How To Communicate with Millennials


Review of  Lecture given by Dr. Christina P. Lynch, Psy.D

What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

That classic line from the 1967 movie, “Cool Hand Luke,” embodies the dilemma Dr. Christina Lynch found herself facing as director of Psychological Services at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

“Over the years I observed changes in how our seminarians have developed in their capacity to process thoughts and effectively communicate them to others,” Dr. Lynch told listeners at her Defend Life-sponsored talk at Our Lady’s Center in Ellicott City April 21.

“We started to see some difficulties, especially as they became ordained; the pastors who were receiving them said, ‘How do you communicate with these guys?’”

The young seminarians she found herself dealing with were part of the millennial generation, those born from 1982 on through the 1990s.

She researched the subject and came up with some fascinating information. “Millennials are the most diverse generation and the most educated generation; but they’re also the most in debt [for college loans].  “That has caused a lot of them to not buy homes and not buy cars, which has driven millennials to live in urban areas,” Lynch explained. But technology is the biggest factor in shaping the millennials, she asserted. “Some of what we’re seeing in millennials is poor social skills and poor relationships; technology has been the cause of that.” Millennials are also called the “I-Y generation,” she said:  coming after the X generation, “They are the Y generation with an ‘I’ in front because everything is about I-pad, I-phone, I-this, I-that! Every device they use confirms, ‘It’s all about me!’”

Being a millennial is not an easy thing, said Lynch: “They’re overconnected, they’re over-protected, and they’re over-served: as a result, they’re overwhelmed!” There is more depression and more anxiety in this generation than ever before, she said. “We know that after 2007, text messaging overtook phone calls as a way of communicating. Millennials don’t even check phone messages anymore; they just check text messages.” For the millennial, 200 texts a day is the norm. “But Gallup reports that 40 percent of millennials are what we call hyper-texters; they can receive up to 500 texts a day,” she noted.

Research shows that teenagers who hypertext are more likely to try cigarettes, binge drink and use drugs. A big problem with texting is that texts can be easily misunderstood, because the receiver does not benefit from the tone of voice, the body language, or eye-to-eye contact. “As a result, 87 percent of millennials say they have misinterpreted text messages,” said Lynch. “We’ve gone down in the skill of empathy—the ability to put yourself in another person’s place and understand what they’re going through,” she added.  “The ability to text does not allow that skill to develop.”

Millennials are never without their phones; yet, they have very poor relationship skills, said Lynch. “Focus groups have shown that face-to-face meetings—looking someone in the eye and being aware of body language—are very difficult.  “They’re short on patience, listening, and conflict resolution, because if you say something to me on a text, I don’t have to deal with it; I can delete it, or unfriend a person.”

Another major problem with millennials is that they are overprotected, said Lynch. Because parents are constantly receiving bad news instantly on TV and the internet, they react with fear and over-protect their children. “Over-protection is hurting kids,” she maintained; “it takes away their ability to be autonomous and assume responsibility.” Being over-served and overgratified is another problem for millennials, Lynch noted.  They are used to getting what they want when they want it.

“Because everything comes to them instantaneously, they haven’t learned to self-regulate their emotions; they are delayed in their emotional development.”

As a result of all these factors:

  • 48% of those in college have had counseling for mental health problems.
  • 10% have been hospitalized for mental health issues.
  • 8-10% have attempted suicide.
  • 30% have thought about suicide.

“They are overwhelmed!” she concluded. Millennials have more knowledge and information than any other generation, but they don’t know how to process it. “They don’t have mentors to interpret this information:  parents are busy, families are broken,” said Lynch.  So their only mentors are their peers, the media, and the schools they go to.”

We need to be their mentors, she urged; we need to teach them morals, values and ethics. But most of all, said Lynch, “You need to let them know that you really care about them—that they are valued, they are beloved children of God; that’s all that’s important. “I tell my students, I want you to do radiation therapy; sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament 15 minutes and get radiated every day! “We know that heals—tell your kids that.”

We also need to stop over-protecting our children, she said. “Research has found that children who are not over-protected master the experience of failing.  They become capable of overcoming adversity and achieving goals.”
Dr. Lynch described a father who got an automobile engine that no longer worked and gave it to his 13-year old son, who spent the whole summer working on it.  The teen loved it and became a mechanical engineer. “How do they discover their gifts and talents if we don’t give them opportunities and let them fail?” she asked. “We need to create those opportunities; we need to be teachers and coaches, encouraging them, not criticizing them.”

Millennials are looking for a sense of community, of belonging, of contributing to something larger than themselves. “We haven’t taught them the virtues, the truth,” declared Lynch. There needs to be a return to virtue and truth, and especially to beauty.  The beauty of creation is an opening to reach them; all generations relate to beauty and truth.

“We need to teach them how to die for others,” she asserted; “we have to die to ourselves to do that!” When you can present to them a vision of living the faith that is challenging and adventurous, that calls out what is best in them, they respond, she concluded.

Dr. Lynch is a licensed clinical psychologist, a founding Board Member, Past President (2013-2015) and current Advisor to the Board of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association.  In 2007, Dr. Lynch joined St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado as Professor and Director of Psychological Services. This article first appeared in the Defend Life Newsletter, May-June 2017.