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Aftershock: Responding to the Shifts of Generation iY -- An Interview with Dr. Tim Elmore

August 31st, 2010

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Tim Elmore / Growing Leaders, Inc. / Copyright 2010 / Atlanta, GA /


In August 2010, Dr. Tim Elmore’s latest book -- a two-year project -- was released. It’s called, Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future. It represents a peak into the future with predictions for what could happen if we don’t rethink the way we lead today’s emerging generation of kids he calls: Generation iY.

Tim, much has been written on Generation Y. What makes this book different?
This book is about the second half of Gen Y, the population born since 1990. They’re huge and they are different than their earlier counterparts. I call these new students Generation iY due to impact of the i World -- they’ve grown up online. Their world has been shaped by iTunes, iMacs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads. For many of them, life is pretty much about “I.” Narcissism is up measurably. Empathy is down measurably. The book, however, is not another chance to whine about kids today. It’s quite the opposite. It’s a book offering a plan to re-think how we raise, lead and minister to this emerging generation. I worked to make it research based and solution biased.

Why did you write this book? What drove you?
Although I believe in these students, I am concerned. In Chapter One, I peer into the future. It contains a letter from a dad to his son in the year 2030. He regrets how he failed to mentor his son who was born in 1992. Now, it’s a bit too late. The kids are now adults, dependent on meds to get by; committing only to five-year marriage contracts, and depressed that the world is nothing like the one they grew up in.

Three metaphors sum up our challenge:

1. Aftershock: We’ve experienced an aftershock following the cultural quake of the 1980s that changed parenting, educational and leadership styles.

2. Atrophy: Like muscular atrophy, adults will need to create ways for kids to develop spiritual and emotional “muscles” that are unused due to technology. 

3. Neverland: Like Peter Pan, these kids refuse to grow up. College deans are telling me 26 is the new 18. Kids graduate, but adulthood is ambushing them.

Perhaps this is the greatest problem. We have a postponed generation, they’ve experienced prolonged adolescence, and they’re often unready for the challenges of work and service. Adults have spent more time protecting them than preparing them. We have prepared the path for the child, instead of the child for the path. So, I’m a bit frightened about the year 2030. As Baby Boomers retire, 45% of the workforce will exit in the next 15 years. Even if every Gen Xer is a brilliant leader, there won’t be enough of them to assume the vacant leadership roles. Ready or not, these kids will be leading the way.

How has their adolescence and young adulthood been different?
I speak to about 50,000 students and staff each year. In my estimation, four words summarize Generation iY:

1. Overwhelmed -- One study reports 94% of college students say they are overwhelmed; 44% are so overwhelmed it’s almost impossible to function.  

2. Over-connected -- These students sleep with their cell phones on. They are connected 24/7. Some say their cell phone is an “appendage” to their body.

3. Over-protected -- Parents are committed to high self-esteem for the kids. Sadly, kids become disillusioned graduating into a world that doesn’t care.    

4. Overserved -- According to a longitudinal study, this generation has the highest rate of narcissistic tendencies of any in modern history.

But so many students seem advanced and hungry to change the world. Do you see this?
Absolutely. This generation is, indeed, predisposed to believe they will change the world. Many are actually acting on that desire. At the same time, long-term commitment is foreign to most, especially when the glamour of the “mission trip” is over. This is what makes them a “Generation of Paradox.” They experience contradictory characteristics, and often become fuzzy as to how to deal with those contradictions. For instance, they are sheltered, yet pressured. They are self-absorbed, yet generous. They are social, yet isolated by technology. What’s more --they are advanced in so many ways, yet delayed in their maturation. These kids may know how to download software at eight-years-old, but not be able to look an adult in the eye and greet them at 16. What adults must do is become mentors who help them capitalize on their strengths, and develop their “atrophied” spiritual, emotional and relational muscles so they don’t sabotage their ministry or career along the way.

How can the church respond?
Outside of helping them cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ, we, the Body of Christ, must focus on building three elements in their lives:

1.Emotional intelligence
2. Robust character
3. Leadership perspective

If we will help them develop these elements, they may just be the generation that finishes the work of Christ on the earth. However, this will take sacrifice on our part. Most of the problems in Generation iY occur because of one of two extremes they’ve experienced: Abandonment or abundance. Adults have either been absent or they have provided far too much for these young people.

I believe Generation iY needs adults who are both responsive and demanding. Responsive means we offer grace, understanding and support as they grow. Demanding means we hold them to high standards that match who they are. Often, they get one without the other. Kids today are under-challenged. In a responsive environment, we must equip them to be the best version of themselves, the version God had in mind from the beginning of time. And in the book, I do my best to layout a plan to accomplish just that.



Tim Elmore / Growing Leaders, Inc. / Copyright 2010 / Atlanta, GA /

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