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Kids born anywhere between 1980 and 2000 most likely saw a video like this when they were in elementary school:
If that video was creepier than anything you prefer to view, I apologize. (For a laugh, SNL parodies this sort of thing, apologies for the choice word or two)
How can a generation of young people who grew up with 11 different types of people they should avoid be expected to trust anyone? If I would have listened to that video, I would be friendless, wifeless, and jobless as I would be afraid to talk to anyone I didn’t know. I’m not sure I even trust the police officer in the video—is he actually a police officer? What if he’s really a dangerous stranger who is showing me people to avoid so that I trust him?
It is no wonder that Millennials have difficulties trusting people after viewing videos like this throughout school.
Ok, ok. I suppose there is probably more that goes into Millennials’ trust issues than those silly stranger danger videos that haunted children for years. How much of a trust issue do Millennials really have, and what are some potential reasons for these trust issues?
Millennials’ lack of trust is well-documented. Pew’s 2013 Millennials in Adulthood study shows that 19% of Millennials think, generally speaking, most people can be trusted. (Sounds like a solid 19% of us missed out on the above video.)
That 19% number is significantly lower than every other generation dating back to most of the Millennials great-grandparents, the “Silent” generation. Thirty-one percent of Gen Xers think most people can be trusted, followed by 37% of Silents, and 40% of Boomers.
When it comes to matters of trust, it must also be noted that Millennials self-identify as politically independent (though they have voted heavily Democrat in the last two elections) and that they make up the most diverse generation in American history, with 43% of them being non-white, higher than any generation before them.
All of these stats likely play into a general lack of trust among Millennials, but when you dig down to the roots, what do you find?
What may contribute to a general lack of trust among the Millennial generation?
A couple of facets related to diversity may contribute to the Millennials’ record low levels of trust. First, this is a generation made up largely of “Digital Natives” or persons who have grown up in the digital age of technology. Young people have access to myriads of cultures, ideologies, and experiences that their parents and grandparents never had because they lacked the Internet.
Starting in middle school (that’s around 2004 for those of you keeping track at home), I was playing multiplayer video games on my computer and surfing related Internet forums. As if experiencing the tumult of middle school wasn’t enough, I was interacting with all sorts of jerks and trolls from around the world. The cultural and moral diversity I observed in my early usage of the Internet made me more skeptical of strangers, particularly strangers on the Internet.
Diversity goes far beyond the variety of experiences provided by the Internet. The Millennial generation is the most diverse generation in American history. A 2007 Pew study found that, generally speaking, people of ethnic minorities have lower levels of social trust than those of ethnic majorities. High levels of ethnic diversity among Millennials may be yielding a high level of general distrust.
Whether it be economic, national, or otherwise, Millennials have grown up in a somewhat unstable environment. Many Millennials, particularly those born around 1990 (my peers) had a rather opulent childhood, generally speaking, with the “.com” boom on the stock market, and all sorts of tech-company success. Then, while many Millennials were finishing up high school and preparing to enter college, the Great Recession hit in December 2007. Before the Recession hit, unemployement rates in the United States hovered around 5%. By late 2009, jobless rates hit approximately 10%—the amount of people without jobs in America DOUBLED.
The Recession hit home when my father lost his job right after I decided to attend a private university in the winter of 2009. Economically stability marked the adolescence of many Millennials, which may have instilled a bit of distrust as low-income adults typically exhibit lower levels of trust than middle class adults.
The effects of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent military conflicts must not be left out of the instability discussion as it relates to Millennials’ distrust. Many Millennials lost their innocence that day because they witnessed a level of evil even their parents hadn’t experienced.
The matter of politics as it relates to distrust among young people goes along with the general political instability of the early 2000s. Many Millennials came of age in a time that presidential approval ratings were at an all time low and relatives were volunteering to fight a war many were speculative of in the first place. Regardless of which side of the aisle you take your ideological seat, politics were tumultuous in the early 2000s, and institutional distrust among Millennials may, in part, be attributed to this phenomenon.
In short, Millennials generally trust people less than their parents or grandparents. Matters of diversity, instability, and politics likely lie at the root of much of this distrust. The questions the Church must ask are these: how do we reach a skeptical generation? And, how do we serve a skeptical generation? We’ll explore the answers to those questions later this week.