Date: August 25th, 2016
By: Yewande Olugbade
The ‘it’ generation—spoiled, lazy, entitled, disruptors, self-involved, selfie and social media addicts; these are all words used to describe millennials. Millennials, or Generation Y, are those born between 1981 into 1993 and are known to be the largest generation in the nation presently (75.4 million). As a millennial myself, it is common for us to be social media addicts, disruptors, more technologically savvy than our parents, but in my opinion, we are also a more optimistic, independent, entrepreneurial, diverse, goal oriented, determined, and more inclusive generation.
One of the common misconception about millennials is that they are an alien generation that needs special ways of addressing. Yes, we might not have grown up during the industrial revolution or WWII; but as a generation, we still value the same things that are important to our parents. These aforementioned stereotypes are some of the reasons why programs developed to address issues faced by millennials fail. Millennials are not a “strange” generation, and as program implementers, we need to start understanding this important notion in order to have valuable impact on the young adults for whom we develop sexual and reproductive health programs. It is easy as we become adults to view life differently from the youth we are developing programs for based on our life and career experiences. One question I always need to ask myself—especially as I move into the older millennial category—is: When I was the same age as the youth I am trying to develop a curriculum or program for, what was important to me? Surprisingly, I always find out that it is usually the same thing, but the delivery platforms might be different. (For example, the emergence of internet and portable cell phones saw more Gen X sending more emails and communicating more easily. Same can be said about the texting culture of the millennials because that is what our phones can do now, but the end goal of communication remains the same.) Therefore, when we develop programs for young people, we need to start asking this important question, what was valuable to me at that age? I bet, most times, you will find out that it is not that different from those of the current young people you are developing programs for. Yes, the platforms you use might be different, but the challenges and misconceptions by most adults is that we use them differently. As an adult, how do you use your social media accounts? How would you like valuable information communicated to you on these social media platforms? If you can answer the aforementioned questions, young people also want the same thing.
As our field expands from the classroom into the social media realm, we need to reevaluate our efforts in reaching the generations coming behind the millennials, Generation Z. Generation Z or the Igen are those born after 2000. Igen are the true users of social media and technology. Unlike millennials, they are not about Facebook and the amount of “likes” their filtered pictures garner on social media. Rather, they are the “now generation,” who use social media to better their lives and enhance their experiences. They create hashtags to inform social change. If we are to remain impactful in creating a healthy environment for young people to thrive in and make responsible decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health, program innovators and funders in the public health field will also have to find a way to remain relevant. More importantly than ever, our field needs to start engaging in quicker turnaround interventions that can have an impact.
While we continue to embed the use of technology into our interventions and innovations, we also need to start acknowledging that these platforms might be irrelevant to the end users by the time our innovation hits the market. Our end users live in a world where things change in the snap of a finger, so if we are to continue to achieve the strides we are making in supporting healthy youth, the sexual and reproductive field must also start using “right now” types of interventions. Maybe it’s time to start the conversation about the way we evaluate our interventions. Randomized control trials, though considered the gold standard, might not suffice anymore in determining impact of with social behavioral interventions.
About the Author
Healthy Teen Network Research Associate Yewande Olugbade, MPH, has experience supporting the research and evaluation of adolescent health education programs and working with diverse communities. Her focus has been in implementing mHealth programs aimed at reducing teen pregnancy and STIs among African American and Latino adolescent women.