View Full Version : Generation gaps

06-30-2006, 10:47 AM
With many teams consisting of members spanning several generations, I thought I'd throw this topic out their for discussion - how does your team deal with the generation gaps?

USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/money/workplace/2005-11-06-gen-y_x.htm) ran a story back in November that talked about the issues that are starting to come up in the workplace between my Baby Boomer generation, the Gen Xers and now the Generation Yers. Differences among generations have existed forever. So maybe I'm just noticing things more now as I am approaching a major birthday, ie "getting old".

Since FIRST teams tend to be a microcosm of the workplace, have you noticed any differences in respect, work habits, expectations, etc. on your teams between the generations? How are you dealing with it (ARE you dealing with it?)? Do you include discussions of the differences between generations in your teambuilding exercises? If you are a Boomer like me, what are the issues you see in the younger members of your team? If you are a GenX or GenY person, what are the issues you see in the older members of your team?

This is not meant to be a gripe session; please do not use team specific information. It is intended to be an open discussion on the topic, to help me understand how to incorporate these issues in the teambuilding sessions I am preparing to do with teams in the fall.

Elgin Clock
06-30-2006, 11:29 AM
For me personally, I see the generation gap on my team. Thankfully, I am most likely the bridge between that gap.

Growing up, I hung out with older family members and friends (older being 10+ years) but also grew up with many younger cousins who I also hung out with (middle school aged now).

On my team, I feel I am the bridge because I hear stories/gossip/information (whatever you want to call it at the time) from both the older generation mentors and the HS kids.

Effective generation gap bridging requires you to take a hands off approach to listening to each side, but then convey it effectively to either party in terms they understand and will accept. This is true whether it be a conflict between the groups, or just a means of relaying info back and forth.

IE: If there is a problem between "management" on our team and the students, then I seem to be the one the students tell the problems about first. It's not because they want me to necessarily get involved I don't think, but that they can relate to me due to the generation gap being smaller between myself and them as opposed to them and the older mentors.

As I once said, I have the best of both worlds on my team. I can always discuss issues with either side with comfort, but then try and resolve them in a way that both sides can relate.

This carries on into my everyday life as well, and dealing with drama.

Let me tell you, the scariest day ever was the day that I realized since I am a mentor, people actually take my advice and I should be careful of what kind of advice I give. :ahh:

It's no longer just a simple discussion anymore between friends, but some talks I have had with people (especially during these last 3-4 months) have made me realize that since people value my opinion, I should take things seriously once in a while.. while still retaining an easy going and laid back nature and trying to make things as cheerful and funny (at times) as possible.

So, the key to bridging a huge generation gap between older mentors (30 through 50+ year olds) & the students (15-18 mostly) is to have some people in ages that range from top extreme to lower extreme to make talking about things easier to do for folks..

I can safely say that because of my closeness in age (26) to the students than some of the other mentors, I know a lot more stories personally than they do about things that go on.

06-30-2006, 11:48 AM
I'd like to address one aspect and it is the easy access to communication in the 2000s. It can apply to family, work, and team.

My generation grew up feeling privileged if we had a black and white tv. My husband's family had the very first color tv in their neighborhood and on Saturday mornings his house was like the local matinee for the children complete with juice and cookies.

I took a hiatus from work to watch my children grow. I wanted to be home to see their their first steps, hear their first word, dig in the dirt with sticks with them. After 10 years, my old supervisor called and said, 'enough is enough'. This would be 1997. We met to discuss my return to the university where I work and I asked what the biggest change would be in the students. She said communication - that everything is instant now. Well, now it is 2006 and her words ring even more true than they did in 1997. Everything is instant. Instant access, instant communication.

Working with that within the generation gap requires patience and understanding and communication. Not instant but good old one on one exchanges of information and discussions. It takes time and time is something that I like to work with, helping the younger generation appreciate that this project will take time, working through this problem will take time, letting a little time pass and then re-evaluate the situation. Not everything is or can be instant. Sometimes that is a hard concept to grasp or convey.
Thanks for the thread Kathie!

Beth Sweet
06-30-2006, 12:15 PM
Our team has an interesting combination of this.

When our team first started up in 2004/05, 3 out of my 4 seniors were actually older than me, the mentor. That was a little bit tough. Especially since they knew it.

It's interesting now that we have 2 "adult" (over 20-30 years old) mentors on the team, to watch the different ways that the kids treat us. The kids are not really disrespectful with any of the mentors (though they do joke a lot with me), but they are far more casual in their actions with the college students as opposed to the "adults".

Good topic Kathie!

06-30-2006, 12:16 PM
I see what Eglin sees. We have some older mentors, and some younger students. And sometimes I lie inbetween.

However, I don't think it's always age based. I'm 31 and it seems like the students still talk to me like a youngin'. Now, maybe it's because people think I'm young based on my looks (however starting to go grey). Or maybe because I'm the one they say has the "jazz" on the team. But I think any age can act as the bridge.

I think it's fairly important to have that bridge - not just in FIRST, but in many aspects. Keeps things moving if people are more relaxed and happy.

Mark Pierce
06-30-2006, 12:23 PM
Let me tell you, the scariest day ever was the day that I realized since I am a mentor, people actually take my advice and I should be careful of what kind of advice I give. :ahh:
Tolkien tells us: "for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill." something for all of us to consider.

One of the things I admire about FIRST is the mixing of generations. Seeing a team member explaining our robot to elderly grandparents one minute and five year olds another is amazing. Within our team we don't have that large of a spread, but spending time together working, eating, travelling, etc. helps us get comfortable with each other. We try to respect each other enough to listen to each other and resolve any misunderstandings before they get too huge.

Several of us mentors prefer to act like kids as much as possible anyway. Fortunately, we always have some students to bring the maturity level back up so we get things done. :)

Jaine Perotti
06-30-2006, 12:41 PM
There are two instances where I find the older and younger generations may have tension in their relations.

The first instance is when a former student on a FIRST team graduates and decides to mentor another team. Often, it is hard for them to change their role from student to mentor, and it seems like they don't always realize what the true role of a mentor is. They continue to be a part of the student social network, instead of taking on the more "professional" adult role.

In my opinion, the heirarchy and structure of a team is disrupted when new mentors don't recognize that they are no longer a student. Mentors, as people of authority, should not be on an equal social basis with the students on the team. Not to say that they can't be friends - but the friendship should be that of an adult to a child, not a child to a child. They need to stay above whatever social conflicts inevitably arise between students, so that they can solve those crisis. But, if the mentor still considers themself "buddies" with, say, one of the people involved in a conflict, they are no longer in a position of authority to resolve that conflict, as mentors should be.

This is why I believe it is completely innapropriate for mentors to be a part of the students social interactions - mentors should not have "buddies" on the team, nor should they be involved in a romantic relationship with a student on the team. If I were to be mentoring a team, I would choose NOT to mentor the team I graduated from. Instead, I would mentor a team where I didn't know any of the students, and I would not be tempted or feel obligated to be a part of the student social network. I would instead choose to be an authority figure so that my mentoring could be effective.

I remember several years ago, when one of the alumni of the team came back to try and be a mentor. This student, our former programmer, did not fully realize what it meant to be a mentor. He didn't take on the role of "teacher" appropriately, and made negative comments to his old friends on the team about the student he was trying to teach. It is completely innapropriate for mentors to gossip about a member of the team to other members of the team, because they can't resolve problems among students if they are the cause of those problems.

This doesn't solely occur among new mentors. This occurs among full grown adults too. This happens when an adult tries too hard to "fit in" and be seen as "cool" by members of the younger generation. Sometimes, these kids are their students. I experienced this twice during my time in middle school and high school. The best example was in seventh grade. That year, I had a young man as a teacher, who had just gotten out of college. He would talk about his social life, his girlfriend, and would tell jokes all of the time. But when the class got out of hand, no one would listen to him when he would tell the class to be quiet. The fact that he put himself on the same social level as the kids ("buddies"), undermined his authority in the classroom. The same thing happens on FIRST teams between students and new mentors.

The second instance (related to the one just discussed) is in the case of how much the adults on the team intervene with student behavioral issues and personal conflicts. On my old team, it seemed like the adults had some difficulty deciding when to let students work out their interpersonal issues for themselves, and when to step in to prevent dysfunction on the team. Obviously, the adults don't want to be constantly getting involved in our personal issues, because that borders on actually participating in all of our social issues (which would make them less authoritative and more "on our level"). But on the other hand, they don't want things to get so out of hand that the team's performance is affected. It's a fine balance, and I can understand that it must be difficult.

Good thread topic, I am enjoying it.

-- Jaine

06-30-2006, 03:20 PM
I can sometimes see that wide expanse between the students and the mentors who are parents (with exceptions, like Dave, or course), which makes me think that some parents are so use to being THE AUTHORITY FIGURE that it makes it really hard for them to work with the students as equals. And working as equals is something that our team always strives for. The adults may (remember, that's "may") know more and have more experience but that doesn't make the students ideas invalid or any less important.

I think mentors can be part of the students social interactions depending on what those interactions are. Sometimes students come over to my place to play games or to watch B movies and I think this interaction is fine, however, when I was invited to the prom, I said no because to me, that would have just been weird. I guess I'm like Elgin in being a bridge and I like it that way. I may call them bratlings, but they always know I will listen to them if they need an ear to bend. They have a habit (whether intentionally or accidentally) of talking around me very freely, and if they cross a certain line, I just stick my fingers in my ears and go "la la la la" which makes them laugh, but gets the point across. I tease them and they pick on me, but when it comes down to it and I'm in the chaperon role, they listen to me and I like to think its because they respect me, not because they fear me or fear punishment. I guess that's a big part of why I'm a bridge, I respect them and they respect me (yeah, some of them would be laughing at that and saying "yeah, right" but it's all an act, they do respect me).


Eugenia Gabrielov
06-30-2006, 04:05 PM
In any and all situations where a group of people of different ages, backgrounds, and experiences are put together, a certain amount of conflict is anticipated. It may or may not occur, but how it is handled is the true mark of an open-minded and respectful group of people.

Our mentors are people, that have consciences and hobbies and passions and flaws. No matter their age, no matter their generation, every mentor and student must be responsible for their actions, and for understand that compromise and maturity are the paths to team success.

06-30-2006, 06:46 PM
I personally have never appreciated adults speaking down to me in any way, and I've become used to, erm..."teaching" condescenders why they shouldn't be condescending with me. However, that's never been an issue on our team, at least for me. We don't have any college mentors yet (we will next season, one of our new alumni), but all the adults treat us pretty well like equals. Sometimes they may forget and treat some of the less experienced students a little more like children, but usually they don't, which is something I appreciate in our mentors.

I like what Heidi said about adults being used to having the role of authority figure, because I've seen that phenomenon happening. The only time I've ever had an issue with that in relation to FIRST would be a (very) few adult coaches I've worked with. It's not that they know less or more than I do, but that they refuse to even consider what I have to say and, by extension, discount what my team can do. I honestly do not think any adult coach would do this on purpose, but it makes sense they would take over by habit if they don't make an effort not to.

FIRST can build great relationships not only between people of the same age but between students and mentors. How can the mentors inspire if they don't have a good relationship with the students?

06-30-2006, 09:08 PM
On our team we have the entire range of ages from our main team coach (who is retiring in a year), to a Mechanical Engineer (who is 30), to high school students. I can honestly say that we have never had any real problems between the age generations, as everyone on our team looks up to and respects our team coach (who we nicknamed Einstein) and team engineer (Ben Piecuch).

The only real issues we've had are exactly the same as Jaine's, where college-age alumni and a current high-school student have had personal conflicts. Unfortunately, this year one of these long-standing interpersonal affairs only kept dragging more and more students into the problem, and it degenerated into a "my word versus his/her word" type of thing. After being dragged into it, it was not very pretty.

I tried to stay on the neutral high ground and moderate a solution without dropping to the mudslinging-level, and I was successful for several months. (Successful in the fact that the severity of the problem was kept "secret" from everyone who was not directly involved in the problem, so to keep it from flaring up and involving everyone.)

After several months, the problem couldn't longer be contained any further and it flared up, dragging the entire team into it. In the end, it was worked out that the two parties should "chill-out", go in seperate ways, and to cease their long-standing personal issues.

The lesson here to be learned is that if you are returning to your team as a college student, you are now a mentor, and not a student. You have to command authority, act in a responsible and mature manner, and demand respect. You'll need to stop acting in immature ways, and start acting like the role-model for the current students.

To all new collage students who would like to mentos their original teams, here is a bit of advice. Now that you've passed the line, there is no going back; what is over is over, and cannot be changed. You've had fur years of good memories, but not you'll need to move on. It may be hard having to start mentoring students who may be only months younger than you are, but that is life. You'd better start learning now, where mistakes [hopefully] won't cause too much damage, rather than later, where the stakes are much higher.

06-30-2006, 11:48 PM
(Speaking as a student)
Personally, I have never felt a generation gap. Our coveted mentor is our teacher and has children yet we freely talk to him and he freely talks to us. We respect him greatly because he puts so much effort into the team and he respects us because we show that we care.

I think it's very important to communicate. Although i've been a student for the last few years, most of the other students on the team have come to me if there has been a problem and I have usually communicated with our mentors. Because I don't like playing telephone, I usually let the mentors know and have them speak with the students personally. This has worked for the the most part and i'm glad.

I think people get along better once they develop a respect for each other. When we all see the sacrifices we make and the dedication we have, we come to realize that it's not about the nitty gritty details, it's about the big picture. Keeping the big picture in mind, it's easier for me to let go of a remark, attitude, etc.

Some things that help me are
1) When I am particularly moody, I make sure to repeat what I say inside my head before I say it out loud. This usually eliminates 90% of my rude remarks.
2) I always ask myself if my statement will make a difference. If it's pessimistic, the answer is no.

07-01-2006, 07:39 AM
What I am hearing from many of these posts is that respect is a key issue. I'd have to agree. What I am wondering about, though, is the concept of different generations having different styles and how to appreciate them. A long time ago we watched a series of videos at my workplace - "what you are is where you've been" or something like that. They talked about how the history you have come through - perhaps growing up in the Depression era - influences the person you become as an adult - in the case of Depression era, recycling, not wasting anything, not overspending were traits many adults had. I know that in my current workplace - a college - we have discussed how many of our students have come onto campus having been an only child, not used to sharing a tiny dorm room or a communal bathroom, and how today's parents are "helicopter parents" - used to hovering over their children to be sure they are getting the best of everything that is offered to them. So the freshmen come onto campus with certain expectations that might be difficult to meet. I'm wondering if those types of expectations also come into play on the teams - the Boomers like me, having grown up in crowded classrooms, perhaps with several siblings, and having to bide our time and earn our place in the workplace, and the younger generations coming in thinking that their ideas are the best that are out there and why shouldn't we try them out on the robot? Maybe that's an exageration but I can think of a few instances where I've seen this conflict.

And are there any examples of how generations are embracing the differences?

07-01-2006, 07:59 AM
One of the things I like about the FIRST experience is the "generation mixing"

Once we start kindergarten, we spend most of our time in our own age groups. The only adults we work with are the teachers who are the authority and know all the answers. Organized after school activities tend to be grouped by age (U12 soccer, McDonald playground.) Even religous activities! We tend to be segregated into age groups in college. When we have a choice, we still self select our age group.

Yet we evolved in tribes and large family groups. We may have wanted to be with our age group, but chores would require working with elders and those younger. We spent a lot of time with grandpa and grandma as well as being in charge of the younger kids. Think of all the traditions, wisdom, crafts, skills that were taught/learned. There was no school, yet we learned.

It's only recently that we started learning so many skills in schools, where one authority works with a class.

FIRST, like many work environments, encourages a range of experience and ages. Teachers, mentor, students (frosh to senior) and throw in mentoring a FLL team and that is quite a group that has to respect and discuss and spend a lot of time together. We all learn an awful lot about, not just the engineering task at hand, but all the life skills.

We older crowd find that kids are a lot more kinder, smarter, and capable than they are port raid in the news. I'm sure the younger crowd sees their elders in a more positive light. It's a win-win.

So among other things, our FIRST experience shows what a fertile learning environment our "extended family" provides. Maybe more effective than traditional classroom, age grouped, teacher-directed exercises.

Learning from the elders and being responsible for the youngers. It's worked for 100,000+ years and it works in FIRST groups. It works in the "real world"

07-01-2006, 10:24 AM
This might be one, Kathie:
When I left for college in 1969, my mother gave me a portable electric typewriter and a Singer featherweight sewing machine. The typewriter has long since come and gone but the Singer featherweight started going to the shop 5 years ago during build season and lives there until our robot is shipped. We have found all sorts of uses for it from sewing flags to sewing parts this year for the robot. This is a small example of using old methods to help strengthen this generation's current methods.
I think when you combine ways of doing things, old and new, it adds dimension and depth to the team, build, and end result.

Rich Kressly
07-05-2006, 07:46 AM
Lots of good stuff here already...

I think, fundamentally, dealing with the difficulty in relationships between generations is one of those "REALLY HARD" things FIRST aims for us to work at and overcome. There are no easy solutions in a program that asks you to think and act differently from popular culture on purpose, for a reason.

Respect certainly is a HUGE part of this. I also think learning the personalities, leadership styles, comfort zones, and team roles of others on your team, regardless of age, is crucial.

I too think communication is the key and, as an educator and leader, I do my best to use a "restorative" model that was part of my training in teaching, working with young people, and serving as a conflict resolution facilitator. You can learn a little about "restorative practices" here: http://www.iirp.org .

Here (http://www.iirp.org/library/anu.html) you can learn about the "social discipline window" which is discussed in terms of justice and other systems, but can apply to any situation where there is an organization with leadership and conflict (ie FIRST teams). For me maintaining control (no, this doesn't mean controlling thought or even decisions, but all leaders need some sense of order) and providing support at the same time is the key, especially in the relationships that span generations.

07-05-2006, 01:00 PM
Hey... I was thinking about this again. I think I know what helps me out. I model my relationship with the students on the releationship I had with my professors in grad school.
- I never call them kids - always students - they are not kids anymore
- Just because I'm a mentor doesn't mean I'm always right
- I figure I can learn as much or more from the students as they can learn from me
- I try to remember that at any given time, I could end up working for one of them

Just a thought I thought I'd put out there...

Arefin Bari
07-05-2006, 01:32 PM
Respect certainly is a HUGE part of this. I also think learning the personalities, leadership styles, comfort zones, and team roles of others on your team, regardless of age, is crucial.

I too think communication is the key and, as an educator and leader, I do my best to use a "restorative" model that was part of my training in teaching, working with young people, and serving as a conflict resolution facilitator.

Mr. Kressly... I couldn't agree with you more here.

I will use my own team as an example to explain what I think about this topic. Our mentor, Mr. Payne, is a teacher at the high school. I am the other mentor on the team who is 20, and we have students (ages 14-18).

The beautiful thing about our team is we are all friends and we are one family when it comes to keep our team going. Whenever a student has a problem, he/she can talk to us mentors directly without hesitating and I love that part. There have been several times I have seen students talking to mentors about their own problems and gotten good solid advice. I saw students who walked inside the engineering room with a frown, but by the time he/she walked out of the room, there was a smile on his/her face because that student had someone to talk to.

... we respect each other.

Our communication part on the team is great too. Just like every other team, we have tension on our team, but we always talk it out. If there are any problems we solve it right away. Team 1345 is only a new team and we have a long way to go, but I can say proudly that each one of us always walks out from the room or the shop smiling.

This is why I believe it is completely innapropriate for mentors to be a part of the students social interactions - mentors should not have "buddies" on the team, nor should they be involved in a romantic relationship with a student on the team. If I were to be mentoring a team, I would choose NOT to mentor the team I graduated from. Instead, I would mentor a team where I didn't know any of the students, and I would not be tempted or feel obligated to be a part of the student social network. I would instead choose to be an authority figure so that my mentoring could be effective.

Jaine brings up a very good point and it makes you think. I have thought about this for a while and right about now, I think I want to state my opinion on this, and I will use myself as an example here...

I just turned 20 not even a month ago. Most of the high school students that I am dealing with are in the age range of 16-18. If I am a mentor on the team, does that mean I need to separate myself from the students when they ask me to go bowl with them or play pool or go hang out? I am not sure what you meant by "buddies" Jaine, but if you are saying that a mentor shouldn't date a student, to a certain point you are right. I have been in a relationship with one of the members on the team even before I joined her team. At the same time, it was her team mates and teachers who invited me and welcomed me to their team while she was scared that the relationship would bring the team down. But, the team didn't have any problem with us, that's because we both acted professional when we were with the team. In fact, there has been many events in Broward county where My girlfriend and I have worked together (robotics events) and put up a great show. I can tell without a doubt that there will not be anyone else who will be able to work with me just like she has (reason simply being she understands me well enough).

My opinion is, it's not your relationship status that counts with a member of your team, it's how professional you are when you are at a certain environment.

... I know many other mentors who are involved socially with their students, it only seems wrong if you look at it that way. It's always right if you think you are doing it right and you are satisfied with what you are doing.

With that said, I apologize if there is anyone who doesn't agree with my opinion. But these are just opinions and I am happy with how my life is, I play with the students, build with them, laugh with them, cry with them, dance with them, chase them around, and most of all I respect them for who they are.

07-24-2006, 03:55 PM
I feel that the students respect all the adult mentors of our team. While we often tease and joke around with them, if it comes to getting something done, we listen.

As part of the leadership body this year, I did feel that sometimes the adults would talk down to us or push our ideas to the side but that is something that we need to work on between both mentors and students.

To mentors-make sure your students are actively involved in decision process because they like to know whats going on and often have a different, interesting, perspectives. For example, this year we had 4 student leaders part of the main leadership body which was also made up of parents, engineers and teachers.

Students- Remember you mentors have lives outside robotics (even if you do not) and understand that they can't do everything and they're not perfect.

07-24-2006, 06:18 PM
I'm still not quite getting what I thought I would get for replies here... maybe I should re-phrase my question. I'm not really talking about issues of respect, although that certainly comes into play. I am talking about how different generations approach things differently based on how they grew up.

Here's an example of what I am looking for. If we talk about issues of communication in the context of a teambuilding exercise... I could say that if the team meeting for tonight is cancelled, the older adults on the team would probably appreciate a telephone call. The younger members might appreciate a cellphone call, or a feed to their other electronic devices. If directions are being given out to an event, older adults might like to get them typed and distributed as photocopies; younger students might prefer e-mail or other electronic ways of distribution. Older adults might prefer to have discussions about team issues in person at a team meeting; younger members might prefer an online discussion chat (so they can multitask and do other things at the same time). Older members of the team may feel that their experience and knowledge base means they have the best ideas to approach a problem; younger members may feel entitled to voice their opinions on the matter and expect to be listened to.

So, can you share some examples of how your team approaches these types of generational issues?