We love them, but we look at them with scorn or derision. We look at them and wonder how they could be so __________ (fill in the blank). They are Millenials. They are in high school or college or freshly out of college, poorly equipped to handle the big, bad world and having no clue why.
They’re spoiled. They’re entitled. They believe they’re all that and more, even though they feel like they’re nothing so much of the time. We adults in GenX and GenY look at these kids and call them “wusses” and “snowflakes.”
Last week, we were discussing these kids. My teen is a Millenial with none of the above characteristics and a great deal of disdain for her fellow Millenials who have them. Frankly, I’m quite proud of the fact that she doesn’t have these traits, but as the conversation continued, she said, “Mom, it’s your generation’s fault that we’re like this.”
Well, that bombshell put a serious pause in the conversation, and as my mind raced over the past 20 years, I couldn’t help but come to one clear conclusion: Damn. She’s right.
My generation came up with “participation awards.” Then we gripe about how they reward mediocrity.
My generation decided we need to “protect children’s self esteem” by never giving them negative feedback or poor grades. Now we wonder why they don’t seem nearly as smart as they should.
My generation got rabid about protecting children from everything – germs, hurt feelings, human traffickers, TV violence, feeling bad, physical punishment… You name it. We invented “time out,” thinking that two-year-olds are capable of sitting in the special “time out chair” in the corner and understanding how what they did was wrong. (I studied childhood development from every aspect. Trust me when I say, they are incapable of doing this.) Now we have a bunch of kids who are too traumatized when an election doesn’t go a certain way that they can’t fulfill their responsibilities to go to their college classes – and the schools allow this! What a bunch of fragile, whimpy, weak snowflakes!
And who made them this way? Yes, my fellow GenXers. We did. We screwed up big time with this one. We didn’t create strong kids at all. We successfully created children who grow up physically but who can’t handle life. According to an article in the Washington Post, some Millenials take their parents to job interviews. Are you kidding me??? They are so used to Mommy and Daddy taking care of things for them that they can’t even handle a job interview alone.
That same article cited a 30-year-old woman who struggled through college, because she didn’t know how to manage her time on her own. She was used to her parents doing it for her, so 2 a.m. often saw her awake and finishing homework. This same lady was unable to do her own laundry at 30; her parents had never taught her how, and why should they, when they could do it for her?
We laughed at the Occupy Wall Street movement. Again, to us, it looked like a bunch of Millenials crying about not getting their way. They’d gone to college on high-interest student loans, majored in weak fields (e.g., Underwater Fire Prevention), and didn’t understand why they couldn’t find a job that didn’t require asking, “Do you want to supersize your order?” Mommy and Daddy had taught them for 20+ years that they were special and unique, just the most wonderful kids in the world, so surely these young people’s problems weren’t their fault. No, they figured it must be the fault of those people who had all the money, the Wall Street folks with the corner offices, like that guy who started out in the mail room and worked his butt off for 20 years to have a window at all and another 10 years for the corner. And that was after busting that same butt to earn his MBA.
We GenXers passed “Zero tolerance” policies against bullying, and bullying has increased, getting nastier, more hateful, and more vile. From as young as 6 and 7 years old, children are bullied daily in school, even in schools with these zero tolerance policies. This isn’t simply some big kid stealing lunch money; it’s two or three big kids against one small one. And what happens? The psychologically strongest kids fight back, landing them in the principal’s office for violence. (I know; I had to go meet with the principal when my teen was in first grade.) What happens to the weak ones, the ones who’ve been pampered, the ones who are just sick of the bull crap? They google, “How to make a bomb” and plant one in the school cafeteria halfway through lunch. They get Dad’s automatic and walk the halls at school, shooting everyone they see. Often, they get killed by police or eat the gun themselves. The evangelical conservatives call them “evil.” The far-left ignores them and cries for more gun regulations. I call them simply screwed up in the head because of systems we have put in place.
In molly-coddling these children from infancy and well into their 20s, finding ways to build their self-esteem and doing all we could to protect them, GenX created worse problems. One, we have this generation of young people who literally can do nothing for themselves. Two, we have a generation of young people who can’t cope with reality. They are unable to cope with disappointments, bad college roommates, terrible bosses, and time management. If their failures to handle the responsibilities of reality result in negative consequences, their helicopter parents will be right there wanting the professor or boss to make everything all better for little 30-year-old Susie and little 28-year-old Billy.
Bottom line, reality sucks sometimes. And sometimes, Mommy and Daddy live several states away and can’t drop everything to rescue their grown children who M&D expect to be able to handle life by now. When reality crashes so violently against one’s expectations of life, anxiety and depression are often the outcomes. In fact, an article in Forbes states that depression is on the rise in Millenial business leaders, citing poor boundaries over health and an inability to handle difficult situations. Furthermore, over the past 20 years, reports of anxiety and depression have increased by 16% and suicidal ideation or acts have increased by 44% among Millenials. Wow!!! We have created this mental, psychological, and emotional quagmire that teens and 20somethings are finding themselves in.
So how to fix it? It’s not enough to say, “Suck it up, buttercup” and expect grown and nearly-grown children to be able to do that. They have no experience at rolling with the punches.
First, we GenXers have to start NOW making our children do things for themselves. Problem with a teacher? Try a bit of empathy with accountability. “I’m sure it felt like Mr. Jones was being unfair with how he graded your test. If it’s that important to you, make time to speak to him about it.” Then – and this is the hard AND important part – back off. You have just transferred power to your child for dealing with this. Will it be scary? Of course. Will it teach them how to deal with conflict later in life? Absolutely.
“You’re out of clean clothes for school tomorrow? That’s tough, but if you start now, you can get a load through before tomorrow morning.” Then encourage them to Google “how to wash clothes.” I’m pretty sure that having to research the “how” themselves will make it stick better. (Our children wanted to learn how to wash their own clothes, so we could teach them at young ages.)
Second, we have to stop rewarding mediocrity. I’m sure the younger parents will be grateful not to have to dust one… more… meaningless… trophy. Real life means, you don’t get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do. There’s no special treatment for showing up for class, being on time for work, or doing a day’s worth of work in seven hours instead of eight. Your “reward” is getting paid or learning the material the professor wants you to know. The “reward” is not being fired or flunked for being a slacker.
There are already systems in place to reward excellence. In secondary school, it’s called graduation. In college and graduate school, it’s a degree. In the working world, the reward is often a merit raise and a promotion. It is not the dean’s fault nor the boss’s fault if an individual fails to get the reward; it is purely the fault of the person who didn’t meet and exceed the expectations.
Third, we have to help these millennial children reframe their thinking. If things don’t go their way, they need to stop blaming others – other people, authority figures, society, or government – and discover what they have done to contribute to the problems they’re facing. If the problems are legitimately placed onto them from outside sources (i.e., the rent increases by $200 a month), then this is a time for these young people to figure out how to change themselves in order to meet the challenges – them, not Mommy and Daddy. They need to see problems less as obstacles to prevent their progress and more as opportunities to find different solutions.
I’ve seen this in adults who are… Let’s say, a generation ahead of GenX. These people are an anomaly but have all the characteristics of current Millennials. Failures at work are the fault of teammates or bosses. Money problems are the fault of the government – and Momma is quick with the bail-out. Afraid of conflict, these people go along with what others want them to do, be it friends, colleagues, or bosses. So long as these people, along with their Millennial cohorts, can maintain the image they have of themselves – you know, that “you’re so awesome!” image Mom and Dad implanted in them from birth – all is well.
Ask yourself this, and try to be as objective as you can: Is your child someone you’d want to put up with if they weren’t your child? Would you want to do everything for them that they need done, or would you want to be around someone who is more responsible? What feedback have you gotten from others? The grasping of reality will be brutal and harsh, but it’s completely necessary for young people to grow up to be adults society wants to deal with. We may love our children to bits and think they are all sorts of amazing, but truth is, they’re only ours to deal with for 18 years. After that, the rest of the world has to deal with them. It’s our job as parents to raise children that society has to tolerate. What do they look like?