I asked an 18-year old high school senior what she cared about most. “I don’t just mean your family and friends,” I clarified. “I mean what issues and concerns do you think about most.”
She blinked and stared at me for a moment, then replied, “No adult has ever asked me that question before.”
Our interactions with focus groups reveal to us that middle school, high school, and college students believe adults do far more talking than we do listening to them. After all, we’ve got so much to explain about the world, and they have so much to learn. A full 64 percent of American adults believe Generation Z will not be ready for adulthood when they reach it, according to our Growing Leaders/Harris Poll survey.
Sometimes it’s just helpful to do a little reconnaissance—or “recon” as the military calls it—to discover what the people we lead really think and believe. I invite you to step into their shoes for a moment and look through their lenses to see the world they see before you lead them any further.
What Do Young Adults Care About Most?
Recently, a survey was conducted by the YMCA and OnePoll to discover the answer to this question: what do young adults, ages 18-38 care most about? Members of both Generation Z and Millennials answered this question, and their responses may just help you lead them more intelligently. Here are their top five answers.
1. Gun Violence and Gun Control
Many of these young adults are Second Amendment advocates but topping their list of concerns for our country is the volume of mass shootings this past year. For a while, America averaged one mass shooting per day. I’ve spoken to teens who told me whenever they hear a loud pop, they duck, assuming someone’s just fired a gun in public. Of all the options the survey offered, a full 30 percent of respondents said guns are concern number one. Inherently included in this concern is mental health, since so many school shootings are the result of a young male who suffered from depression or suicidal ideation.
2. Human Rights
Second behind gun violence, at 28 percent, is human rights, which is a huge issue for today’s emerging generation globally. In fact, it’s even bigger for Generation Z than it was for Millennials at their age. Equality is central to the priorities of young people, and inequality is among their top fears. This includes women’s rights, rights for the LGBTQ+ community, minority rights and human rights for immigrants. They see a world that’s polarized and a wide gap between those who enjoy privileges and those who do not. Students are most prone to step up and speak out for this issue and the one above (gun violence) than any other.
3. Environment and Sustainability
Next in line is the world’s environment, which includes global warming, trees and vegetation and clean air among other items. Interestingly, young adults see older adults as people who often fail to think long-term about this issue. Jamie Margolin is a vivid example. She’s a 17-year old student living in Seattle who is also the co-founder of Zero Hero – a movement dedicated to giving a voice to Generation Z on climate change. Since founding the movement in 2017, Jamie has organized several actions, including lobby days and protests.
This concern is a second cousin to human rights but is separate in that young people’s concerns revolve around both the right of a person to have shelter and the problems homelessness creates for cities. Twenty-five percent of respondents listed this issue as a top concern for them. Cities like Los Angeles face high numbers of homeless people—many of them children—on the streets needing food and a roof over their heads. Due to Millennials’ and Generation Z’s passion for the marginalized, finding a solution to this problem is paramount.
5. Health Care Reform
Tied with the issue of homelessness is health care reform, which millions of Americans (young and old) still believe is needed. The Affordable Health Care Act hasn’t been the solution many hoped it would be, even for twenty-somethings. Most polls find that the older people get, the more this issue becomes important. However, it’s interesting to note that young adults already feel the pain of a system that costs too much, where every participant (the healthcare provider, the insurance company and the patient) all feel like victims.
If understanding those you lead is a prerequisite to leading them well, you now have a tool in your hand to do just that.
Interested in more on kids today? Check out the new book: Generation Z Unfiltered here.