Sociology professor Tony Campolo said, “I am convinced we don’t live in a generation of bad kids. We live in a generation of kids who know too much too soon.” That shifts the conversation from attitudes about a generation of immature, narcissistic, and spoiled young adults to one of emotional intelligence.
(Note: To be fair, the youngest Millennials are 21 years old. The oldest 37 years old. For the most part, many of the oldest Millennials have matured and grown their emotional intelligence to very functional and productive levels. The working age group from 16 to 25 includes both Generation Z and Millennials. For now and for this article many managers and parents don’t differentiate between the two generations. So I referenced only Millennials although technically that’s not completely accurate.)
From an intellectual perspective, Millennials today have been exposed to so much more than Gen X and Baby Boomers at the same age. They’ve consumed information on everything from cyberspace to sexual techniques before they graduate from middle school. Everything is coming at them sooner.
On the other hand, many believe that emotional maturity is lacking. Some blame the “helicopters parents.” It’s like the butterfly grew up but couldn’t live outside the cocoon (or the parents’ basements!)
But there might be another reason – emotional intelligence.
During the teen years, the brain undergoes remarkable changes. The brain “prunes” itself allowing the kid brain to morph into an adult one. The frontal lobes, responsible for high level reasoning and decision making, don’t fully mature until the young adult reaches his early 20s. There is a portion of time when the child brain is suppressed but the adult one isn’t developed. These adolescents and young adults are informed but not prepared. They consume information intellectually but they aren’t completely ready to handle the experiences emotionally.
While a lack of emotional intelligence may not be unique to the younger Millennials and older Generation Z, unfettered access to unlimited information is new. That’s not a blanket excuse for bad parenting, bad educators, or bad attitudes that has produced some real slackers. Much of the 20 year bashing of Millennials was unjust as their behavior was just a function of their age…and low emotional intelligence. Fortunately a large and growing body of research demonstrates that emotional intelligence — the ability to reason with and about emotions — is correlated with positive outcomes in children beginning as early as preschool, as well as in adults, including business managers and leaders.
Since it is highly unlikely that the generation and access to new information will slow, the importance in increasing emotional intelligence as early as possible is growing. Emotional intelligence is a skill just like initiative, motivation, persistence, adaptability, and leadership so it can be taught. And the earlier Millennials and Generation Z can increase their emotional intelligence, the faster they will mature into productive adults and employable workers, because no one wants to hire emotionally immature employees.
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