Mentoring Millennials About the Past—And the Future

A large group of young adults.

My husband's job at Focus on the Family is to know everything he can about Millennials—that up-and-coming generation of "kids" born roughly between 1980 and 2000. The ministry is actively looking for ways to reach that generation as they get married and become parents.

My job—before I went home to raise our own two kids a few years ago—was to encourage people to contact their state and federal representatives about important pending legislation. I talked to people about the importance of elections and political involvement.

During that time, Millennials weren't often on my list of people stepping up to the plate to make their voices heard, though they make up a third of the electorate. In fact, according to CNN and Fox News exit polls, only 13 percent of them voted in last November's mid-term elections, even though 28 percent had said they "definitely" would vote.

Compared to past generations' civic and political involvement, Millennials don't fare well. In 2012, Glenn Stanton, Focus on the Family's director of Global Family Formation Studies, wrote in a memo that they are less likely to think about social problems, be interested in or participate in government, vote, contact their representatives, participate in demonstrations or boycotts or give money to political causes than previous generations.

My parents and grandparents raised me to believe that civic and political engagement is both a duty and an honor. And that human life is valuable. When I was in my teens, I started volunteering for a local pro-life group the day after its executive director spoke at my church about our responsibility to pregnant mothers and the preborn.

After law school, I went to Washington, D.C., working for groups that advocated for family values and federal and state pro-life legislation. I'm an activist at heart, which means I don't always speak softly and I carry a big soapbox.

So I sometimes find myself complaining to my husband about today's young people: "They don't care about important issues like abortion. It drives me nuts!"

My husband usually responds by reminding me that I am a Millennial, and that people our age just need to be engaged differently than past generations.

"They want to be mentored," he says, as though he is not also a Millennial. "They need relationships. And they don't like to be labeled."

It's no wonder, then, that most Millennials identify themselves as being both pro-life and pro-abortion. A June 2011 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) showed that "three-quarters … identify with the term 'pro-choice,' (and) 65 percent say 'pro-life' describes them at least somewhat well." The survey also indicated Millennials are "conflicted" about whether or not abortion is morally wrong.

Perhaps this is because they have never known a world in which abortion wasn't legal.

Mass Casualties

Millennials are arguably the most aborted generation in our nation's history. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all the abortions conducted since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 were conducted between 1980 and 2000.

That's more than 26 million abortions. That means the U.S. is missing almost a quarter of its 84 million Millennials. That's a lot of young people who will never post a "selfie" on Twitter or Instagram.

Sadly, my generation is also the one most likely to have abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, women between the ages of 20 and 29 had almost 60 percent of all the abortions performed nationwide in 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

The good news? While they may not identify clearly as pro-life, when asked more specific questions about their views, it becomes clear that Millennials are not entirely comfortable with abortion on demand and prefer some restrictions.

Those in the 18- to 34-year-old category want abortion banned in all or most circumstances by a margin of 57 percent to 41 percent, according to a May 2013 Gallup poll; those numbers were virtually unchanged from the same poll Gallup conducted in 2011.

On the other hand, PRRI put Millennial support for banning abortion in most or all circumstances at only 38 percent.

What's not in dispute is that the number of Millennials who want abortion banned in "all circumstances" is on the rise. Their camp is small, but it has increased by nine points since the 1990s—from 14 to 23 percent, according to Gallup. Millennials now share the ring with their grandparents as being the most likely to support banning abortion in all cases.

The PRRI put it this way: Things could be worse. Given that Millennials are less religious, more liberal, more highly educated and possess a more permissive view of sexuality than past generations—traits that correlate with the pro-abortion view—statistics indicate they should support abortion far more than they actually do.

Mentoring

My activist heart tells me we just can't sit on these statistics, even if they aren't as positive as I would like. If Millennials value mentoring relationships, if they want to be engaged in a friendly—not dictatorial—manner, then those of us who value the sanctity of human life should be meeting them where they are. Even if it's on Instagram.

The research shows Millennials value their parents' advice. So, while Time magazine pegged them as a bunch of "lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow" narcissists, there's a glimmer of hope: Young adults are listening. And isn't that a good first step toward changing hearts? My guess is that a lot of Millennials don't even know they are the most aborted generation in history. How are they supposed to care if they don't know?

What's most clear about Millennials is that they are impressionable on a lot of things. They need help, just like the generations before them did when they were younger. Across the board, they are optimistic about the future, even though they can't predict what it may hold. We need to paint them a picture, without shouting at them, of a country that values life.

After all, advertising research indicates, Millennials will be giving birth to more than 40 million babies in the next 10 years. What kind of impact could pro-lifers make if we intentionally befriended and mentored this generation?

In his book The Greatest Generation (Random House, 1998), Tom Brokaw wrote that those who fought for freedom in World War II "know how many of the best of their generation didn't make it to their early 20s, how many brilliant scientists, teachers, spiritual and business leaders, politicians and artists were lost in the ravages of the greatest war this world has ever seen."

If Millennials come to understand and embrace the value of life, perhaps someday the same will be said of us.

© 2015 Focus on the Family.