Young people born between 1980 and 2000 are being called "The Millennials" and "Generation Y." They are the children of baby boomers, and are in their teens and twenties now. They're different from previous generations in a number of important ways. The week of May 20, Time ran a cover story by Joel Stein, called "The Me, Me, Me Generation: Millennials are Lazy, Entitled Narcissists Who Still Live With Their Parents, And Why They'll Save Us All." There are some essential qualities and values worth understanding about this next generation.
Baby boomers were born from about 1943 through 1960. Boomers grew up in the suburbs, affected by hippies and the summer of love in the 60s, became yuppies, lost money in the stock market and during the Great Recession. Boomers are working longer and postponing retirement due to their financial setbacks.
In contrast, Generation X, born from 1961 through 1980, grew up as latchkey kids, often with divorced parents. This group grew up with a sense of boredom, and studies show them often earning less in real dollars than their parents, which didn't use to happen, historically speaking.
So what's unique about millennials?
1. Their parents tried to pump up their self-esteem while they were growing up. Many of them are very disappointed in their careers. They have a high likelihood of unmet career expectations and low levels of career satisfaction. They were used to getting trophies, and having parents who praised them. They expect to succeed, and quickly.
2. High levels of entitlement. Many millennials have to learn that they can't start at the top, email the CEO, or skip work projects they find boring.
3. They're networked. They interact all day long, mostly through screens. Cell phones help them socialize 24/7. They use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter. Most teens send 88 texts each day. The influence of friends is omnipresent. In his book, Idisorder, psychology professor Larry Rosen notes this generation can get a dopamine hit from people liking their status updates,and can get anxious if they can't check their phones. These changes in communication technology have changed dating, friendships, work, family relationships, free time, and even job searches.
4. Studies show this generation is less empathetic, probably due to less face-to-face time, more social media and self-promotion. They love their cell phones, but are often uncomfortable in conversations. They have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out On Things), because other people appear so busy and happy on social media.
4. They take longer to grow up. Obamacare recently provided insurance coveragein the US for dependent children up to age 26. Many young adults are living with their parents longer, and spending longer trying to find a career that is fulfilling and meaningful, not one that just pays the bills. They marry later. They have children later. They do most things later in life than previous generations.
5. Narcissism is at higher levels in this age group. Millennials grew up on reality television, which is a sort of training ground for narcissism. Studies show higher levels of narcissism among this age group than in previous generations. They like positive feedback and approval from others.
6. They have different expectations of work than previous generations. Money isn't enough. They want self-actualization. I found it interesting that in his Time article, Stein notes that at DreamWorks, 25% of the employees are under age 30. The studio has a very high retention rate (96%) and offers classes in photography, sculpting, painting, cinematography, and karate that employees can take during work hours. All of these benefits are highly attractive to millennials, who care deeply about work/life balance, and negotiating work schedules and time off.
7. They rebel less than previous generations. They are accepting of differences between people. Millennials are tolerant. They have their own microgroups, with unique music, media, and cultural interests. They are not as homogenous as previous generations of young people who may have shared one genre of popular music, the same television culture, etc.
8. They are less religious. They believe in God, but at least 30% of people under age 30 don't go to church and are religiously unaffiliated. This is less than any previous generation.
9. They are careful with money, having less debt than their parents. They have taken on student loans, but take on less credit card debt and household debt. (Maybe living longer at home is helping them get further ahead before launching?)
10. This next generation is realistic, pragmatic, and optimistic. You could call it pragmatic idealism.
These are, of course, broad generalizations about generational trends. There are individual differences that may account for some teens and twenty-somethings not fitting in these broader brush strokes. Whether we choose to see the positive or negative contributions this next generation will make to our society is up to each of us. Just like the similarities we see in our parents and grandparents who weathered the Great Depression, the next generation is having a different life experience, partially defined by the times they are coming of age in. The Time cover story from May 20 is well worth reading and discussing.
For those of us who have children or grandchildren in their teenage years and 20s, this article about the unique challenges our next generation faces reminds us to reach out to do what we can to guide and encourage their development. I believe in the wonderful young people I know in this age group. I feel hopeful about their future, and their ability to improve the world. As adults who care about them, we can take up our role to encourage them to work hard, be industrious and self-motivated, volunteer as early and often as possible to develop empathy, practice engaging in face-to-face communication starting in our families, and develop their character and faith. Their generation has its unique benefits as well as hardships, and it is our role to help encourage, develop and influence them for good, rather than stand by and lament.