Guest Post by Kelly Silay
I am a planner. I love a detailed “to-do” list and my functionality for the day depends on the organization of my calendar. Organization is a strength of mine that has led me to be a planner through and through. I am also, however, a dreamer. My plans are often interrupted by inspiring news stories, video clips, emails, conversations overheard on public transportation, and the like. I am taken off schedule by these simple diversions and thrown into daydreams glittered with possibility and opportunity.
Inspired by the Pluralist Generation
Most recently, I was stirred by a video a friend sent me of Asean Johnson, a 9-year-old student in the Chicago Public School system. About 10 seconds into the video, Asean steps onto a platform to reach a microphone in front of a crowd protesting the school closures in Chicago. For the next three minutes, Asean delivers an eloquent and improvised speech that not only captivated the enormous crowd, but over 200,000 Internet viewers from around the world.
Featured image courtesy of The Video Catalyst Project.
After this powerful three minutes, my mind raced with possibility. While I could not dream up a solution aimed at avoiding school closures, I started to dream of what the world could be like with leaders like Asean. Current leadership dialogue focuses on the Millennial generation and rightfully so. We are the generation being shaped by higher education. We are the generation entering the workforce. We are the generation with the most clout here and now. But what about tomorrow?
Inspiring children like Asean Johnson and Robby Novak – aka “Kid President” who swept the nation with his YouTube “Pep Talk” – must be a part of our leadership conversations today in order to plan for the future we dream of. Currently, this generation lacks an agreed upon title which can serve as a catalyst for in-depth research and public dialogue about these youngsters. An interactive article from USA Today opened naming this generation to readers with a poll featuring ten different names; the name “iGeneration” is currently in the lead.
The Pluralist Generation
While “iGen” is a favorite of USA Today readers, Magid Generational Strategies – part of the research-based consulting firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc. – has produced one of the few leading documents on this generation which they refer to as the “Pluralist Generation.” The “Plurals” are defined as children born after 1997. This document estimates that there are approximately 68 million Plurals who are being shaped by an increasingly diverse society, large economic downturn, changes in media and information delivery, blurred gender roles, and Gen X parenting.
This document provides a solid foundation for cultivating the next generation; however, it is only a start. We must plan the next step in uncovering this generation which should start with an examination of the characteristics Magid has missed, but other sources – such as the YouTube video of Asean – highlight. These characteristics include honesty, passion, fearlessness, empathy, and whimsicalness. We must plan to cultivate such characteristics in these children. Imagine if we had done so for previous generations. Imagine if we had planned to develop Millennial leaders when they were 9-years-old versus when they were entering the workforce. We can only dream of the possibilities that could have been accomplished if we started planning then for now.
Planning and Dreaming for the Next Generation
Planning our dreams for the next generation may seem like a daunting task; however, we can begin dreaming up strategies today to prepare us for tomorrow. Now is the time to brush up on our understanding of child development and uncover best practices in working with children and youth by utilizing current research. (A favorite resource of mine is the National Association for the Education of Young Children.)
We can even use strategies that are closer to home by changing the ways we interact with our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbors, and other important youngsters in our lives. We can start by really listening to them, really talking with them, and really taking them seriously. We can show them respect, give them dignity, and provide them support. We can both learn from them and teach them. We can help them experience and understand by sharing stories – our stories and the world’s stories. We must plan to go beyond the bedtime story today so the next generation of young leaders can write the story of our dreams tomorrow.
Kelly Silay is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in social work at Loyola University Chicago. Her course work and research focus on children and social justice. This passion developed when Kelly served as an AmeriCorps member for Jumpstart, an organization focused on empowering young children in low-income neighborhoods. Kelly plans to continue working with the next generation by focusing her professional work on children in underserved communities in Chicago. You can connect with Kelly via email or LinkedIn.
Join the Conversation
The Pluralist Generation: Going Beyond the Bedtime Story
This was an excellent post, indeed.
Thanks for writing about the Pluralist Generation. I wasn’t familar of this term before so thank you for explaining it.
I just loved your vision of reaching out to this generation. It reminded me of a nephew of mine. He is 10. He and I really get on. When I talk with him, I treat him like an adult and he responds in a really mature way and imparts great knowledge for someone his age. I learn a lot from him.
Thank you for your comment, Hiten! I am so glad to hear about the relationship you have with your nephew. We really can learn so much from our youth and it is refreshing to hear that others not only feel the same way, but are actually doing it. In the post, I referred to Magid Generational Strategies. I recently spoke with an employee of that company and she told me they have more, in-depth information coming out in the near future related to the Plurals. Magid would be a great resource to check in with if you’d like more information on the next generation. They’re website for this information is http://www.magid.com/plurals. Thank you again for your comment and thank you for reading!
Thank you, Kelly, for making such a good case for listening and engaging our youth, instead of trying to mold them according to our expectations. We’ve been doing that over and over again through generations, only to have people grow into adulthood frustrated and lost about who they really are and how to activate their true power to serve. As we look to nurturing future leadership among our youth, getting out of our own way is the very first step to support our young leaders to be their best–without the benefit of our “we know better.” Thanks!
Thank you for your comment, Dr. Chan! I completely agree with your thoughts and ideas. In social work, we often refer to the “we know best” mentality as adultcentrism. Research on this concept really can alert adults to the ways in which we interact with children that are guided by our biases. There are some ways I didn’t even realize were biased until I explored this concept more. Truly allowing children and youth to take the lead requires a lot from adults that is deeply rooted in our beliefs, but research and experience show it is possible. Putting children and youth at the center can not only benefit them, but adults and the greater good. Thank you again for your comment and thank you for reading!
Hi Kelly, thanks for sharing this relevant post. One of the most relevant points for me is taking the next generation seriously. In my own life I’m trying to put this in practice with son by allowing him to think creatively, use his imagination, and encourage him to do it more. As you said leadership development should start at an earlier age, but in my experience I was never given that option. Hopefully we can change that trend. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for your comment, Luke! I agree that opportunities are not readily available, and have not been in the past as well, for children to develop the skills we often associate with leadership. Allowing your child and all children the opportunity to explore the world through creativity, imagination, and encouragement is a great and simple place to start cultivating leadership. One way to do this is through play. Through play we can allow our children to make mistakes and learn from them, learn how to make decisions that affect themselves and others, solve problems, and accomplish so much more… all while having fun! Hopefully through awareness and education, we can help others understand that it doesn’t take much to help cultivate future leaders and it is critical to do so. Thanks again for your comment and best to you, your son, and family!