Alternatively titled: 10 Reasons Why (You Think) Millennials Are Screwed Up.
Now before I go on, let me be clear about something: I am a Millennial. Born in 1986, I’m firmly in that first-wave Millennial demographic — and no, I am not a child nor an adolescent (which is how the Internet likes to label us). I’m a mom, just like a growing portion of Millennials. (That’s right, folks! We’re all grown up now!) In fact, about 9,000 Millennial women give birth every day.
So as a grown woman with the responsibility of raising a tiny human, I’ve been doing what most new parents do: Reflecting on all the ways my parents did and didn’t totally screw up, and trying to figure out how to avoid their parenting mistakes.
This is only amplified by the fact that the Internet looooves to create bullet-pointed lists and slideshows about all the ways Gen Y is the worst group of employees/humans that ever existed. To which Gen Y responds: Y’all raised us this way (and passed down some serious economic road blocks).
Are there any truths to this? Well let’s back it up: Millennials were raised by Baby Boomers — a generation that largely comes from emotionally detached/slap-happy/sternly ruled homes. The Boomers then watched the next batch of kids (Gen X) be raised in latch-key homes that were, by today’s standards, borderline neglectful. Not their children! They’d do things differently!
Fast-forward to today: The Boomers’ kids are all grown up, and we’re now accused of being a generation of entitled, narcissistic, incompetent people locked in an arrested development of sorts. While I don’t agree with the gross over-simplification and umbrella stereotype, that isn’t the kind of kid I want to raise. So what went wrong? Let’s explore…
Disclaimer #1: The Boomers had good intentions — they were trying to raise us to have self esteem and passion — but every parenting fad is subject to unforeseen consequences.
Disclaimer #2: Although I’m illustrating this with my own childhood photos of the ’90s, I’m not at all insinuating that my parents did all of these things. (So calm down, Mom. Also: Sorry I outed your ’80s perm to the world.)
What Went Wrong With Millennials? 1 of 20
If you ask a lot of Millennials, we're not all that terrible — although we kinda see your point. I mean, do we have an unhealthy dependence on our parents? Are we more narcissistic than our predecessors? Are we unprepared for the real world? Maybe.
I'm not sure this is all rooted in parenting choices (we graduated college into a recession and had things like the Internet/social media to rev up our narcissism), but it can't hurt to reflect on some possible parenting blunders. Whether these were mistakes or not? That's up for you to decide.
#1: "You’re SPECIAL!" 2 of 20
This is one of the biggest complaints about Gen Y (especially the post-grad, employment-seeking Millennials). "What makes them think they're so darn special?"
Um...you told us that we were. Like — a lot. Our parents said it. The posters in the nurse's office said it. Barney said it, for crying out loud. It might as well have been the rah-rah mantra for '90s kids. But is instilling a "specialness" a bit dangerous? Does it create self-centered adults with bloated egos?
Let's remember why this self-esteem booster was spread around, though. Boomers were raised in households where kids were to be "seen but not heard" — where kids were shushed and spanked and ignored. So, in turn, they wanted their kids to believe in themselves and their dreams — thus "YOU'RE SPECIAL!".
So What Do We Tell Our Kids? 3 of 20
Are we supposed to rephrase it like this: "You're SPECIAL...to me!"? Are we supposed to tell our kids that they're capable — bursting with potential — but that they're not any better than anyone else? Where's the balance?
Because I totally think my kid is special — but maybe that's just the way I was raised.
#2: "You Can Be ANYTHING You Want To Be!" 4 of 20
Another common parenting tactic was to instill that kids could be whatever they wanted to be. Follow your dreams! Reach for the stars! The sky's the limit!
Is this the root for the "rampant" entitlement problem with Millennials? Are we delusional about our abilities and what we deserve out of life?
What About Our Kids? 5 of 20
As much as I get the delusion theory, I do think that people should follow their gut and pursue their passions rather than chase money and security in the traditional big-box-corporate fashion. (But maybe that's because us Millennials have seen first-hand how an economic dip can drastically slash a lifetime of hard work and savings.) I think passion can fuel ambition and foster happiness, so why not encourage kids that they can be whatever they want?
Maybe here's the missing key: "You can be anything you want...but you have to work REALLY, REALLY, REALLY hard to get it. And sometimes people are born into disadvantages and a bigger pile of challenges, which means they'll have to work even harder." It's not a delusion problem, it's a work ethic problem. Kids need to work their way through high school and college and learn the value in hustling. (Something that a lot of Millennials didn't have to do.)
#3: Everyone’s A Winner! 6 of 20
This mistake is hard to debate, Boomers. Yeah, yeah — you were trying to boost our self esteem. But it's pretty easy to draw a line from "Everyone gets a trophy, even for not doing all that well" to "Everyone deserves a job, even if you're not doing it all that well."
You’ll Lose Sometimes. And That’s Okay. 7 of 20
Kids need to learn how to be gracious losers, and they certainly shouldn't be handed something shiny just for showing up and breathing. The real world doesn't reward participation; it rewards results.
#4: Lack of Discipline 8 of 20
I've talked to a handful of Boomer parents about how they perceive the parenting style of the '90s, and this was a popular response: Parents were too wishy washy. According to parents who lived through it, there was a lot of guilt about working and being away from their kids, so their motto was "quality over quantity." But, in reality, that often translated to a much softer discipline method, lest we break our children's fragile spirits and have them hate us.
Are We Any Better Now? 9 of 20
#5: Kids = Center of the Universe 10 of 20
Once upon a time, women were more concerned about what neighbors thought of her housework and wifely duties than her parenting skills — but my has that changed. Somewhere along the way, the balance shifted and kids were placed in the center of everything. Spoiled and doted on like never before, '90s parents fought for their kids, endlessly praised them, and were never more than an arms-length away. (Not all parents — cool your jets — but we've all seen MTV's Sweet Sixteen, right?)
It was great for making us feel secure and supported, but remember that "entitlement" and "specialness" issue? Not to mention the problem so many "helicopter parents" have in letting go of their children.
Do We Need to Take a Step Back? 11 of 20
Of course we don't want to raise spoiled brats, but we also don't want to completely lose ourselves in parenting and the identity of "mom." (Maybe that's why so many helicopter parents have a hard time cutting the strings?) More and more, we're realizing the importance of continuing our own personal development and taking time for ourselves outside of our parenting roles.
#6: Parents are Buddies 12 of 20
This is one of the most noticeable differences between parents of the '90s and the parents that came before. Not all parents were like this — just as not all parents fit into these neat little stereotypical boxes of a generation — but it's a typical narrative: The cool mom who bought booze for her middle schoolers and borrowed clothes from her teenager and didn't believe in a curfew. The cool dad who bought his 16-year-old a brand new $20,000 car ("she deserves it!"), handed over his credit card, and let high school boyfriends sleep in his daughter's bed.
Draw a Line 13 of 20
Can we all agree to cut that crap out? Because it definitely has catastrophic consequences. Kids need parents who teach them boundaries and prepare them for the real world — even at the cost of being "buddies".
We need to find that happy medium between unyielding discipline and buckets of love.
#7: Helicopter Parenting 14 of 20
Ah, the trademark of the Millennial generation. While not every parent fit into this category, of course, it was more common than ever to have parents fight for their kids' grades, do their homework, lay out their clothes, email their kids' professors, and even — gasp! — phone potential employers for their grown kids.
Did the 24-hour news cycle heighten paranoia to the point where parents wanted to bubble-wrap their kids? Did their "kids-are-the-center-of-my-universe" philosophy encourage parents to keep a tight grip on the reigns? Was the helping and enabling a product of pure love? Probably, yes.
But what we're seeing is that — as tempting as it is to make our kids' lives easier in the short-term, it's actually making things a heck of a lot more difficult for them (and everyone around them) in the long term.
Back Off 15 of 20
The good thing about highlighting the "helicopter parenting" philosophy is that we're acutely aware of our actions. Parents today are strongly encouraged to foster self-help skills and allow kids to learn from their mistakes — and maybe Millennial parents will be better at it because we, ourselves, feel the effects of dependence and a lack of preparedness.
#8: Too Much Praise 16 of 20
Here's another widely debated parenting blunder that was started with the best of intentions — especially when us Millennials were kids: Over-praising. Millennials are known to be needy for positive reinforcements and endless affirmations (not only as children, but as grown employees), so it's only natural to work backwards: How did this happen?
One popular theory is that we were praised way too much. And not in the "good way" that experts are currently touting, but in a broad, non-specific way that actually undermines our self esteem. Because when you're constantly told "GOOD JOB" for mediocre results or just expected behavior, it can create a generation of people seeking approval and "likes". (Oh wait, we also were raised in the dawn of social media approval — so there that.)
The Right Kind of Praise? 17 of 20
This is a murky topic that can leave parents shaking their heads. So according to current theories (which, let's be honest, can have just as many unforeseen consequences as the parenting theories of yore), we're not supposed to say "GOOD JOB!" or "GOOD BOY!" to just anything and everything. We're supposed to praise them for their effort or their specific actions ("I like how you listened!"/"Wow, you worked hard on this painting!"/"Great choice!").
It's enough to make your head spin, but maybe they have a point. I know I have a problem in needing approval — but that could have just as much to do with our technological environment as it does the way we were raised.
#9: Overscheduling 18 of 20
The stereotypical image of a '90s mom: A soccer mom (in "mom jeans" with "mom hair") dropping everything to chauffeur her kids from activity to activity. But did it lead us to be too stressed, too busy, and too miserable? Does it stifle creativity and imagination?
A lot of parents and experts are now speaking out against over-scheduling kids and — in our over-stimulated environment — letting kids be bored.
On the Other Hand… 19 of 20
Maybe our goal for the next generation is to strike a balance between letting kids explore their interests and embracing the positive effects of busyness, and limiting the stressful activities-for-the-sake-of-activities frenzy that some of us felt as kids.
What do you think? Is overscheduling kids a parenting mistake?
#10: Using an Antiquated Model to Raise Kids in a Changing Culture 20 of 20
And here's where I feel for the Boomer parents who raised Millennials, because life changed drastically throughout our childhoods. Everything about our culture — the way we talk, relate to one another, learn, understand the world — rapidly evolved as they were trying to navigate parenthood.
How could they know that raising us to feel "special" and awesome would collide with a new interconnected medium that would amplify our narcissism? How could they know that encouraging us to get a college degree (at a drastically increased financial cost) would lead to an entire generation of educated people competing in a shrinking job market? How could they know that so many of our shoot-for-the-stars dreams would become outdated professions in a technologically changed world?
I guess it comes down to this: We're probably all screwing up our kids in different ways. And every generation of parents does the best they can with what they know. Now it's up to us to not make the same mistakes, but to invent completely knew ones.