Before every mentoring session I meditate. My goal is to release all my pre-conceived notions around what my young adult mentee ought to think or do.
This is important because each session needs to center around identifying the client’s issues in their own words, and then helping the client find their own solution. It is about the client, not about my personal constructs.
This is hard to do. I know that, because I am watching many of my generation fail to do this when speaking with their young adult children. Because when we see them with their eyes glued to their phone, we are not wondering whether what they are watching might be interesting, creative or educational. No, our minds are racing to think of ways to get them to STOP, just stop what they are doing. And there is a plethora of scientific evidence to support us in wanting them to stop for their own health.
But in so doing, we are perpetuating the age-old phenomenon of the generation gap. We are saying this time it is different, and that is why we cannot empathize. But our parents said that, too. It really is no different this time.
It is another world they are growing up and living in, sure. But ours was different from our parents world, too. In fact, we had everything in common in our youth with today’s youth. For example, we did not connect with our parents regarding the music we listened to, how we danced to that music, what we did in our leisure time, and what we found fun, creative and interesting.
And now, almost all of my (age-wise) peers are lamenting over some version of the following examples: “the musical artist is gone, dance today is not really dance , I feel sorry for my kids because they don’t enjoy what is truly enjoyable, kids today have no ambition...”
Some even say that kids today have nothing to fight for.
Well, millions of students marched today in the U.S. in an impactful protest of gun violence in that country. With moving speeches and purposeful moments of silence they made a stand against the gun lobby and its corruption of politicians. Many believe that their efforts mark the beginning of more than just change; that it is the beginning of a revolution.
The gap exists not because our kids are different. It is there because we - just like our parents - are failing to empathize. And we are failing because, like our parents were, we are afraid of change. And hence, once again, it is our problem, the elder’s problem, not theirs.
The only thing that is different now, is that change is so fast, the term “generation gap” itself is no longer accurate. Now, twenty-somethings are already marveling over the difference in their childhood culture as compared to the current experiences of pre-teens.
Our children, mentees, and younger friends are in need of support – just like we were and still are. But their challenge is NOT to put down their iPhones and live like we did. Their challenge is to navigate their world - virtual and real - to the best of their ability. Their challenge is to understand that they are furthermore capable - and responsible for - molding their future. And in order to do this, they need to continue to learn and indulge in everything that their world has to offer.
So, we need to stop telling them to stop.
We are the ones who need to START learning, participating, and partaking in their world; first and foremost because it is our world, too.
The problem – and hence the solution – lies squarely with the older generation. We must overcome our fearful resistance to change. We must get curious again.
Only then can we understand what exactly lights their fire, why, how we can relate, and how we can help.