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Tim Elmore

On Leading the Next Generation

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The Top Five Issues Generation Z & Millennials Say They Care About

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.

4. Homelessness

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.

6 Comments

  1. Mandi on February 4, 2020 at 8:04 am

    I don’t normally comment but something struck me about the survey. The top 5 topics young people “care” about are the top 5 topics being discussed in the news that have a liberal agenda. They have heard about these issues constantly from social media and the mainstream news. I was saddened that human rights issues like abortion and human trafficking, were obviously not mentioned in the survey. It’s almost as if the survey provider only asked questions with regards to the 5 topics? And here’s the biggie: nothing was mentioned about morality, honesty and life principles as our young people witness all the deception and lies from politicians, social media bullying from adults, and science fraud from powerful companies. Don’t they care about integrity?

    • Christopher Norris on February 4, 2020 at 8:25 am

      I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusions and observations. While these are issues that definitely are very important, it does seem that this generation surveyed thinks in exactly the way they have been trained. We used to say that it was ‘governmental, public education’s greatest influence,’ but I believe you are correct in now raising social media to that spot. If “influence” is king in today’s world, we have, arguably, the most influenced generation in the history of the world. It is not very different in comparing non-christian Vs. christian worlds, I assume.
      I also see a very rapid change with differences between Millennials and Gen Z. As a pastor and part-time christian school educator, I actually do not hear much of this discussed in the high-school realm. If I ask, they do have thoughts and ideas about issues, but do not voice them often in conversation. I want to do more investigation to ask, listen and evaluate, as this study is interesting to me. I am not diminishing the top 5, but I personally wonder why other issues are not at the forefront.

      • Eric Lewis on February 4, 2020 at 10:08 am

        First, you both make great points. I feel that the top five issues have been highlighted so often by the news media as well as on social media platforms that this is inevitable…liberal or not. Secondly, these top five issues are overwhelming enough. Actually addressing the other topics of concern that these groups have, that aren’t overtly spoken about, are where concerned parents, teachers, administrators and coaches can dig deeper into once a conversation is started. Theses things go much deeper than a survey. We need to get beyond the feeling that there is always a hidden agenda when it comes to understanding and ultimately cultivating the minds of our young, middle-aged and old alike. Where is the trust!

    • Chris on February 4, 2020 at 4:58 pm

      Morality, honesty, integrity and life principles have plenty to do with all five of those topics mentioned. The deception and lies from politicians & opinion-based media and the people that pay them off have somehow convinced people like yourself that they don’t.

  2. Ken Shepherd on February 4, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    As a mentor of many young people my wife and I would have loved to see something listen about morals or values or the sanctity of human life I did not see that. It is such a shame on our society right now when we speak of women’s rights and how we need to not degrade women we need to stand up for them and then we see the halftime show from the other night it’s a Super Bowl where we have celebrities going down stripper poles. I just feel sometimes our society we are talking out of both sides of our mouths and it’s not matching up with our actions.

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The Top Five Issues Generation Z & Millennials Say They Care About