Understanding & Reaching Wireless Students

Whether you are a high school teacher, a high school pastor, or the parent of a high schooler we all have the same problem. How do we understand and reach the teenagers in front of us with messages that matter? 

I’ve found that this lead in question is often the problem.

  1. We are a generation of adults who likes to talk and pretend to be experts on things we don’t understand, we over-assume.
  2. What matters to you isn’t necessarily something that matters to the students in your life.

That said, there is plenty of research available which will help you better understand what’s important and how to reach those in high school right now. Why is there so much research done on this age group? Because bagillions of dollars in spending are influenced by them! (What? You thought researchers just liked them? Maybe so?)

Here’s what’s on the menu for understanding those who just graduated high school:

  • Soup of the day – The Beloit Mindset List for the Class of 2015. We start things off by recognizing the world they have grown up with. They’ve never had a home phone, they’ve never dialed up the internet, they’ve never known a world without terrorist plots or going to the gate to pick up a friend at the airport. This list provides context.
  • Chef’s salad – The cost of college is on the forefront of their minds. Most high school students live with the adult assumption that they need to attend college. They are marketing savvy enough to ponder, “Do I need to go to college or do adults depend on me going to college?” They are asking good questions to count the cost like, “Is college right for me? Why do I want to go to college and spend all of that money if I don’t know what I want to do? Am I going to make enough money in the long run to afford the debt it will take to graduate?” This is why the gap year is so intriguing to them. (This is a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs)
  • Featured entree`5 Ways to Friend the Class of 2015. Research start-up Mr. Youth has published a powerful marketing whitepaper which dove deep into the forces that move them. The five ingredients of this dish include: Help them express their personal brand, Integrate organically into their world, Get in good with their friends, Become an on-demand brand, Get to know them before assuming what they want.
  • DessertMillennial Donors 2011 Executive Summary. Today’s students are motivated to change things. According to the second year study called Millennial Donors, 93% of those surveyed gave money to charity. 79% actively volunteered their time. But 90% of those surveyed said they would stop donating (time & money) if they didn’t trust the leadership.

What does this have to do with my role in students lives? 

  • To reach students we have to understand what makes them tick instead of trying to get them to understand our point-of-view.
  • The world they have grown up in is vastly different from the one you grew up in. They already have a million adults in their lives that lecture to them, your best opportunity for reaching them is through listening.
  • Instead of asking students to get on your team you’ll need to help them see how your team and their team can collaborate. The concept of personal brand isn’t narcissism, it’s an opportunity.
  • Understand that a recommendation is their most powerful motivator. They simply won’t go somewhere or do something that’s not recommended to them.
  • They are hard-wired to give back, volunteer, and contribute their fair share. But the key component is trust. If you aren’t transparent and honest they will just move on.
Do you work with high school students? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve pointed out? What are areas you’d like to explore more? How could this research impact your day-to-day interactions with high schoolers? 

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

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