Citizenship online – how millennials are helping each other to find their feet

Hannah Morrish of The Student Room shares some insights on why this latest generation of young people are getting a rough ride from the media.

“Isn’t it sad to think that one day this kind of self-obsessed creature will one day have a say. Just goes on to prove that we adults need to get the county back on its feet before these whinging whiners can really get their way” commented one reader of the Mail Online as they read about young people’s reactions to Brexit. “Ahh, bless”…. said another …”you pathetic little snowflakes, go to your ‘safe places’ and suck your thumbs”, “we have bred a nation of wimpssaid a third.

Hating on young people isn’t anything new, each generation has been castigated by the tabloid media. The baby boomers and their children, once at the center of their own media fueled ‘moral panic’ (think mods and rockers, swinging sixties, punks, football hooliganism), are now creating their own alternative facts about our youth. Let’s face it, this group of young people are actually pretty tame in comparison, largely criticized for taking too many selfies and being too busy scrolling to engage with face-to-face conversations or petitioning for lower grade boundaries when the exam paper goes ‘off-topic’, the tabloids have created a blizzard out of Generation Snowflake.  But how much of it is actually true? Is this group of millennials as narcissistic and lacking in resilience as we have been led to believe?  

The answer is no.

Myth 1 – Generation Snowflake are apathetic and have no interest in politics

Young people are engaged in politics.  Politicians? Not so much. To them Westminster is still saturated with white middle-class men, while politics seems PR-driven and sanitised, their needs still not considered by large parties or candidates. Remember to, that this generation grew up with headlines exposing politicians flouting their responsibilities, fueled by the expenses scandal which has fed youth scepticism of politics. While policy and their promises still largely fall in the interest of mum, dad and nan, young people continue to feel disconnected from the people that should be representing them.

Young people might not be voting, but online they are talking, challenging and educating one another on their political views on The Student Room. In the build-up to the General Election in 2015 our UK Politics forum generated 1,265 conversations, creating 46,000 posts and over 800,000 pageviews (March to May 2015). Debate on EU referendum spanned not only UK politics but also our News forum. In UK politics alone it generated over 1000 discussions, 40,000 posts and 600,000 pageviews in three months (May to July).

Myth 2 - They’re only interested in themselves

You might remember those dreaded conversations you used to have after an exam. That sickening feeling when your ‘smarter’ mate unpicked the answer you thought you’d nailed. Now students head online to create model exam answer cheat sheets as part of the exam post-mortem process. Yes, they proactively ‘torture’ each other for the greater good so that they can benchmark how they think they did and support each to feel ready for what might happen come results day.  Last year students shared, via The Student Room, a link to a live Google doc so they could collaborate across the UK, sharing answers and information before popping back over to TSR to revise together for their next exam or continue creating revision resources to help themselves and share with their peers. Over the last couple of year’s students have created over 233,000 revision resources across TSR and our sister-site Get Revising to get ahead and hit their grades and they’re still going strong, creating on average 150 free revision resources online a day.

Contrary to what some may think, young people are not lazy and they refuse to become victims of the exam reforms that they have no control over; they are hardworking and committed to achieving the grades they need and supporting their peers to do the same. Every year, young people get going on their revision for the summer earlier than the year before. Revision conversation and preparation now kicks off in January for many and last year across GCSE and A-level forums we saw over 26,000 conversations, 410,000 posts and a 28 million page views (April-June 2016).  

Myth 3 - They lack resilience

Young people have grown up in a risk society, we seem to be obsessed with debating, preventing and managing our risks. Throughout their education, young people been constantly streamed, assessed and judged, pushed to choose the right subjects that will get them the best grades and open the most lucrative doors. The need to always prove their worth and ability is relentless. If they perform, the media tells us exams have become easier, if they do badly, then they haven’t tried hard enough.

But they also must learn to shoulder the responsibility of the generation who has made decisions for them. Politicians who actively pursued Brexit are now pushing the value of technical training and the need to invest in STEM education and careers to ensure the UK doesn’t ‘fall behind’. But 68% of young people told us they didn’t want to leave the EU and it’s also questionable how many of them will want to follow this educational and career pathway now being established for them as the number of students pursuing engineering based degrees falls, the pressure is there for them to step up and save us and more importantly make the ‘right’ choice.

Millennials have more options and information at their fingertips than any other generation.  But are arguably stuck in an inertia of endless choice and this can bring a crippling fear of judgement and rejection. Not only is this affecting decisions for school leavers who are feel the pressure to choose the right educational and career pathway but later down the line it’s creating anxiety for graduates who are suffering from ‘Imposter Syndrome’ at the very beginning of their careers. Research commissioned by the Amazing If found more than four million young people (a thirds of millennials) now have a persistent fear of being ‘found out’ and lack confidence.

What most will not see is that young people are taking decisions around their future seriously. The Student Room gives us a window into their process as they move between the study help, careers and university choice forums. Supported by their peers and older members they are coached in making the right decision based on their needs and hopes for the future. A sense of community swells during peak times of the academic year and graduate recruitment, with applicants, candidates and experts sharing information, suggestions and tips. During these stressful periods, mental wellbeing is nurtured on the site, this generation is exceptional at sharing authentic, raw, experiential advice for young people with similar worries. Young people aren’t afraid to face up to what they’re feeling to enable them to move forward, they want the gritty truth, and social media continues to provide an integral platform for their honest, warts n all conversation to build resilience and tackle feelings of isolation.

Connecting with Millennials

Brands that connect what they do with real stories and advocacy, through sharing heart-led messages that are representative of this generation’s hopes, fears and aspirations can cut through the noise and build engagement and loyalty.

This generation is stronger than we’re led to believe. They are aspirational but given their access to information they can be very skeptical and hugely unpredictable. Online they are looking to learn from others that are on a similar journey to them or already walked the walk. In a noisy world, they are craving raw, authentic access to other humans with similar aspirations. Pushed and pulled for much of their young life by the pressure to make the right decisions and having grown up in a recession, they are generation who resonate strongly with hitting hard times, picking themselves up and dusting themselves off.

The Student Room is a peer-to-peer forum and discussion site that 7,000,000+ young people visit monthly to discuss education, life around learning and pathways. Insight from these conversations informs the below.

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