Lately, I’ve read a few articles about my generation. I was born in 1982, making me the first of what has been dubbed the “Millennial Generation” or “Generation Y” (it roughly includes those born between 1982-2004). Like all generations,—certain “traits” and “characterizations” have been attributed to the people born within it. In the 2007 book Generation Me, author Jean Twenge attributes confidence, tolerance, and a sense of entitlement, narcissism and a rejection of social conventions to the Millennials. In fact, I’ve often heard people in older generations (Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers) talk about how all these young people feel “entitled” to everything.
Let’s look at a couple things before I circle round to address that remark.
– Millennials are the generation that grew up with the computer. I was in 1st Grade and had weekly “computer lab” time spent playing Oregon Trail and similar games. I was the generation that grew up with the Internet in my home, the first to have pagers and cell phones readily available.
– We are the generation that statistically has dealt the most with divorce and single parent families. Something that wasn’t “the norm” for the generations prior.
– We also saw the birth of the “helicopter parent” that pushed many of us into every sport, every club and every extracurricular with the thought that it’d make us look better on college applications. Our entire childhoods centered on getting into the best university we possibly could.
– Because we were told throughout our childhood that college was of the utmost importance and getting into the best one possible was key, we were so focused on getting in that we never considered how we’d pay for college. Because of the insane cost of education and our parents’ desires for us to attend no matter what, we’ve assumed more student loan debt than any generation before us.
– Due to this inherent need to be an overachiever for the purposes of college and our helicopter parents putting us into every extracurricular activity imaginable (regardless of our ability or desire), we became the “participation generation” in which everyone was played, everyone was told they were great, everyone was rewarded at the end of the year (I have a trophy from when I played t-ball at age five. The highlight of my t-ball season was me running to 3rd base instead of 1st—not really a trophy-worthy achievement. I also have a crap ton of “Certificate of Participation” awards in a box somewhere collecting dust).
– In childhood and adolescence we experienced/witnessed the following events: the AIDS epidemic, Oklahoma City Bombing, Columbine and other gun violence in schools and perhaps the most impactful—9/11.
– We are now coming to age during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We’ve graduated college/high school to record unemployment and a housing market that has collapsed, all after watching big corporations that, through unwise decisions, had to be bailed out by the government in order to stay open.
So back to that whole feeling of “entitlement” that supposedly plagues my generation. When you as parents helicopter over us, give us a blue ribbon for some crap artwork we made with macaroni, push us into every activity possible for the sake of a “good education” but fail to mention that the cost of said education will hang on our backs for the rest of our lives, what do you expect? Factor in that as adults many of us are struggling to find a job (with that “good education” we received), find affordable homes we can buy and make payments on the education that apparently was pointless, as we’ve been unable to secure employment with it. It puts many, many of my generation in a no-win bind. It’s the reason why we’re the generation that has in staggering numbers pushed back moving out of our parents’ homes, getting married and starting families—we simply can’t afford it. We are the generation that everyone keeps saying will be worse off than our parents. It’s not pleasant for many of my fellow Millennials. I’m fortunate enough to count myself among the “lucky” because I do have gainful employment, I am able to afford to have a family and I do own a home—but I attribute that one to having married someone from the generation before me whom makes quite a deal more than I do. When I look at all the negative comments and statistics regarding the Millennials, it’s quite easy to feel a bit hopeless, but there is a silver lining I believe around this generation that people don’t always see—our parenting.
Now, I’m not trying to say that parents prior got it all wrong; what I will say is after having stood back and looked at how parenting has changed by generations, I am happy to be a part of this generation. Let’s look at a few “popular” parenting ideas/methods nowadays:
– Breastfeeding. It was a relic of parenting not too long ago. In the late 1980’s it was in a decline (59.7% of woman initiated breastfeeding) whereas by 2009 we see that number all the way up to 76.9%. Whether you do it or not, there is absolutely no denying that it’s the healthier option for your baby.
– Cloth diapers. Again, a relic of parenting has made quite a resurgence. Disposable diaper sales almost never drop, but in these tough economic times we’ve seen a drop in the birth rate (which is part of the reason) and an influx of parents going cloth in order to save money (and for many, to help the environment).
– Attachment parenting. In the past we’ve had the latch key kids, the helicopter parent (all of which we’ll still see), and in the 2000’s we saw the rise of the AP parents (which is based on attachment theory in behavioral psychology). These are the parents that follow some or all of “the eight principles” which basically teach parents to increase their sensitivity towards their baby’s needs/desires/signals, thus increasing the child’s security.
– Along with attachment parenting we’ve seen a number of other things: home birth, baby wearing, and co-sleeping have all popped up in our culture this decade, while other countries have been rather openly practicing these methods for years.
– Organic food movement – something that basically did not exist when I was growing up (the era of Kraft Mac N Cheese, microwave dinners, pizza, ramen and hot dogs) is now EVERYWHERE. We see entire stores based solely on the purpose of providing our families with healthy, nutritious food. We’ve seen a surge in homemade baby food (which is also a sign of the decline in our economy) and we’ve seen schools re-examining their practices (the soda machines of my era are being replaced with water/Gatorade).
Now, I won’t deny that some of this is a product of the economy we’ve inherited in our early adulthood. But, I also think this generation is looking at the materialism that overwhelmed in the 1980’s-1990 and saying that’s not where our priorities lie. We know we have inherited a much tougher world than our parents—we simply aren’t going to be able to “keep up with the Jones’” but there are areas where we can improve: loving our children without regard to accomplishments, accolades and test scores; providing them security and comfort; trying to be healthier examples of how to take care of yourself and the world around you.
So, for your early Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers that produced us, the Millennial Generation—before you criticize, take a moment to look at your grandchildren (in some cases it’s great-grandchildren) and see what we’re doing with them and be proud.