I’m a Millenial. An older one, but nonetheless, I have owned a cell phone for much of my adult life and I joined facebook 10 years ago. Recently, I’ve been stumbling upon a lot of articles (and one talk) about Millenials that essentially distill down to: they don’t know how to behave! (See, for example, this one, or the book being publicized by this author.) It’s rather irritating to have our large generation painted with a “sense of entitlement” as we are lambasted for mimicing the behaviors that society sets before us (has anyone asked about the changes in behavior over the last 5 years for 45-year olds?), or being lectured for being unable to read (66%, really? if you said 66% don’t bother to proofread, I might agree) when that’s really the responsibility of schools. We’ve been told to “find your passion!” or “follow your passions!” for longer than we knew that “passion” has personal as well as professional meanings. We’re told we’re incompetent adults and we need to settle down and have babies even as our grant-funded positions are cut early and the bank rejects us for a morgage despite a wonderful credit score (seriously, guys, over 800). Raises, if you’re lucky enough to get one, don’t come anywhere near to keeping up with inflation.
Besides, are all Millenials (everyone from the youngest skipping to grade school to those battle-fatigued 30-somethings) feeling entitled? Directly from wikipedia we have a resounding no.
Fred Bonner, a Samuel DeWitt Proctor Chair in Education at Rutgers University and author of Millennial Students in College: Implications for Faculty and Student Affairs, believes that much of the commentary on the Millennial Generation may be partially accurate, but overly general and that many of the traits they describe apply primarily to “white, affluent teenagers who accomplish great things as they grow up in the suburbs, who confront anxiety when applying to super-selective colleges, and who multitask with ease as their helicopter parents hover reassuringly above them.” Other socio-economic groups often do not display the same attributes commonly attributed to Generation Y. During class discussions, he has listened to black and Hispanic students describe how some or all of the so-called seven core traits did not apply to them. They often say the “special” trait, in particular, is unrecognizable. “It’s not that many diverse parents don’t want to treat their kids as special,” he says, “but they often don’t have the social and cultural capital, the time and resources, to do that.”
How exactly do children and young people learn? They are taught. The media, parents, schools, classmates, and even the guy manning the donut shop all set out examples of what is expected.
- Dad’s attached at the hip to his Blackberry? The two year-old will glom onto the toy cell phone.
- Have to wait 45 minutes for your doctor or dentist to see you? Well, then, why bother being on time?
- Your employer demands that you respond to their e-mails 24/7? Well, then, why can’t you check your personal e-mail at work?
- Is the best way to get a response from a company to tweet? Tweeting is now in the professional realm.
- Millions of dollars are spent advertizing video games. We (ok, I don’t really) play them. We buy ’em.
- We grew up with friends from mixed race families. Totally normal, guys. Why exactly was interracial marriage illegal in Virginia, anyway?
Sure, these are mere vignettes. But just as it was once unacceptable to wear jeans to many jobs, our expectations have evolved. Expectations need to be very carefully defined, particularly given the looseness of many concepts. “Business casual” means what, exactly? Does it mean something else in an outlet mall as opposed to a law firm? Absolutely. Does it mean something different in a rural small firm than in an urban, corporate setting? Quite likely. Society has struggled to adapt to technology and other social shifts because it have emerged and evolved so quickly. The next big thing is practically gone before HR even has a chance to figure out what it is, much less draft up a policy about it.
The more entertaining version of my rant, just published yesterday: Booming
And, by the way, my grandmother texted me recently. Just sayin’.