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New Survey: Millennials Learn More from Technology Than from People

In June of 2017, our organization, Growing Leaders, collaborated with Harris Poll to conduct a survey and discover the perspectives of various generations in the U.S. The survey looked at how different generations feel prepared for adult life; whether they had/have an adult mentor preparing them for adulthood; how overwhelmed they are by daily life and the role technology plays in learning.

The survey was conducted online by Harris Poll from June 28-30, 2017 among 2,264 U.S. adults, ages 18 and older. Some of the results were quite profound.

  • 70% of U.S. adults say children growing up today will not be ready for adult life (i.e., life after graduation from school).
  • 2 in 3 U.S. adults (66%) say that when they were in their teens, they had an older adult (other than a parent) who positively impacted their life. Baby Boomers age 65+ (59%) are significantly less likely to agree with this than all other age groups, but particularly Millennials age 18-34 (71%).
  • Nearly 3 in 5 U.S. adults (58%) say they learn more information from technology than from people. Millennials age 18-34 (69%) are significantly more likely to agree with this than those ages 45+ (50%).

So, let’s interpret what these numbers seem to be telling us.

First, while all generations agree that we need adult mentors to help us prepare for life and leadership, the youngest generation surveyed says they learn more from technology than they do from people. So, seasoned veterans either need to:

a. Find a way to connect with the younger generation online and invest in them via a screen—since it is their natural habitat. In this option, we discover ways to redeem social media for constructive purposes.

b. Encourage them to meet face to face, believing some skills or qualities are better cultivated that way than on a screen. Hence, we give them what they need—not necessarily what they want.

If we believe there are soft skills (employability skills) that cannot genuinely be learned and practiced on a screen, we must engage our young adults in meaningful conversation and experiences that convince them of this as well. This means, we have to be more than “talking heads” downloading information to students. We must create environments that magnetically attract the young and coach them. While 7 in 10 Millennials say they have an adult in their life, screen time still prevails, and they don’t feel ready for the leap from backpack to briefcase.

Here is another take away from the survey.

A large percentage of respondents regularly feel overwhelmed with everything going on in their daily life. However, the generational difference is substantial with 59 percent of Millennials significantly more likely to agree with this statement than those age 45+, at 32 percent. In short, the younger the person, the more likely they are to feel overwhelmed by everyday life.

As I dug through the findings, a conclusion came to light. At least so far, content on a screen has failed to prevent a person from angst, or feeling overwhelmed. In fact, quite the opposite. The more time we spend on screens, the more likely we are to feel overwhelmed by the information. There is a direct parallel between the rise in social media and the rise in anxiety among adolescents and twenty-somethings.

My Conclusions

The findings indicate to me that the need of the hour is face-to-face mentors. Real-life experiences, not virtual ones. Genuine relationships, not social media connections. Authentic conversations full of transparency and trust, not Tweets or Snapchat videos condensed to a few sentences. We need depth—not breadth.

Emory professor and author Mark Bauerlein recently said something that may explain a phenomenon in America today: “Students spend less discretionary time with adults than in former generations. They have never been so present with each other (on-line) than they are today.”

In times past, one chief element that prepared students to move from graduation to their career was the time they spent with adults who, in many ways, apprenticed them for adulthood. This would include educators, family members, coaches and employers. This survey indicates many Americans wonder if that’s working anymore.

Today almost one half of the world’s population is 21 years old or younger, and they’re poised to lead our world into the future. This survey tells us we, as a society, have progressed into a new reality. Most of us don’t believe kids will be ready for adulthood when it arrives. Our young people don’t need us for information, but they need us for interpretation. Adults must find a way to pass on timeless values and principles our young will need, regardless of the complex world in which they live.


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