I recently received four weeks of leadership training through my employer and as a part of that training the topic of "generational differences" was spoken of quite often. There seems to be a lot of research out there to study and understand the various generations living today. Topics such as what their cares and concerns are, what they like and dislike, how they view family, work and the use of time and money are frequently studied. Here's a couple of thoughts I've had through all this.
In terms of the current research, generations can't really be defined as a finite number of years, but seem to be categorized by peer influences or trends over time. In other words, generations seem to be shaped by age segregated groups' experiences and activities and the way societal trends focus or market to those age groups. That seems to be the driving force behind the current definition of what a generation actually is.....
The peer influencing of a group to the point where an identity is reached by that shared influence or by the shared experience of that group within an event or in reaction to one (i.e. WWII, JFK assassination, Vietnam, Columbine, and 9/11).
It's interesting that many researchers group the "Traditionals" as those born 1901-1942-5. A huge 45 year group. Why did they last so long? Were the Traditionals in many ways living off of the bank deposit of values of their parents and grandparents before them? Though not perfect by any stretch of imagination, I think that group known as "Traditionals" were given the last widespread model of at least a semi-biblical parental discipleship. By contrast, Baby Boomers run from 1945-1960, only 15 years. Gen X'ers 1961-1981, Millenials 1982-2002 and the current "Z" Generation 2003 till who knows when. I can't help but see this largely as a function of age segregation in education, church life, social life, etc.
Why is it that specific age groups across great distances share similar character traits, habits, desires, etc. and how does that differ from the larger time span known as the "traditional" generation? I think it's because age groups in the last 50-60 years are generally segregated and then institutionalized in our culture. That fact combined along with the failure of parents to disciple their children creates a dark chasm of debased existence within our borders.
In short, age segregation is responsible for the creation of a dysfunctional human existence within the family and church.
This age segregation allows for the real possibility that children and adults can be completely "socialized" by the greater culture in which they live instead of through parental discipleship and be void of any firm foundational understanding of truth of the world around them. A constantly changing target emerges which differs from group to group. This slippery slope of age segregation leads to the isolation of an individual's perspective to one that only looks outward from within the confines of their age group and excludes the lessons that can and should be learned from previous generations. It excludes any meaningful exchange of information and ideas between age groups and instead pits them against one another across fabricated social barriers. "What's wrong with this new generation? They just don't get it." "Why don't the young people today show any respect for others?" Just a couple questions you might hear from an older person about a younger age group. This is very dangerous as we see the negative impact all around us today.
The "generations" are largely defined within short spans of time because the age segregated and institutionalized culture then clusters around societal influences and events and shares similar reactions, feelings, and experiences to them. The result: each 10-15 years you get groups of people believing, behaving and reacting differently. Predominantly because nobody taught them under the conviction of any real authority and they learned their "feelings, thoughts and opinions" from the world around them within their age group. This effect is most easily seen within the public and private educational system. For example, for the baby boomers, I believe most children started out in life under a set of moral standards largely based on the laws of God and the precepts taught in the Holy Bible. Most of them started out believing and trusting their parents. They attended school and over a short span of time, many of them began to be presented with information that led them to question the world around them as defined by their parents and the foundational truths they may have been taught. Eventually each child then as well as everyone since has and will stand at a crossroad: They will either embrace their parent's point of view or what they are being taught in school. You may say, "Of course, what other way is there?" And that is exactly the problem. As a culture parents have largely abdicated their roles as teachers and disciplers of their children and given them over to the government to complete that role. The government was never given and will never have that authority within its role. The Bible tells us that it is parents who must teach their children and that they must be "brought up" in the admonition of the Lord. That's hard to do when the parent is working 40+ hours per week and junior is away under the influence of the government school for at least that long or longer. Add in after school activities and sports and there is precious little time for parents to interact with their children with much less to teach and guide them. When this happens you end up with "socialized" children by others within their age group as that is who they are with during the majority of their time.
Speaking of socialization, do you also get the "socialization" question?
I must admit, as a homeschool dad, when I get asked about socialization my response has not always been filled with the grace and love of Jesus Christ. My typical response has been to assert some quick and catchy phrase that shuts down the question and the questioner instead of seizing the moment to elaborate fully on the topic and ultimately share the Gospel through my answer and to help them understand that God has left nothing to chance and that His Word is relevant and sufficient for every aspect of their lives. I should proudly proclaim that this is the walk along, talk along form of discipleship for our children that leads to their socialization and by God's grace, their salvation. What people are really questioning when they ask, is the type of socialization that we choose.
Sometimes I find advocates for the socialization question in the least expected places. I'm currently reading a law enforcement leadership book by Jack E. Enter, Ph.D., "Challenging the Law Enforcement Organization: Proactive Leadership Strategies". In Chapter One of his book, Enter looks at external forces and influences on law enforcement and asks the question, "How well are social institutions fulfilling their role in American culture?" First of all, in a secular book, that question stands out like a sore thumb. In fact, Enter is very aware of this when he writes "I warn those who are strongly politically correct that they may not enjoy the next section of this discussion." He goes on to write, "there is limited socialization and adult modeling among U.S. families. Parents generally love their children, but many do not attend to their children's instruction, discipline, or skill development." Wow! Now there's a statement that is sure to produce a response. It gets even more pointed.
"Even in two-parent families, both mother and father have increasingly become involved in their own careers (which often exceed the stereotypical forty hours a week), and they are emotionally exhausted when they get home. These parents will buy their children what they want, sign them up for karate classes and soccer, but will generally not take the time to engage (spend time, communicate, and become involved with) or to make sure these children are learning the necessary skills to excel in this culture. Disciplining and training children to control their anger, exercise self-control, and master other critical skills have been replaced with a focus on entertainment and material bribery, not on accountability."
It sounds a lot like Dr. Enter is saying, parents need to spend less time working and more time in the life of their child to prepare them for life. This concept is poison to the ears of our culture. It's salt in the wounds of a failing secular and humanistic culture that demands egalitarianism and rages against the mere mention of the laws of God. Dr. Enter is advocating a homeschool approach to education and socialization, perhaps without knowing it or intending to do so.
Without question this is an indictment on the American family and it supports my point that as a society we are segregating our children into a dysfunctional existence that ultimately fails them as adults and prevents them from reaching the potential God desires for them. It is an evidence from the outside that the obvious cannot be ignored forever and confirms the voice of many in the homeschool community: The socialization of our children is largely accomplished by the time that we invest in their lives while teaching, guiding and admonishing them in the ways of the Lord. This, I believe, is a superior model of education and socialization to the alternative, the government school. Not because I say so, but because it's the model commanded of me by God. My tendency will be to react to that tired old socialization question armed with this and other similar evidences that are cropping up in the secular research world. But do we really need such evidences and confirmations? No we don't. Here are the affirmations and confirmations on which we should hang our socialization hats and the message that we should proclaim at every opportunity:
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you. Exodus 20:12
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners; nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:1-2
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:6-9
Do you see how this is all related? That the generations we speak of today are really just similarly socialized age groups.
I wonder how different the study of generations would look if we as a culture maintained a more age-integrated approach through parental discipleship, mentorship, apprenticeship, etc. The God ordained and prescribed delivery system and impartation from parent to child at home and as you go each day are so clearly superior. It seems clear that God's idea of a generation is from parent to child or at most from grandparent to grandchild. The multiple commands of scripture, such as Psalm 78, to learn from the previous generation and for the current to teach the next are clearly designed to guard truths of God's word from perversion and protect from errors.
To understand the current generation by the Word of God would mean to define the generations by how well we kept God's Word or how far we strayed from it. Period. No analysis of how we as age groups think or act in light of the age groups before and after us, but how we as offspring obey the word of God as taught and presented to us under the discipleship of our parents. When the Bible speaks of generation, it almost always does so in the context of blessings for obedience to God's word and curses for disobedience.
When did family life take such a drastic turn that fathers and mothers gave over their children to total strangers for their education? I don't know that we can pinpoint this to a single event in history so much as it is probably a combination of events with incremental levels of abdication until we have the current model. Certainly events like the proliferation of the age segregated education model are at the roots of our current debacle. Nearly every other social institution has followed suit and broken its member participants into age groups. The modern day American Church for example....children's classes, youth classes, young adults, middle adults, senior adults, etc. Have you ever asked why we break our families apart and separate throughout the entire church service? I love the question, "If you were alone on a deserted island and the Bible was all you had to read, what would your education and worship models look like?" I can't imagine that we would design the system we've created today.
I believe that the current generational differences and their associated problems can be attributed to just one thing and its unforeseen consequences: The segregation of age groups for education, worship and family life and as a result the failure of fathers and mothers to adequately disciple their children and walk with them through childhood into adulthood that they might be adequately prepared to function as adults within our society armed with the word of God as a foundation of truth and as the ruler by which everything in life will be measured.
What causes a mom and dad to gladly and eagerly give over their children to strangers to teach them, mold them and guide them through each and every day? It's the broken dysfunctional result of an age segregated society which has abandoned the words of scripture as an inconvenience to the entertainments and 'isms' of our day. What's the solution? The destruction of the current models of education and a return to an age-integrated discipleship by parents to children that is built on the truths of God's word.