Fears Of A Younger Generation: Research by MTV

Photo by Kevin Jarrett-boy with electronics on unsplash
Photo by Kevin Jarrett on unsplash

By Zak Niazi

The annual Pivot conference was held on October 15th, 2013 in a converted warehouse downtown in the Flatiron District. In attendance were some 400 people representing over 300 companies, gathered to discuss the social revolution happening online and exchange business cards over Merlot and Chicken Caesar wraps.

Amidst the speakers were two women from MTV: Leslie Mallek and Jillian Curran, who came on stage to discuss the challenges 13-17-year-olds today face which their 18-23-year-old counterparts did not. Their research was a part of a larger initiative by MTV to understand the younger generation before they hit MTV’s 18-23-year-old sweet spot. Some of their results were rather surprising.

“So the question going into the study is a very simple one. Are 13 to 17-year-olds just mini versions of their 20 something-year-old counterparts?” asked Leslie D’Arcy Mallek.

Jillian Curran and Leslie Mallek MTV, at Pivot 2013
Jillian Curran and Leslie Mallek MTV, at Pivot 2013

The first disparity they highlighted is the difference in optimism the two generations show. The younger millennials – as they called 13-17-year-olds – tend to be much more pragmatic than their older counterparts. “So if you think about these older millennials, these guys came of age in a time of endless possibility. There was the Obama ‘Yes We Can’ campaign, it was a soaring economy, and there were these people, young entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg who made these million-dollar sites from the comfort of their own dorm rooms. So there was this feeling in America of ‘I am going to graduate from college’, ‘I am going to do amazing at my job, and I am going to accomplish my dreams.’”

Rather than optimistic about their career prospects, 13 – 17-year-olds today have grown up in a time that has led many to be less optimistic about their future.

“If you think about younger millennials, these guys have come of age in the last five years. And a lot has changed. These guys have seen a lot of violence. These guys have seen a much more chaotic world. There have been a lot of natural disasters. So this has really set a different kind of tone for these younger millennials. A thirteen-year-old today has seen perhaps an older sibling graduate from college with huge amounts of debt and not being able to find a job. So in a poll of 17-years-olds, three-fourths have told us that they are worried about the negative impact the economy will have on their future.”

One question that came up during their research was how these younger millennials go about coping with stress. Leslie and Jillian found that they tend to engage in a phenomenon called ‘collective unplugging’. This is the act of removing oneself from all technology, and these younger millennials use it when engaging with friends for more meaningful experiences.

The research also showed that they are differentiating themselves through random interests. “They’re asking, ‘How am I going to stand out in this world and be different?’ So we kind of found these random things that people are into. What was interesting were things like a 13-year-old who considers herself a master bagpipe maker. They really try to sever themselves from their friends, find their thing. There’s a pressure to just step away and be themselves.”

In a nutshell, the difference between younger and older millennials can be wrapped up in the following comment made by Leslie.

“To use a metaphor, the older millennials being more like the Harry Potter generation and finding their specialness. They believe they can do anything. And looking at the younger millennials like the Hunger Games, that there is specialism. Using your skills to stand out, to survive, to make an impact in this world in a bigger way.”

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