We have all participated. The jokes about millennials write themselves, go viral on social media, create memes that are so close to real life it is hard to tell where the parody ends and the snow flaking begins. The young adults of the millennial generation are easy targets. Some of the mockery is deserved, but mostly due to social media age we live in it can frequently be disproportional. So, in the interest of fairness, let us pause in our ridiculing of them as a group and spend some time acknowledging that the generalizations are not only unfair, but untrue.
No demographic is a monolith, and this is especially true with Millennials. Even the term itself is subject to debate. What constitutes a millennial, as opposed to an overlapping Generation X or one of dozens of subset monikers, is a nebulous grouping at best. The shoving into a demographic box is mostly derived from a desire to market and engage them in a way that fits nicely into analytics and spreadsheets. In the real world this massive number of young people, now in young adulthood, do not fit such definitions so easily. Millennials may or may not be the largest “generation”, as passing the Boomers in sheer numbers depends on what years you begin to count. Regardless, there are a lot of them, and they are now becoming the predominate adult group in our country.
The punditry class is flush with remarks on this group of people, stereotyping them the same way all previous young generations where. A quick review of publications from 1960s will proclaim that slackers, hippies, and various other miscreant youths will surely be the downfall of the country. Now those same Baby Boomers use words like “Respect” and “Work Ethic” as unique identifiers. What we now call “the greatest generation”, if reviewed in mid-to-late 1930s before WWII, would be found very different from the backbone of a world power they would become only a few years later.
Generation X, deemed as forever ruined by television and Boomer parents, now use unique label combinations such as “Technology” with “Conservative”, “Work Ethic” an “Smarter”. Entering into their prime earning and management years, they overlap with the Boomers to trail blaze much of the technology that Millennials claim as their defining feature. And so the circle goes, interconnected, each symbiotic piece insisting it is the most important and independent of the others.
But consider that much of what is perceived as problematic with Millennials is really nothing new. If Boomers and Gen-X are honest with themselves, they must admit how different things are now. Their formative years have been free from everything in their lives being available online in video form, or their two or three worst moments of growing up were viral sensations forever available on YouTube, or a Google search of their names instantly brought up all the worst facts about them. For example, while some romanticized the counter-culture hippies, when footage of Woodstock came out many in America saw a bunch of muddy crazy people. The average Millennial has almost daily footage for all the world to see, and that worlds perception can be just as opposite as the peace and love gang tried to project among the drugs and filth captured on film. Things do not happen in a vacuum, and Millennials are the most visible and transparent generation because of the very technology they claim makes them unique.
It is also true that as they enter adulthood, these same issues will influence their politics. Fitting to our polarizing times, a study by Pew finds that the ideological edges, Solid Liberal, and Steadfast Conservative, are both seeing growth among Millennials. Particularly on social issues, the young trend more liberal in beliefs. This is consistent with past generations, and history indicates it will slightly and gradually change as they age, as with all previous generations. The older a generation becomes, the more entrenched in their views, skew slightly more conservative, and lose almost all indecision on important issues.
Statistics, demographics, and analytics can only measure, and have limited value in projecting, because life experience is not quantifiable until after it is accrued. The greatest generation had the depression and WWII; Boomers had any number of events from Vietnam to the Kennedy assassination, and Gen X have largely lived as adults post 9–11. Millennials are yet to have a singular event of that magnitude. But they will, perhaps more than once, endure hard times as all generations have. Experiencing these life-altering events will test, mold, and shape them for the rest of their lives. It is only in their reaction to these events that will we be able to really judge the group.
Much as all of us were derided when we were young, let us keep in mind the long view that the day is coming sooner than we think where they are no longer the up and coming generation, but the one carrying the load. How they do when that time comes will greatly depend on how we set them up, support them, and follow them once they are in leadership. It is scary thought, but an inevitability. Time is undefeated, and the Millennials will soon deal with the next young generation to be deemed to be “the end of the country”. But the fact that they will continue the cycle is proof that this, too, shall pass.
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