As educators, we are expected to be able to connect with our learners. While the basic skills of this connection are built on communication, caring, and trust, it’s also helpful to be able to understand our learners and their lived experience. For the last decade, we’ve learned more and more about the Millennial Generation and it feels like we’ve just gotten the hang of teaching them just in time for a new generation of learners. Born in 1995 and later, this next group entered medical school in 2016 and are now entering residency training in the US. As a group, they’ve never known a world without the internet, grew up with cell phones, and probably had an Instagram account before a driving license. Given many nicknames (Gen Z, Homelanders, Founders), generational researcher and author Dr. Twenge has chosen to call them iGen.
In her book, iGen, Dr. Jean Twenge introduces us to this new generation of learners by walking us through reams of national survey data while illustrating the points through interviews with this generation. As you begin reading, make sure to take the “How iGen are you” quiz on page 11 (I’m a 7/15, and belong to the Xennial group). Taking the quiz gives you a preview of the material to come. While the “i” in iGen is a nod to Apple®, it stands for internet and individuality as well as several “I” themes that define this generation.
This is a generation that is growing up slowly. As a group, they are less likely to experience unsupervised teenage freedoms (think double dates with their parents), less likely to date, less likely to obtain a drivers license, drink alcohol, and work in high school (even during the summer). They also were less likely to fight with their parents and don’t seem to mind being treated as a child. As a result, this group lacks many life skills (money management, time management, conflict management) and they’ve even coined a term for the jobs required of growing up: #adulting.
Perhaps the most concerning themes identified by Dr. Twenge relates to mental health. This generation is more likely to report feeling left out and lonely. The depression rate has risen sharply in this group as well. Fortunately, they also appear to be more willing to report their feelings and seek help than prior generations.
The book explores other themes that will define this generation. Many are positive: inclusivity, valuing diversity, and valuing work-life balance, while some give rise to concern, such as the lack of preparation for adult life and the reliance on trigger warnings and safe spaces to avoid facing the reality of situations.
While the book has its’ critics, I still found it helpful to understand the lived experience of students who I will be teaching over the next 10+ years. I feel both hope and concern for what we will face as educators, but ultimately look forward to working with these students.
Bonus: Considerations for teaching this group: Is Medical Education Ready for Generation Z?
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