Young People Aren’t Hearing the Message and Not Listening — They Aren’t Hearing the Message at All
Sometimes I think I’m the only 22-year-old taking Coronavirus seriously. Actually, I think that all of the time. I watch in horror as my friends post snapchat stories from bars or vacation in Florida while I am barely leaving my house and certainly not without one of my four masks and hand sanitizer ready to go. I attribute some of this COVID fear to growing up with a mother with severe germaphobia, but am still in disbelief on how many people my age are not taking the pandemic seriously whatsoever. Sure, statistically people my age are less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID, but feeling like complete sh–crap for days on end or running the risk of making your parents or grandparents seriously ill hardly seems worth the risk to me.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks thinking about why young people aren’t taking social distancing and mask-wearing seriously. My emotions have gone from confusion, to frustration, even anger at my peers until I came to a realization recently that maybe this isn’t all their fault. Sure, you must be living under a rock to be unaware of the severity of the pandemic at the current moment and the fact that mask wearing is being encouraged, but at the same time, our leaders — ranging from politicians to health officials to the media — have been wholly ineffective at messaging the need to comply with health guidelines to young people.
It’s not uncommon for you to hear a journalist, like ABC’s Martha Raddatz this past weekend ask during an interview “what is your message to young people who are making up an increasing number of cases of this virus?” Or hear a governor make a plea for young people to wear masks. The problem is not that young people are hearing the message and not listening — it’s that the message isn’t reaching them at all. Young people aren’t watching the news and certainly not watching press conferences that have gone on nearly daily for months. They simply are not in tune with the “traditional” channels that public officials have used to reach Americans.
Furthermore, while there has been an influx of television advertisements and other marketing regarding the importance of social distancing, I have not seen one that was directly appealing to young people. I personally reached out to an elected official’s office about this issue and proposed an ad appealing to young people that highlighted the inadvertent impacts their COVID recklessness can have. I heard no response. The idea, coming from a young person (who I like to think knows something about young people), was apparently rejected in favor of ineffective advertising that appeals to no one but the people already following precautions.
Without effective marketing using the channels that Gen Z and Millennials use (social media for one) and speaking their language with a message that appeals to them, public officials have no hope of reaching young people and changing their behaviors. Elected officials cannot continue to speak down to young people; instead have a conversation with them using messaging that is not condescending and accusatory but rather empathetic and reasoned. You will have a much better chance of reaching a young person by explaining to them the chance of infecting their parents or family who may not have as easy of a time with the virus, something that they would likely care about. Or warn them that establishments like bars may have to close again as they have in Florida and Texas without mask wearing, which may very well perk their ears.
Regardless, if the US has any hope of getting this virus under control anytime soon, public officials must reach young people. To do that, they must develop an effective and strategic messaging strategy targeting these groups. They have failed at that thus far.
If leaders continue to fail to take action in reaching young people specifically, we will have many more months of hearing complaints about young people’s disregard for the pandemic and the effects it is having, and we will see cases rise in every state stemming from young people. That will be the future of this pandemic. But it will not be a future we were destined to have. It will be the future we chose.