Every time someone over the age of fifty (that is, my generation) opens their mouth to say something about Millennials (anyone born between 1981 and 2000), it’s inevitably something negative. They’re spoiled and demanding. They’re snowflakes and need constant reassurance. They’re lazy and entitled. They have no respect for the generations that came before them. And, they’re ALWAYS on their phones.
As the parent of three Millennials who have introduced me to countless more through their group activities and friendships over the years, as someone whose friends’ kids are all Millennials, and as someone who regularly encounters Millennials in the course of my professional life, I call bullshit.
I’ll say it proudly. I love Millennials! As for all of those criticisms? It’s all in the way you frame the discussion. I don’t see Millennials as lazy, I see them as individuals who are trying to learn from their baby boomer parents that having a work-life balance is important. Both my husband and I are professionals who would no sooner have taken a gap year than sliced off a finger or two; rather, we rushed headlong into medical school and law school respectively, and we haven’t had a break in thirty years. Our careers have only gotten more demanding with age and experience, and there doesn’t appear to be an off-ramp or any realistic way to pull back without forfeiting the income we have come to depend upon.
Millennials have watched their parents working relentless hours, answering emails while on vacation and returning business calls well after the end of the work day, and the result is that they have learned they don’t want a career that allows them precious little time for personal pursuits. Is that lazy? I don’t think so; as a slave to the billable hour, I think it’s downright brilliant. If I could go back and recraft my life, I would think seriously about choosing a different job that paid less but left more time and energy for things that nourish my soul. By the time I’ve hit my hourly goal for the month, I don’t have much left in the tank to think about taking up a new hobby or learning Spanish.
I also disagree that Millennials are overly sensitive or are “snowflakes,” a word I detest. Instead, I see a generation who would like to treat those who aren’t White, Christian, American, heterosexual, or cis-gendered, equitably and with respect. Is that a bad thing? If you’re a racial or religious minority, or if you’re LGBTQ, probably not. I see Millennials as legitimately concerned about inclusion and fundamental fairness. They are the ones who shout for those who can only whisper, who gently chide their well-meaning parents about tolerance and respect for things they may not understand, and in so doing, seek to achieve something closer to a level playing field for all. I think that’s admirable.
And disrespectful? Well, if you want to characterize holding accountable the lawmakers and gun lobby for refusing to consider reasonable gun control, or putting a spotlight on the greed of Wall Street, as disrespectful, okay. I call it making asking adults to be responsible.
Here’s some other things that are true of Millennials:
• They are more likely to take gap years, and in doing so, come to a better understanding of how they want to live their lives. This means they don’t spend many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars pursuing education and training in a field that may ultimately not be a good fit.
• They are more likely to participate in mission trips, community service, or other activities that are outer-directed. This means that they are more aware of the hardships faced by the impoverished, the sick, and the oppressed, and are in turn more compassionate and more likely to speak up for those who need their advocacy.
• They are less likely to see those with physical and mental disabilities as shameful, repugnant, or the object of ridicule. Millennials are far more likely to be inclusive and respectful of those who struggle with physical handicaps or intellectual disability; the days of jokes about “riding the short bus,” and the use of the word “retard” as an insult, have greatly declined since I was young and those in the specials needs classes were called “SPEDs.”
• They care about the environment – which is important, since they are the ones who are going to inherit this planet and be charged with the task of cleaning it up. Thanks to my youngest daughter, I’m no longer allowed to use disposable straws, and forget about leaving the water on while washing the dishes.
• They’re innovative. Millennials are responsible for Lyft, Spotify, Groupon, Air BnB and Bark Box. They’re also responsible for most of the hottest online apps, such as SnapChat, Bumble, Tinder, Instagram, and Facebook. Like it or not, they’re digitally savvy and constantly improving how we use technology.
There are lots of reasons to love Millennials, so why do so many seem to hate on them so much?
I suspect some it has to do with jealousy, as in, “in my day, we walked to school in 6’ of snow, uphill, both ways, and so should you.” The misery-loves-company mindset has never contributed anything to the world other than resentment and bitterness, and for those dissatisfied with their lot in life, perhaps calling Millennials pampered snowflakes (rather than praise them for their insight and conscious choices) feels easier than considering whether our own decisions were the right ones (and perhaps they were).
It also has something to do with Baby Boomer Parents who have overindulged their children, and there are plenty of those who have in some instances raised hothouse flowers who can’t cope when faced with the realities of adulthood. But whose fault is that? Eventually, yes, the Millennial must face the music and “adult,” despite the shortcomings of well-meaning helicopter parents, but if you have a gripe with Millennials based upon what you think of as a lack of accountability, motivation – or, really, anything else – think about where the blame should squarely fall – it’s not on the kids.
For those who continue to insist that Millennials are the worst generation ever, however, I have to say this:
Look at the world they grew up in, and ask yourself whether that might have something to do with whatever it is about Millennials that you hate.
Think they’re sissies? Consider that Millennials learned at a very early age that at any moment, some lunatic could break into their school and shoot their classmates, their teachers, or they themselves, and that politicians care more about NRA lobbying money than the lives of children.
Consider also that they learned that in the space of a few hours, a gorgeous September day could end with the deaths of 3,000 innocents, all because of “religious” beliefs.
Consider that they have from a tender age, they have been warned about “bad touch,” but that the people they were supposed to be able to trust – priests and scout leaders, for example – could sexually assault them and get away with it. For. Years.
Consider that they learned that you can grope and harass and rape women with no consequence. Like. All. The. Time.
Consider that they learned if you’re gay, someone might tie you to a fence and beat you until you die.
Consider that the impact of climate change may threaten their very existence.
Then ask yourself whether they have good reason not to want to grow up.
This is the world that Millennials have grown up in. It’s a wonder they haven’t all committed suicide.
Millennials, a lot of us older people suck, we’ve messed up pretty much everything, and we’ve left you a world that is corrupt and hateful.
But I believe in you. I believe in your compassion, your sense of justice, the fact that you are unafraid to take on previous generations to challenge the status quo and demand fairness.
I believe in your ability and desire to do good works for others. I believe in your sincere hope for a better world. I believe that you are good and fine and courageous.
Millennials, I love you, and the rest of the world should, too, for it will be you that finally set us straight.