Cool has multiple dimensions ... more than half of teens and collegians describe it as an appearance (56%), an attitude (53%) or a style (50%). Slightly less than half equate cool to a behavior (45%) and a third consider it to be integral to a product (34%). Of all that cool is to Millennials, it is less often considered to be something influenced by others (19%), and more often considered to be personal and subjective.
We asked teens and collegians to list words (aside from cool) that they use to describe what they like or find exciting. While the top 50 alternatives to the word cool can be found online, some highlights include:
Reflexively applying the concept of cool to Millennials themselves, the media (in their efforts to protect this precious generation) focus a great deal of attention on peer pressure, bullying and cyber-bullying. The reality is that while there may be an isolated incident from time to time that garners a disproportionate media response, Millennials have higher levels of self-esteem than their predecessors.
This bold statement is not only evidenced by our research into how kids think and feel about themselves and the world around them, but is also based on evidence of their behavior as measured by government sources such as the Centers for Disease Control. Bad or negative behaviors such as drug abuse, alcoholism and teenage pregnancy are well lower than the peaks achieved by Boomers and Gen Xers. Less than one in ten college-aged students uses illicit or abuses prescription drugs, a number that would have been shocking to those attending college in the '60s, '70s and '80s.
If there's a shred of truth to the controversial headlines that surround teen bullying, it's that high school females have a tougher time feeling accepted than their male counterparts or the older female collegian cohort. High school females have deep connections with their friends and feel more pressure to fit into a perceived "in-crowd." Popularity is hard to achieve, easy to lose and, in the moment, seems like a life or death issue to teenage girls. Teen boys seem strangely inoculated to the pressure, convinced that they are surrounded by people that like them.
The importance of popularity decreases rapidly as teens enter their college years with a larger, more distributed social network offering more options and less pressure to perform. In tackling the pressure to be cool, helping teens to see past their temporary situation to a bigger picture is the best antidote to the pressures they face.