Our Thoughts

Treating Young Millennials Like Adults: An Experiment

So I have been doing quite a number of classes with a few young kids. By young, I mean 6 year-olds. They were 1st graders of the primary, and to more extents, 6th graders. Almost 12 years old.  I share my knowledge about leadership & communication to them in various forms.

And of course, being young, these children… talk a lot. These are primarily one of the reasons why sometimes adults don’t want to become parents. Having kids, as I understand it from them, can be a living nightmare on its own, despite they do acknowledge the beauty of raising children.

At a lot of times, these are worse for young children of the millennium. The millennials, so they are called, are beyond even generation Y. Some books would call them generation Z. Or some other books would call these little human born above the year 2000 as generation C. Whatever the term is, they are essentially the generation of unlimited information. They possess smartphones since early age as their parents want to make sure they’re safe (or simply for possessions, or show-offs even), they access YouTube cute cat videos ever since they can push buttons, they access social media and the internet ever since they can read. So as a result… They know it all. Pretty much literally. And discreetly.

So they tend to think the adults don’t know much. Remember that moment when we feel we know more from our parents, gadget perhaps, then when they asked us to teach them how to use gadgets, we say things like “How come it is so difficult for you to understand these simple things?”. Yeah, pretty much that’s how the kids feel about us. And often, these are what lead to their trust. Their respect to us. Which is natural. Even as adults, if we feel our friend / partner / whoever we’re talking to don’t seem to be “richer” in a sense of following our conversation – rich of information, that is – we don’t think he/she is worthy enough to be a part of the conversation.

So the same goes with this children. They talk for two reasons: because they just like to talk, or because they fail to see why they need to respect the other person they are dealing with. Not that because they’re cruel, evil minions – but it’s just human and natural to begin with.

But there’s one thing these kids lack of: the wisdom of those who are more experienced. But they know lots of stuffs, no? But often they also reject our wisdom, no? How do we even get into their heads and at least make them to listen to us?

That was the questions that pop in my head when I did my very first teaching to these cute little human.

So I decided to do an experiment, based on a simple self-reflection. I decide to treat them like adults. I decide to talk and share, not tell and scold. I decide not to use instructions, but rather requests.

Results? Very, very fascinating. So when they fight and talk like crazy in the classes, I only say three words (in a voice loud enough so my voice beat their uproar), “Guys, let’s talk.”

“What is there to talk?”

Then I went on, about explaining the whole idea about respect. Respect is about listening. I asked them a simple question, “How do you feel if no one listens to you?”, or “How do you think I am feeling right now?”

You probably guess the answer. They are actually very aware that I feel sad, or they will feel sad. So I validate that feeling. I told them people, including me, will be sad if not being listened at. I shared to them that it was because we felt disrespected.

They sat in silence for a while.

“But,” I said. “I do understand why you like to walk and talk. I used to be the same. It doesn’t feel good not being able to talk, doesn’t it? Isn’t it really boring to just sit, and listen, even though sometimes we talk as this is a communication class?”

They nodded.

So I did the things that most teachers wouldn’t do: I give them allowances, with boundaries. My idea is simple: Respect them, and they will respect you back. I told them I will allow they talk for a bit, and they could tell me if they were bored, or anything they feel like talking, but not too loud; and if it is, I will remind about respect and requests of making sure we can hear each other properly.

They agreed. And things do change: not all the time, sometimes I still have to lift my hands to signal request for silence – but most of the time — the kid who was even said “I hate you Mr. Bryan, I don’t want to be in class” – can be paying attention attentively.

This applies to almost every kid in my class – and it was amazing.

They were very cooperative. I requested for their cooperation and treated them like adults – talk to them, confide my feeling, open up myself – and they open up and receive me with open arms.

When I googled a few about these things, I learned that apparently kids are no different than bigger humans – the adults – they need to trust the person. And in order to trust the person, he/she needs to show they can be trusted – by not intruding them. And respect them.

It is a simple give and take in return concept. And these kids, they can be reasoned with – as long as we try to consistently be patient with them and guide them, not instruct them.

But oh boy, I do understand how hard it is to become parents. I mean, imagine meeting them everyday – and having to deal with daily life issues – and having to hear their loud voices at night – as much as we love them, we’re also human too.

Perhaps. If we find ways to make peace with ourselves before we engage with them – things would be better at home, with them. But my point of the story is the simple: the experiment shows something interesting, at least:

Respect is not about authority.

Respect is about building that trust.

Respect is about confiding yourself, and they will trust you back.

Even for these cute little humans.





This is Bryan Gunawan’s little piece of thought. He has coached more than thousands of individuals of all age sectors ranging from 6 year-olds to 70 year-olds in communication & leadership in the last 8 years, and is in the process of writing the book “Can We #PlsTalk?”, unveiling stories of his cause for communication prowess to solve life challenges. Find him at twitter @bryangunawan

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