Kids These Days....

apparently-today-theyre-youth-239.siAdmit it: If you’re over 25 years old, you've uttered the phrase “kids these days” and begun worrying about what our future generation holds. The Greatest Generation said it about the Baby Boomers, the Baby Boomers said it about Generation X, and now my Generation X is starting to say it about teenagers. But should we be so concerned? Prior to working in the financial industry, I was a military instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy teaching an ethics and character development seminar to the seniors as they prepared to enter the Navy and Marine Corps. The goal was to prepare them for the myriad leadership, ethical, and other challenges they would face as young, inexperienced officers. It was a final test after four years of leadership development to see if the soon-to-be graduates were ready to face such daunting challenges. After each seminar that I taught (over 100) I came away with the feeling that yes, this next generation is ready to face its share of challenges.

Recently I’ve been working with my alma mater, Greensboro Day School, as they develop the same type of ethical development program for their middle school and high school students. I am honored to be included in their discussions and hope that my experience in this field can be of benefit to their students.

Just last week, I met with 10 GDS high school students and lead them through an ethical dilemma case study. First, they read an ethical dilemma on Truth vs. Loyalty, and if one is more important than the other. Students identified and shared their initial reactions and the various dilemmas they noticed in the case study. Students immediately made connections to the dilemma with the GDS Honor Code and identified the values that were in conflict. They identified possible consequences and differentiated between the many perspectives to consider in the dilemma. Repercussions of both telling the truth and being loyal to a friend were considered. Students readily agreed that the dilemma of Truth vs. Loyalty is probably one of the most common dilemmas adolescents face.

The goal of the discussion was not to “get to the solution.” The goal was to identify all of the possible options in dealing with an ethical dilemma and weighing the pros and cons of each decision. The students’ ability to consider more than their own needs, to place a high value on their own morals, and factor in the schools’ Honor Code were immediately noticeable. I quickly realized one thing: these kids get it. They’re smart, they want to abide by honor codes and principles, and they want to do the right thing even when it may be extremely difficult to do so. Teenagers may not always make the best decisions, but with a solid foundation, they will certainly try to make the right decisions.

I came away from an afternoon with a group of high school students feeling energized and excited about this progress. The case study and discussion far exceeded our expectations for what we hoped the students would learn. They seemed excited to tell their friends and family about it, and they can’t wait for other students to have the same experience. Furthermore, they instilled a sense of trust in me that our future generations are just as capable and intelligent as the ones before them. It allowed me to delay uttering the phrase “kids these days” just a little bit longer. If you are still concerned about today’s teenagers, spend some time with them. Volunteer, coach, teach. Whatever you choose, I think you will come away impressed as well.