We the Millennials

I am sincerely tired of hearing how terrible we millennials are. I get it. We are self-indulgent, immediate-gratification seeking, special snowflakes that need to grow up. Most of you reading this will either agree with that assessment of my generation, or say that it doesn’t apply to you. You are both wrong. I think I am going to have to split this into several blog posts.

I am 31. I am on the cusp of that millennial generation. Somewhere between the year 1980 and 1985 is when this generation starts. The exact date is hard to pin down.This website says that Millennials, or Generation Y, were born between ’77 and ’94. I think it is easier to just say those of us born between ’80 and ’90, those of us who are now firmly adults, are considered this generation. Sorry to anyone who thought you managed to squeak out of this particular generation bracket.

I want to start with a bit of history, for those who don’t really know the differences between the generations and how that has directly evolved into us being self-indulgent brats. We were self-indulgent. This is, first and foremost, our parent’s fault. WHAT?!?! You little brat! It is not our fault! I want to box ears when I hear this. Yes, it is, indeed, our parents fault. If you want, you can keep blaming generations back and say it is our grandparent’s fault, or our great-grand parents. Please, pass the buck. We will end up doing it too. However, most of us are not self-indulgent little brats anymore.

How, though? How did it come to this? As a parent you never want to see your child suffer. I dream of this, just kidding! the 1900’s was a gloriously hard century. Two world wars, technological advances bringing science fiction to life, major medical breakthroughs prolonging life, social networking and globalization. There was more change in the past 100 years than there had been in the past 1000 years combined. Really, it was incredible. With that came the bleak. The Depression, Vietnam, a depressing rise in divorce and incurable, debilitating disease, and political and corporate greed that has taken us from the Greatest Nation in the World, to the laughing stock.

I digress. Back to the suffering. WWI and the Depression sucked. If you want to learn about going without just look at the crash after the war boom. My grandpa would unscrew light bulbs, wear his shirts until they literally fell off his body, and wouldn’t turn on the heat until the house fell below freezing (he lived in northwest Ohio). This was a learned behavior from his parents who actually lived through the Depression. Apparently my grandmother’s sisters hated pancakes, because it was the only thing to eat some days. My grandma loves pancakes. Misery! Then things started picking up. We moved into manufacturing and innovation during the WWII boom. We eradicated disease, we made big cars, big guns, and big buildings. We came together as a people to stop a common enemy. We did great things! However, great-grandpa was still in charge. After what he went through, I can’t imagine being raised in a home like that. You did what you were told, when you were told, and you didn’t give any lip about it. You didn’t like dinner, you didn’t eat. You got bad grades, you got beat. Gender lines were strict. Moms stayed home, Dads went to work. You did something bad, you paid the price both at home and socially. Your goal was to get a good job after high school, settle down, and procreate.

Thus the next generations, Baby Boomers, who did get boxed ears, said, “Times are better now and I will not raise my children like this.” Apparently there are two cohorts of boomers. Boomers I and Boomers II. Boomers I lived through the assassinations of Kennedy and King, and contended with the Vietnam War. Women wanted to work, men wanted to be more involved with their children and there was lots of opportunity for it. Great strides were made in social reform. The Civil Rights movement happened. We went to the moon. Boomers I raised their kids with a bit more freedom. With great strides came some unfortunate consequences that weren’t felt for several generations. I have seen this particular excerpt circulate several times. While I do enjoy it, it certainly misses the point of what is happening now. How could they have known that they were damaging the world?

Boomers II started to have a healthy skepticism about government involvement in their lives. They also said, “We are going to raise our kids differently,” but where as Boomer I’s still had relatively stable families and more authoritarian outlooks on raising children, Boomer II, who were post war and post Civil Rights movement, were starting to lean towards a more entitled thought process. The general theme was “I’m out for me.” This was the beginning of the end of the post WWII boom. Jobs were less plentiful and there was a decided frown at trade skills. Going to college and landing that high paying job was the better bet, as the mid-level factory worker was already established by the earlier Boomers. With the high profile jobs and education, coupled with the “I’m out for me” attitude, there was a spike in divorce rates. Parents weren’t less invested in their children but with both parents out of the house there was less involvement. What involvement was there tended to be more authoritarian. Do what you are told, when you are told.

Enter Gen X, the products of this new type of home environment. They too said they would raise their children (us) differently. In their homes Mom and Dad were never around, divorce rates spiked, child care was left in the hands of others, and public education started its downward decline. Gen Xers had a rough go of it and the attitude shifted from “I’m out for me” to “what’s in it for me?”. With the focus still on high-profile jobs and college education there was an even bigger snub at the trade skills, which were starting to thin with the retirement of the older generations. “No, no,” they said. “Our kids would not be put through the same unattached parenting that we went through”. They wanted more involvement in their children’s lives. They would be there for the kids. The world was harsh and the children needed to be protected. “Our parents were abusive and no one is going to hurt my child! My child is unique, not told to step in line and follow the mould, but to march to the beat of their own drum. They can be what they want to be!” At the same time manufacturing plummeted as we moved more and more to a service society. Not only was it “What’s in it for me”, but also “What can you do for me?”. US innovation stalled, companies moved their workforce off-shore to increase profits, and with the focus on mid- and high-level jobs, no one really noticed the gap widening between the poor and the middle class.

Now we come to the millennials. Between 1980 and 2000 there was such a rapid shift in the technological world that most adult’s heads were spinning. However, much like toddlers can pick up a foreign language faster than an adult, so, too, did we millennials take to technology. There was a small problem though. Our parents did not want to raise us like they were raised. In a world so rapidly changing we needed to be protected. Bullying escalated to cyber bullying. Sex and sexual content was now so easily available that most parents didn’t realize we were jaded by it by the time we were 13. Our parents desperately wanted to see us succeed, so they made it easy for us as children. You participated? Here’s a trophy. There are no winners or losers, just the game play. What do you mean he/she didn’t get a good grade? Fix this right now! We were patted, coddled, and given stuff just because we existed. Why would it have occurred to us that the real world was cruel and didn’t give a damn about us? To our parents, we were everything. Both the “What’s in it for me” and the “What can you do for me?” morphed into “You owe me”. Being told no, or you’re wrong, or you failed, never crossed our minds.

This isn’t me! I didn’t have that childhood! My parents told me no all the time! Blah, blah, blah. No, not every single bit of this pertains to every person. However, the term ‘helicopter mom’ is usually applied to Gen X, and millennials are the product of that. We have been beat up and blamed for a lot of stuff that isn’t our fault. Even so, there is still a general air about us that reeks of “You owe me”. Now that we are firmly in our adulthood and reality has smacked us in the face, we are starting to recognize the problems all the previous generations have compiled and placed on us, and then blame us for. The “You owe me” is starting to feel a lot like “It’s not my fault”, though we will continue to bear the brunt of it until the previous generations are gone.

We millennials did not break our government processes. That started several generations ago, in Boomer II, when they started focusing on the Me instead of the We. It has only escalated from there and it confuses Gen X that we are starting to move away from the Me back to the We. We also didn’t break our political system. The system was broken a long time ago, when the focus on education shifted from us thinking and being innovative to us being able to recite information and work within the corrupt corporate system. We millennials did not break our environment. Science has shown over and over again that there has been dramatic change in our climate. Whether this is human involvement or not doesn’t matter. We millennials recognize that there is a problem and we need to work on fixing it instead of ignoring or denouncing it. We millennials did not break our education system. Emphasis on education to the exclusion of all else had failed us miserably. Yeah, I know the Pythagorean Theorem. Fat lot of good it did me when I filed my taxes by myself for the first time at the age of 30. Nor has it helped fix our failing infrastructure, or keep us out of debt, or land us better jobs. Undergraduate degrees are a dime a dozen now. Go get your Masters, then we will talk. We millennials did not break our corporate systems. When we look for jobs/careers we want to do something meaningful, which means we need to perceive the company as meaningful. We are no longer okay being a cog in a machine if that machine is only to make a profit for one person or a family. We are tired of watching companies like Wal-Mart pay their employees pitiful wages, which we have to the subsidize off of our own taxes, while the company makes billions in profits. This is not to say we begrudge companies making profits! Business is business.  We can see the social inequity in schemes that keep its employees poor though. We millennials did not break our social structure. With the increase in diversity that technology has brought we see the blatant racism, sexism, and classicism that has driven our society close to another civil war. We are actively trying to avoid that.

Now we are having babies, or those babies are almost adults, depending on the end of the spectrum you fall in. Gen Z has quite a mess on its hands. Millennials have recognized the harmful patterns from previous generations. Too harsh on kids and they rebel. Too soft on kids and they become entitled brats. Slowly the pendulum is starting to swing towards the center, though it may not happen for another generation or two. I can only hope that we, as a generation, can raise our kids to recognize and strive towards balance, socially, economically, politically, and environmentally. Now the future is truly in our hands.


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