The much-maligned Millennial Generation has a well-earned reputation for being “narcissistic” “lazy” “entitled” “fame-obsessed” and “developmentally stunted” — to use the rather scathing but statistically-backed descriptions in a famous Time magazine article. Simply put, they are deeply unprepared for the real world, as most employers and many parents have discovered.
While this is maddening to deal with, and ultimately we all need to take responsibility for our own actions, this is not at root their fault. And this isn’t just older people “not understanding” younger people. Actually we do. This is data-driven. This is something new caused by decades of simply terrible parenting advice and teaching methods.
You know, throw out all the old ways, the traditions, the things that worked, and run after the latest shiny fad in parenting and education, while at the same time feeling oh-so enlightened and superior to previous generations. “We don’t hit our children,” goes the enlightened, self-satisfied thinking of too many Boomer parents in reference to spanking. Instead of teaching children to earn success, to take personal responsibility for efforts and outcome, to push themselves to do better, the education establishment and some parents went all in on the participation-trophy madness under the crippling self-esteem doctrine.
Well, we reap what we plant. We planted selfishness, entitlement, immaturity and lousy work ethics and — surprise! — we got a generation of selfish, entitled, immature young adults with lousy work ethics.
(An important context disclaimer. Generations don’t mean everyone in the generation. These are broad brush strokes. For instance, Millennials are the children of Baby Boomers. I was at the end of the Boomer generation and resented being clumped in with them, because I felt so apart and different from the general characteristics they possessed — and definitely from the social changes they promoted. I never felt a part of them. Them. There are many Millennials who feel the same way about their generation. In fact, that applies to virtually all of my children. Broad generational characteristics are just simple data, which is critical to know and understand, but comes with loads of exceptions.)
There are those who think the unique traits of the Millennial Generation may be just what’s needed in coming years — which on the potentially positive side include being confident, tech savvy, open to change and innovative. Red Brick Research’s report on hiring managers found that, in general, Millennials are more creative, entrepreneurial, and open to change than older workers.
That’s probably true, and certainly those are valuable traits, particularly entrepreneurial and innovative. However, it’s not clear that being creative and open to change is any different from previous generations where younger people tend to be more open than older people “set in their ways.”
What is wrong with Millennials?
There’s no need to spend a long time on this. The research is pretty overwhelming, generally countered only by anecdotes. Personally, my anecdotes dealing with Millennials hired out of college to work at a business publication where I was the Executive Editor largely confirmed the research.
According to a recent study performed by Red Brick Research, more than 80 percent of hiring managers say that their Millennial employees display “narcissistic” characteristics, while only 27 percent of managers say that their Millennials are team players. True to form, Millennials hold an unrealistically positive view of themselves. For example, over two-thirds of those surveyed see themselves in management within five years — while 58 percent of the same cohort plan to stay at their current company for less than than three years.
Ron Alsop’s book “Trophy Kids” explains how children of Boomers had been consistently rewarded for little to no accomplishments in competitive sports — the participation trophy phenomena — and that it gave them unrealistic expectations as adults.
Time magazine reported polls showing that Millennials say their goal for work is to work less — more “me time” and flexible schedules. Four out of five Millennials yearn for almost constant feedback from their bosses, but nine out of 10 want to be able to choose how to do a project — not be told. Further, an MTV “No Collar Workers” poll found that 92 percent of millennials feel their company is lucky to have them and 76 percent feel their boss can learn a lot from them — self-esteem self-actualized, just not actually actualized.
Here’s a great insight from Millennial Chris Myers, a beacon who acted just like most of his generation — until he started his own company and his eyes were opened.
“Once I was in charge, I found that the very traits I rebelled against earlier in my career were the ones I found most valuable in my employees. The best members of my team were loyal, dedicated, and humble…My Millennial employees, however, were frequently unable to cope with tasks that were boring but necessary, and their performance suffered as a result. At the same time, salary expectations were high, praise was expected, and everyone believed they should be in a leadership role. In short, much was expected from the company with very little provided in return.”
Ironically, the attempts to inculcate them with self-esteem as youngsters through an unwarranted flood of praise has actually left them lacking self-esteem as the world around them has drawn generally negative conclusions and polls of Millennials reflect that. Again, quite predictable.
The Huffington Post reported on studies that “the only thing a majority of millennial-aged adults described themselves as is ‘self-absorbed.’ They’re also more likely than members of any other generation to consider their age group wasteful, greedy and cynical.”
So much for pumping kids with unsupportable self-esteem.
Who’s to blame for this?
Who’s to blame for the tragedy perpetrated on this young generation? I think there are some rather indisputable groups to blame.
With those caveats in mind, first and foremost the responsibility for this rests with parents. Parents have the ultimate duty to raise their children in good ways. Never has a generation so broadly been sent from the influence of their parents at such young ages under the concept of, “let the professionals handle it.”
When parents send children out of the home en masse shortly after birth, first to daycare and then preschool and up through college — where we have discovered the term “snowflake” — they allow the government and the culture to be the predominant influence shaping their children. They have abdicated their divine role as parents and turned it over to strangers. They frequently get whatever young adults the educational establishment and the culture wants — not necessarily what they wanted. Some parents successfully navigate this model. Many parents are shocked at who their children become.
Second is obviously the educational institutions. This is a worse problem than the general understanding that educational quality has been declining at every level in the country. Explaining why the economy has stalled, the Brookings Institute reports: “The nation’s deteriorating education sector is one important factor, culpable for both weak economic growth and rising income inequality.” Education Week describes “an across-the-board collapse of standards in American education over the last 40 to 45 years.” Among many reasons for this is the common tendency of modern educators to try the next new idea in education, as opposed to sticking to the basics. One fad has been promoting the idea that grades aren’t as important as effort, delegating objective measures to subjective judgments. They tossed the tried and true, just as in parenting.
Third is the culture — which includes the first two but adds in the entertainment/media complex. This just continues to be a toilet swirl of low standards, immorality and cult personalities. This combines too easily with modern technology, social media, parents having less influence on their children and the Millennial tendency to think things come easily in life.
Is it any surprise that politicians expanded mandatory health insurance for “children” up to 26 to be on their parents’ plans? Only in the current generation — and the parents that created it — would this seem like a necessity.
A different path taken
My wife and I did not do much different than most previous generations, but a lot different from the Boomers. We raised our children by controlling the educational, reward and discipline environment through homeschooling. That may not be for everyone — well-chosen private schools also work — but it does keep the cultural and governmental nonsense bludgeoned into malleable young minds to a minimum. Of course, these options also put more daily burden on parents and may bring with them career sacrifices.
We focused on raising our children in a way aimed at preparing them to be faithful, productive, thoughtful adults. We screwed up some things, naturally. And some things seemed locked in on age. (Do any teenage boys understand the concept of a clean bedroom?) But we looked toward a better world for them, sacrificed for them and tried to inculcate them with the concepts of faith, hard work, generosity, personal responsibility and so on.
As a result, as teens when they step into entry level jobs with their peers, they immediately stand out to managers. They show up on time, make eye contact, can converse easily with people from any generation, work hard and are reliable. They don’t feel entitled to anything beyond the agreement to be paid for their work.
The sad statement is that those basic traits make them immediately stand out. They also make them just smack their heads at so many of the young people working with them, who don’t show up on time, won’t work hard, see it all as beneath them and feel entitled to immediate rewards beyond a paycheck for things such as stocking grocery store shelves or being a plumber’s go-fer.
So in the end, who do we blame for Millennials being the way they are? Baby Boomers. My own flippin’ generation. Ugh. I just don’t identify with it. I’m hoping and praying growing numbers of Millennials will reject the worst elements in their generation and upbringing — and not expand on the mistakes with their own children.
Rod Thomson is an author, TV talking head and former journalist, and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act.
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