Kids Today are...Givers?

        Stop me if you've heard it before.  "Kids today just don't get it."  "They're so entitled."  "They just don't care."  "Kids today have a 'Me First' Attitude, with their Snapchats, Instagrams, and Twitters."  Chances are, if you work in any sort of field that includes young people of any age, you've heard some variation of those statements before.  You've probably heard them more than once.  As an educator and coach, it bothers me.  Sometimes it bothers me because it can be true.  More often than not, however, it bothers me because the people saying these things are so incredibly negative about the very kids they are supposed to be working to help.  Oh yeah, and also the statements aren't factual.  So there is that too.  The view I'm talking about is incredibly pessimistic.  What I see, and have been guilty of in the past, is people making generalizations based on exceptions rather than the rule.  A couple students misbehaving somehow turns into, "Kids today just have no respect."  Ignored in this statement are the overwhelming majority of students who do what they are supposed to do on a daily basis.  This can create a very negative outlook and is a tough way to go about your days working with young people.  What's to come in this blog will hopefully provide a dose of objective optimism about "Kids today" and their attitudes towards others.

        A few months back, I read a book called Give and Take:  Why Helping Others Drives our Success by Adam Grant.  The book is outstanding.  If you're a regular reader of the blog, you have already read another piece where I relate the book to coaching.  Because this entry is targeted toward a broader audience, I'll run through the basics of the book again.  Give and Take is a book about how we treat others.  Grant splits people into three categories: Givers, Takers, and Matchers.  Givers are people who do things for others for the sake of helping them.  Think of people who may donate anonymously, do nice things without having to post them on their social media accounts, etc.  There is no expectation of anything in return.  Takers do the opposite.  They constantly look for what they can get from other people.  Every time they get in touch it is to ask if you can do something for them.  They look to advance themselves regardless of the cost to others.  Think Veruca Salt.  Matchers look to "match" in their interactions.  Doing something nice for another person comes with the expectation of a favor in the future.  Getting something done for them leads to a feeling of having to make up for it.  I'm reminded of an episode of The Office where Dwight tries to get Andy to owe him something, but Andy is too much of a Matcher to allow that to happen.  The book goes into much greater detail about the three categories of people and even breaks them into sub-categories, otherish behaviors, fakers, and much more.  Grant does a great job of providing plenty of examples that somehow left me feeling like I was clueless at some points before putting it all together by the end of the book.

         The book also points the reader to Adam Grant's website.  On the website is a fifteen question quiz where you read through scenarios and pick what you would do in the given scenario.  At the end of the quiz, you're shown a pie chart with what percentages your answers fit into the Giver, Taker, and Matcher categories.  A high school psychology class I teach went through the basics of the book and took the quiz as part of our unit on Personality recently.  Although the quiz had it's benefits, it was clearly targeted towards adults.  There is no teenager version.  Because of this, we decided to create one.  Students were paired up and assigned a question on the quiz to redesign.  They took the scenarios from Grant's quiz and created similar scenarios targeted at high schoolers.  A reference letter became a letter of recommendation, tasks at work involving others became group projects in class, and ideas for business slogans became ideas for Grandpa's 80th birthday gift.  Each pair presented the question to the class and discussed their thought process in changing the question.  Other students gave feedback, made adjustments until they felt comfortable with the result, and we had one student type up the new questions.  In the end, the class generated their own Give and Take Quiz for Teenagers.

        Upon completion of the quiz, we sent it out through Twitter and email to students and teachers from our school.  We got 144 responses.  The results were a bit surprising and speak towards the topic of this blog entry.  The representative "Kids Today" were overwhelmingly Givers.  In fact, 69% of those who took the quiz were majority Givers.  In comparison, only 15% were Matchers, and 5% were classified as Takers.  Thirteen of the students who took the quiz scored some combination where multiple categories were equal (11%).  The results surprised me a little bit, but should they?  Kids today are much more aware of what goes on in the world today than those of us who spent either all or the large majority of our childhood without the internet.  The same technology we moan and groan about for its negative effects has allowed students the opportunity to "see" the world and understand how lucky they may be to grow up where they have.  They also haven't become pessimistic adults yet full of regret and scorn for opportunities squandered.  In their mind, and rightfully so, they still have an opportunity to make a difference in the world.  I'm not sure if those are the reasons for our results, but I think both could be a factor.  Regardless, the data says "Kids Today" are Givers.

        Was our assessment flawless?  Certainly not.  Nobody was there to administer the quiz or to ensure students didn't just click random answers.  Only about 7% of our school's population took it so it can hardly be considered representative of the entire teenage population.  144 students is probably more than the number of negative exemplars you could give though.  The pessimists may point to how teenagers aren't self-aware or honest enough to score themselves accurately.  There is probably some truth to that viewpoint.  The adolescent experience is one of great transition and self-searching.  What we would like to be versus what we are may leave a disconnect.  That is really no difference from the adults who take Grant's assessment though.  Something we plan on doing is having students fill out the assessment for other people, as Grant also does in the official quiz, and compare the results.  Maybe that will yield different answers, or maybe it won't.  Maybe, just maybe, kids today are a little better off than we want to give them credit for.  Maybe they care for others and are selfless in their actions.  Maybe if we stop preaching to them on our digital soap boxes about how horrible they are and start listening they might have something to offer.  Maybe the world will actually be a better place when they're running things instead of this Apocalyptic-world the naysayers see in their crystal balls.  Maybe.


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