Now that I have the attention of the millennials in the audience, let’s see if we can’t get past that headline, no matter how much fun it might be. Is there really something wrong with the millennial generation? They are frequently portrayed as self-indulged slackers, waiting for a handout while living in their mother’s basement, but how much of that characterization is based in reality? And even if there’s some truth to it, why did they turn out like that?
Adam Shapiro at Fox Business digs into the question and looks at the findings of Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State. She seems to have come to the conclusion that millennials most certainly do have an unfulfilled sense of entitlement about them, but that should have been predictable because we raised an entire generation to believe that everybody deserves a trophy.
Millennials are accused of being self-centered, lazy and entitled. While Twenge’s research validates some of these stereotypes, it also uncovers positive characteristics. She says GenMe, her term for Millennials, is somewhat justified to be angry since everyone told them, while growing up, they were special. Twenge writes, “Young people are angry. Told they could be anything they wanted to be, they face widespread unemployment. Raised on dreams of material wealth more than a third live with their parents well into their 20s…after a childhood of optimism and high expectations reality hit them like a smack in the face.” Part of the problem says Twenge are a culture and education system that rewards everyone just for showing up instead of hard work. She is critical of the “self-esteem” movement that swept America when GenMe was young. Twenge shows how the practice of giving every child a trophy, despite their effort or achievement, actually hurts children. “Their childhoods of constant praise, self-esteem boosting and unrealistic expectations did not prepare them for an increasingly competitive workplace and the economic squeeze created by underemployment and rising costs.
It’s a tempting analysis for anyone who doesn’t happen to be a millennial and there’s certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence to support Dr. Twenge’s assertions about an American economy and culture which has failed to deliver up to expectations. But underneath it all this sounds like yet more generalization of the generations if you’ll pardon the phrase.
The older folks in the crowd will remember that there probably hasn’t been a generation in the past century which hasn’t shocked, saddened or disappointed the one which came before it in one fashion or another. The crew cut and D.A (“duck’s ass“… look it up) kids who came out of the forties and fifties were aghast at the hippies and flower children they spawned. That same peace and love crew, when they finally got jobs and had kids of their own, were equally revolted by the young Reagan Conservatives who blossomed in the 80s and 90s. And when Ronnie’s Young Turks saw their own kids camped out in Occupy Wall Street tent cities they probably wanted to slit their wrists. Yet somehow the republic has managed to soldier on and survive.
But I do agree that the Spare the Rod mentality which became prevalent in the 90s, along with the idea that competition is a bad thing and everyone should be a winner in their own way, didn’t do these kids any favors when they got out into the real world. Yes, the boom era of the 90s tech bubble has faded, just as the Happy Days which followed World War II turned rather sad in the seventies. Things probably look considerably more grim to the millennials in terms of opportunity and the chance for a slice of the American pie, but it’s a cycle which repeats itself decade after decade. We have our ups and downs as a nation and if we can manage to avoid imploding entirely, their kids may have a shot at exceeding their parents’ dreams once again.
So while some of the stereotypes regarding millennials may be founded in reality, there are probably valid reasons for it to a certain degree. That doesn’t mean you’re not annoying and miserable, though.