trainers to come in and prepare their youngest employees just to interact face to face and work alongside someone who’s not your BFF. This is not an IQ issue—but an EQ issue. And EQ is a greater predictor of success in life than IQ. I don’t know of any employer who is asking young job candidates about their GPA. I do know they are asking questions about their communication skills, soft skills and their leadership skills.

Let me recommend three books that can help you help students in this area:

  1. Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman
  2. Leadership and Self-Deception – The Arbinger Institute
  3. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 – Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves

May you prepare your students to be emotionally ready for their future.

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