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  • Writer's pictureSarah Carter

Understanding iGen

We have been bemoaning the millennial generation practically since the term was coined. Lazy, self-centered, not motivated, indecisive, codependent, and so many other adjectives have become chief, generalized descriptors for anyone born between the years of 1980 and 1994. That may be a shock to some of you who's birthday falls in that window (myself included) and you've vehemently opposed being called one for fear of being characterized by the preceding list of adjectives. Try to think of it this way instead. Millennials are now, for the most part, established/settled members of society. We have jobs - probably our third or fourth by now but this one is bound to stick. We've moved out of our parents's house to our own, semi-permanent place and have stopped bringing our laundry back to mom and dad's on the weekend. Some of us have taken the plunge, gotten married, and have at least a pet (if not a child/children) roaming around our independent space keeping us on our toes and comforted.

We've also all noticed that we aren't the new kids on the block anymore. There are others younger than us lurking in our office spaces and they are absolutely bewildering in their habits. We're beginning to see why Baby Boomers fought Gen-X'er's and why both of those generations stared at us in confused, angry terror as we attempted to teach them how to use instant messenger and My Space. This new herd has one functioning hand, another appendage that resembles a cellphone, zero clue where to look when having a face-to-face conversation, and seem to not know where a good bar can be found within spitting distance of the office on a Friday afternoon. If that weren't all a lot to stomach at once, the truly outrageous part is that these are the people we are responsible for training now and leading in the future.

The best strategy to successfully leading any group of people is to understand them as best you can. You will never be one of them, they will always have faster texting thumbs than you, but you can learn to speak their generational language well enough to make them, and you, successful. To begin to understand any group of people you must know three basic truths about them: 1) Who are they? 2) What do they do? 3) What are their goals?

Who are they????

iGen'ers are people "born in 1995 and later, they grew up with cell phones, had an Instagram page before they started high school, and do not remember a time before the Internet" (pg. 2) according to Dr. Jean M. Twenge in her book iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy - and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood (and What That Means for the Rest of Us). They are the people in your work space born between 1995 and 2012. The people who can show you what filter to use for what app to make your picture picture/video go viral, several different functions your iPhone has that you feel are actually really unnecessary, and they most likely don't have a drivers license or didn't until they moved away for college. "iGen is distinct from every previous generation in how its members spend their time, how they behave, and their attitudes toward religion, sexuality, and politics...They are obsessed with safety and fearful of their economic futures" (pg. 3). Meanwhile, "the biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in worldview, with more focus on the self and less on social rules" (pgs. 4 - 5).

iGen can't remember a time before the internet! They have had access to near instant information on essentially everything and everyone since they were but dreams in their parent's imaginations. They've also grown up in a world where every car makes some obnoxious sound when a seat belt isn't being worn; where the are PSA's on how bad everything is for you from smoking to drinking from the hose outside; and where slap bracelets and rubber cement were banned from school grounds to avoid painful/mind-altering encounters. If those school yard activities scare them, then is it that difficult to see how house parties, riding in truck beds, and pre-college sex haunt their nightmares?

What do they do???

The easy answer to that question is: Stay at home and live in a digital world. "Compared to their predecessors, iGen teens are less likely to go out without their parents, date, have sex, drive, work, or drink alcohol" (pg. 39). These are major milestones between adolescence and adulthood that iGen'ers are purposefully delaying. But for what? To spend time on their smart phones, video games, and other electronic devices alone in their rooms where they can connect with their friends, real or people they've only ever know digitally. "iGen'ers are spending so much time on their smartphones that they just aren't interested in or available to read magazines, go to movies, or watch TV" (pg. 68). Dr. Twenge interviewed an iGener named Kevin who summed it up perfectly when he said "My generation lost interest in socializing in person - they don't have physical get-togethers, they just text together, and they can just stay home" (pg. 69).

This is hard to comprehend for those of us who were counting down the days until their 16th birthday so they could be first in line at the DMV or who snuck out of their house to go to the party at the classmate's house whose parents were gone for the weekend. We had jobs to pay for the gas to put in the total POS junker we got, and shared with our siblings, so we could go to the movies and impress whatever heart throb we had that week. They don't feel the need for these things since they are connected to their peers 24/7 via every electronic device in their home with an internet connection. So that's what they do, they are together apart.

What are their goals???

Physical and emotional safety, financial stability, and inclusion are their goals. "iGen'ers are practical, forward looking, and safe" (pg. 180). They don't take risks that previous generations viewed as common rites of passage; "they would rank money first for what they wanted out of a job" (pg. 181); they feel that their financial futures are more in jeopardy then their parents with the constant rising of college tuition paralleled by the societal expectation that they will go to a prestigious school; and they feel that everyone should be free to love who they want to love and be who they want to be. These are good goals that previous generations have shared but haven't had the constant digitally present platforms to talk about, and pursue them, every waking hour.

Their ability to be in constant, connected pursuit of these goals and digital affirmations has been both a blessing and a curse. "The paradox of iGen: an optimism and self-confidence online that covers a deep vulnerability, and even depression in real life" (pg. 102). The term emotional safety is relatively new, almost unique to this generation. Because their focus on emotional safety as a goal words (even the lack of words in the form of a delayed, or never received, response to a text comment) have become dangerous. "More young people are experiencing not just symptoms of depression, and not just feelings of anxiety, but clinically diagnosed major depression" (pg. 108) and "forty-six percent more 15 - to 19-year-olds committed suicide in 2015 than in 2007" (pg. 110).

Leading From Understanding

Understanding those coming up in the ranks is the first, critical step to leading them. Knowing who they are, what they like to do, and what their goals are will guide you as you prepare to hire that young, eager, iGen intern. You're not going to be able to approach them in the same manner you were approached and expect a successful result. But you will be able to lead them! That is what we are going to dive into on Aug 26th when my next post drops. Between now and then, devour this book. Take notes, observe iGen'ers in your life, and let me know what you think below, via email, or on any of my socials. I'd love to hear it. Happy reading!

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