When it comes to understanding what makes Millennials different, it’s helpful to find the lowest common denominator or that one common thread that runs throughout all the intricacies of what makes Millennials worth studying. How are Millennials different from Gen Xers and Baby Boomers? It’s the internet. The internet is the lowest common denominator among a myriad of differences between Millennials and the generations that have come before them.
Millennials are different because they typed their first essays on Mac computers, not IBM Selectric typewriters. They accessed encyclopedias online, not in the library. They talked to their friends on AOL Instant Messenger, not party phone lines.
To be fair, the internet existed in some form at least a decade or two before Millennials barged onto the scene of human history, but no one grew up with it in their family room or in their pockets until we did.
Just think about it for a moment. Think about everything that’s striking about Millennials: what they value, the ways they communicate, form ideas, evaluate ethics, and interact with culture. The interconnectedness provided by the internet revolutionized how Millennials developed. For older Millennials, those born closer to 1980, the internet didn’t seep into their psychological development until the end of high school and the beginning of college.
For Millennials born toward the middle of the generation, like me, around 1990, many had access to at least dial-up internet in elementary school and perhaps had even graduated on to something like DSL by middle school. When kids born in the ’80s kids hit college, they were learning how to log on to AOL. When kids born in the early ’90s hit college, they were laughing at cat videos and binge-watching Netflix. That’s a big difference even within the generation.
Even further down the line, consider the youngest Millennials born in the late ’90s (whom some researchers don’t even consider Millennials). These kids are just hitting adulthood and have Snapchatted and Instagrammed their way through high school.
As a future parent, I shudder to think what technology will be around when my kids are learning how to drive.
I believe the Internet undergirds a lot of what makes Millennials unique. As a pastor, church leader or parent, you may be wondering, “OK, so what? Millennials have been affected by the internet. How does that make them so unique?”
Here are three ways the internet impacts the Millennial generation and how you lead them as a parent or church leader:
1. Millennials have seen a diversity of ideas since a young age.
Coming of age in 1965 was far different than coming of age in 2015. A 15-year-old coming of age in 2015 was being exposed to a diversity of political, sociological, and religious ideologies that would shape the way he or she developed. I know this because I was a 15-year-old coming of age in 2015. Because of my early access to the internet, I had the opportunity to be exposed to a wealth of ideas, lifestyles, and other cultural differences that someone in 1965 would have had to travel the world to see.
This affects Millennials and makes them unique. How? When you’re exposed to a diversity of ideas at a young age, you are more likely to challenge the ideas and presuppositions that your family instills in you. Some are afraid of this, but we shouldn’t be afraid. If we believe the gospel to be true, we must know it can withstand questioning.
2. Millennials are able to fact-check anything an authority figure tells them.
Pastors: Millennials are fact-checking your sermons. Professors: Millennials are fact-checking your lectures. Parents: Millennials are fact-checking your instructions. I started using the internet for research papers in middle school.
If you are leading Millennials, don’t lie or embellish something to make a point, especially something that is Googleable. You are only going to lose trust with the people you’re leading because they are going to fact-check you and realize you were trying to deceive them. A lot of people do not take this reality seriously. Don’t assume Millennials are just going to take you at your word. They will fact-check you.
3. Millennials are being crushed by the weight of social media comparison.
Without a doubt, this epidemic is more of a problem for iGen, the generation that follows Millennials. But, this is definitely a problem for Millennials as well. Among the bevy of social media platforms available today, it is far too easy to log on to a world of comparison and self-hatred.
Do Millennials bring this upon themselves? Yes of course. They could just log off. But many don’t feel like they can without missing out on important social interactions. They believe the negatives are worth enduring for the sake of the positives in the eyes of many.
As you lead, parent or minister to the Millennials in your communities, it is important to remember that they are the first generation to be profoundly affected by the internet.