Gen Y (18-30-year-olds) has been labeled many things: narcissistic, lazy, materialistic…

How about “teachable”?

As this younger generation of teenagers is graduating from high school and making life-shaping decisions: picking colleges, careers, even spouses… many of them would actually like a mentor.

In this recent Digiday article, Jack Marshall suggests that millennials value mentorship. They prefer one-on-one interaction and guidance than formalized training. Sadly, the senior staffers of most companies just don’t have time to spend with their junior employees… and it shows.

The Search Agency’s David Carrillo contends, “If you want to get the most out of millennials—or anyone for that matter—you have to take a personal interest in their growth and development.” This young generation wants consistent feedback and dialogue.

I find it funny when the corporate world is beginning to discover what youth ministers and parents have been observing for years: one-on-one time with our kids reaps great rewards!

Yes, some would argue that young people today don’t want to be told what to do. This, like many myths about millennials, seems to be more of a “life-stage” trait than a generational trait. In fact, I find this group to be quite teachable if you invest in them. Author Tony Wagner agrees, proposing we need to put on our coaching hat with this young generation, working collaboratively with them, even holding them accountable. They value the attention because they want to succeed. And when we invest in them, they “produce extraordinary results.”

Here are three ways I find that parents, coaches, youth workers and managers can get the best out of this young generation:

1. Make face-to-face time a priority.

Young people love communication, and nothing beats good ol’ fashioned face-to-face time. I find the best way to coach young people, or disciple them and develop leadership skills is by connecting with them one-on-one. Parents can attest to the effectiveness of this methodology. In addition to all the hang-out time I spend each week with my daughters, I take each of them out for breakfast or coffee once a week. This is a regularly scheduled date. My best conversations with my daughters have always been during this time.

2. Use your smart phone, then shut it off.

This young generation loves their smartphones. Now that the majority of them own these little gadgets, use texting and social media to keep in touch with this generation, but not as a replacement of face-to-face time. In my book, The New Breed, I discuss the importance of knowing when to use Facebook and when to use “face-to-face” conversation when coaching this new breed of volunteers. Personally, I like using the smartphone to keep in touch with young people, even my own kids, but then I seek out face-to-face encounters where I turn my phone off, clear any distractions aside, look them in the eyes… and listen. (NOTE: Organizations should have clear guidelines about appropriate communication between mentors and minors. Technology isn’t taboo for connecting with kids, but good guardrails should be in place.)

3. Look for Opportunities for Encouragement

Sound basic? Then why is this so overlooked in the home and the workplace? This young generation craves feedback, and as much as they need criticism, we mustn’t forget to affirm them in their daily tasks and tell them how much we appreciate them. I learned this the hard way with a Gen Y intern years ago. She did a project and did 97 things right and 3 things wrong. I spent the majority of our time talking about the 3 things, ignoring the 97. DON’T ignore the 97!!! It’s okay to talk about areas of improvement, but start with positive feedback. Send little texts of appreciation. Tell them specific feedback like, “Great job on that report yesterday. I love your example of the honey badger in the second paragraph!”

The world isn’t short on providing negative generalizations about this young generation, and there’s definitely some truth to some of these accusations. But the real question is… are you willing to invest in them? Because most the research is showing, when you invest in this generation, they prove to be well worth the time.

Question: What else do you know to be true about Gen-Y… Share it here.

GUEST POST by Jonathan McKee has become a regular guest blogger on this site! He is the author of numerous books including the brand new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, as well as youth ministry books like Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. You can find his excellent blog here.

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