There seems to be a glut of posts, articles and media attention focused around helping baby-boomers understand the crop of this wondrous and frustrating new generation.
It’s amazing to me how most households in the past two decades housed both boomers and millennials and yet neither generation can manage to understand the other. What exactly causes this gaping generational divide?
As a public service for all those confused boomers out there, I submit my list of the 5 events that shaped the lives of Generation-Y in hopes of giving everyone a better understanding of why we act the way we do:
When my mother was 18, she watched footage of the first man setting foot on the moon. A few months before I turned 18, I watched coverage of the twin towers collapsing as planes crashed into them. If there was ever a comparison between the America our parents grew up in and the one we live in now, this is it. Boomers watched this country triumph and make strides over foreign nations. Millennials watch as foreign countries take out their resentment of American intervention upon us. We may not be as ambitious as our boomer parents but maybe it’s because we’ve seen what being #1 gets you and we’re choosing a different path for ourselves.
2. The Demise of Social Security
With the first set of baby boomers retiring and collecting social security in 2007, many millennials see this as the beginning of the end to a guaranteed, care-free retirement. With 401K plans and IRAs replacing traditional pension plans, Generation-Y is feeling the pressure to make more money than ever before. Getting advanced degrees, going into debt, living at home to save money—this is the reality of many of today’s 20-somethings, as I’m sure we’re all aware. This causes a lot of instability and anxiety for someone just starting their career. It’s drilled into us from elementary school: work hard, get an education, get a good job and you’ll be ok. But a lot of us are finding out that this is not that easy and it’s beginning to scare us.
3. Rocketing Divorce Rates
Divorce rates in America have skyrocketed in the 1980s and 1990s during the formative years of Generation-Y. Good or bad, the changes in family units have had a definite impact on the attitudes and lifestyle choices of young people today. Many of us saw our parents work themselves to the bone at the detriment of their marriages and families. I think a large part of the reason many millennials want to rise up the corporate ladder so quickly is because they want to spend their single years working and amassing the kind of wealth that can support a family during their later years so they don’t have to work as hard and can pursue the happiness their parents never seemed to have.
4. The Internet
The impact the internet is obvious. Kids today don’t have to make a stop at the public library to conduct a research project. Phone books are more often used as booster seats than to look up the number to the local pizza joint. The great thing about Generation-Y is that they’ve grown up with this technology, they’ve embraced it and internalized it. Famous 20-somethings like Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, are circumventing coffee-fetching, copy-making entry-level jobs and earning millions before they turn 25. Generation-Y has the unnatural ability to harness this new technology and use it to their benefit in ways that older generations just can’t seem to grasp. With role-models like this, can you blame us for being impatient with the banality of office politics?
5. Helicopter Parents
If boomers want to know how members of Generation-Y ended up the way they are, maybe it’s time to take a look inward. Blame Dr. Spock for telling you to buffet our self-esteem. Blame MTV for cutting our attention spans in half. But the reality is: boomers raised us. Coddled we may be, but ultimately I think the underlying issue is not the difference in attitudes of each generation but the difficulty of transitioning from a parent-to-child relationship to a peer-to-peer one. Most boomers are managing employees who are the same age as their children. Perhaps they are stuck with the perception of these young faces as children who should fall in line when directed. But unfortunately for boomers, millennials have most likely spent the past 4 years or so rebelling against their parents and are not willing to submit in the same way that they used to. Hence, there is tension in the workplace.
While trying to understand where the other is coming from is a worthwhile exercise, as I’ve stated in a previous post, I really do think we are experiencing nothing but normal growing pains. Kids will always be kids. And grown-ups will always be baffled at “the way kids behave today.”
Can’t we all just try to get along?