We Need to Stop Calling Millennials Assholes
Millennials are more educated, more racially diverse, less judgmental, more accepting of their peers and more consumed by debt than any generation in our nation’s history.
I often find myself laughing at "sarcastic," "sardonic" or "scary" mommies, and while I am a huge fan of their self-deprecating humor, when I see “jokes” about children being “assholes” or parents who are “flipping their kids off behind their backs,” I cringe. We are putting that stuff in writing on worldwide social media, people. Someday, our children will see it. Name-calling is just another form of bullying and the millennial generation doesn’t deserve it any more than the rest of us.
Comedy routinely pushes the boundaries of appropriateness and that is often what makes us laugh, but there are some boundaries we may want to think twice about before crossing. Louis C.K. is one of my favorite comedians. Super smart and funny, but he is a perfect example of one who rejects the rules of political correctness. In one of his routines he refers to his toddler as a “bitch” and, as the audience doubles over in laughter because on some level they totally get where he is coming from, I can’t help but picture her coming to him as a teenager saying, “Dad, WTF?”
Humor as parents is necessary, but pointing and laughing at our children is disrespectful and mean. As their first and possibly most important teachers, speaking to them, and about them, is the model for which they will view themselves and treat others. It is completely understandable that we, as parents, sometimes become frustrated and impatient, but it is our job to be carefully selective in our chosen language for expressing those emotions. Calling them names and suggesting they drive us to drink (even behind their backs) sends them a negative and unproductive message. They are the most important things we will ever do. Making sure they know that is not the same thing as spoiling them or creating lazy, entitled young adults. They have more societal pressure and work harder than many of their predecessors give them credit for.
It has become a national pastime, from groups comprising every preceding generation that is still among the living, to accuse the millennial generation of a flurry of negative traits. Those traits include: laziness, lack of empathy, entitlement, self-involvement and the inability to disconnect from their screens and engage in real conversations. I have found the opposite to be true. There are always exceptions, but we don’t scrap a whole computer operating system because of a virus or two. There is no such thing as a one-hundred percent success rate.
A 2014 study, Millennials in Adulthood, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/ says “millennials are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry and they are the most racially diverse generation in American history.” They have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two preceding generations. Despite a spike in student loan debt and increased expense of a college education, this group is more educated than any other generation, ever. They are told they must have a college degree to achieve financial success and then they can’t find jobs. In the face of all these setbacks, they are still optimistic about the future.
We are an evolving species and the circle of life includes growth. It is programmed in our DNA to be better. If we truly want to connect with our kids, we need to listen to them and recognize that, while we are their first teachers, there is an infinite amount of wisdom and education that we can ultimately gain from them. Some of that education lies in the knowledge we reinforce by teaching. Much of it is about visualizing the world through their fresh minds and eyes. This is not about being our kids' "best buds," but about mutual respect and openness. The belief that we have nothing to learn from our children, but that they should follow our every lead and example is arrogant and closed to creative thinking and a multitude of possibilities. We teach. We learn. We will all be better.
Every generation has their own unique story, so of course those stories are going to be different. What a yawn it would be if they weren’t. And is there a problem with giving more to our kids than our parents gave us? Don’t we want them to have more and be better? That’s what evolution is all about.
The “back in my day” routine is making us sound like a bunch of crotchety old people. The older we get, the better teachers we should be.
The current generation shows an increase in anxiety and depression. That may partly be due to the pressure they are under and partly because mental illness is more exposed than ever before. Millennials are doing something about it. Tough words and abuse don't toughen people up and make them stronger. We may project the appearance of strength, but abuse will actually make us more fragile and prone to anxiety and/or depression. Self-confidence is a much more powerful tool than insecurity.
Try having a political discussion with a millennial. They are amazing at intelligently staying on topic without resorting to bullying or insults. My kids educate me and keep me in line better than any textbook or website could ever hope to. They are also the hardest working, most optimistic people I know.(At the risk of tooting my own parental horn, my older daughter graduated from college, moved to New York, began working for a literary development company and is working on her fifth novel, among other things. My younger daughter is a college student, women’s rights advocate, activist for eating disorders and body positivity and she organized a service trip to an orphanage to India last August. My son is a strict vegan, hard-working and a talented, self-taught dancer who has worked independently and in various classes while managing a high GPA. He is still in high school, but was active enough to join his sisters in political protests during our last election. Lazy, they are not, nor are their friends.)
Millennials are becoming adults in an America that feels unsafe because of the unpredictability of both international and domestic terrorism and the uncertainty of our political future. They are scared, yet they continue to fight for a loving, accepting, non-judgmental, empathetic and smart community of peers.
In high school, prior generations were on the “high school” stage. Now with social media’s relentless worldwide prevalence, millennials are performing and being judged on a universal stage, whether they are ready for it or not. Stephen Hawking said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” That applies to all of us. We need to stop calling millennials assholes. They are smart, funny, creative, open and optimistic and they are this country’s future. If forced to choose them or us, I proudly choose them.