3 Ways Student Culture is Changing

Being a youth worker is hard. It’s kind of like being a missionary who changes countries every 2-3 years. Just when learn to zig in response to student culture, it shifts and we must learn to zag. So, what’s the latest zag? Well, there are a lot of them.

And like I mentioned here, “what’s new” is different from region to region and city to city, but occasionally there are some cultural shifts that happen on a larger scale. And one of the most recent shifts we’ve noticed is this:

Everything is becoming micro.

Here’s what I mean:

  • From macro-fame to micro-influence. Who students follow influences what they believe. We talk more about that here. But who they follow has changed. Years ago, there was a small community of major celebrities who held most of the influence. If they represented a product, it did well. If they started a trend, it And while that’s still true to some degree, studies show we are in a new age of micro-influencers with up to 60% more…you guessed it…influence than celebrities[1]. Adweek describes micro-influencers as people with 30k followers or less (which sounds like a lot until you realize that Kim Kardashian West has over 111 million followers). Basically, a micro-influencer is someone with less followers, but more influence, and they range from YouTube makeup artists, to Twitter activists, to high school students with a great Instagram game. So, while it’s still not a bad idea to be aware of major celebrities and drop the occasional reference with students, it may be in our best interests to pay attention to the lesser-known VIPs as well.
  • From macro-trends to micro-seasons. Remember when you used to get the “Fall Catalog” from your favorite clothing store? Okay, maybe not, but when I was in high school, that was a real thing. There was a Fall/Winter catalog and a Spring/Summer catalog because that was how often clothing trends changed. But in recent years, stores like Target, Forever21, and others have embraced a fast fashion approach with up to 52 micro-seasons in a single year. That means something new is happening every week. And while the term “micro-season” refers to the fashion industry, I have a sneaking suspicion the same rule applies to a lot of areas of our students lives. The question is, how will the age of micro-trends change the way we handle weekly programming in our environments?
  • From macro-generations to micro-generations. Remember when everyone hated millennials? For a while, it seemed like a national pastime. Part of the reason it bothered me is that, technically, I am one. I was born in 1982. And yet I noticed a groundswell of people my age talking about millennials as if they were a species from an unknown planet. At the same time, I knew what they meant…sort of. The teenagers I served weren’t the same as me. We had different values and different ideas. The truth is the early 1980s kids were a bubble generation, stuck between Gen X and Gen Y (eventually renamed millennials) with the characteristics of both. Some have named the bubble generation “Xennials.” Then came the true millennials, and thankfully, along came Generation Z right after them to take some of the heat. If you’re keeping track, that means in the last fifteen years we have served three generations in youth ministry. Is that even possible? Maybe with the rise of the everything-faster values that came with the Internet, generations are changing more quickly than before. Maybe they have always changed this quickly and we’ve just started naming them, but whatever the case, as youth leaders I think we have to get used to the idea of re-learning what it means to serve the next generation faster than ever before.


[1] http://www.adweek.com/digital/micro-influencers-are-more-effective-with-marketing-campaigns-than-highly-popular-accounts/


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