When I last discussed Millennials, it was about their supposed deficient interpersonal skills and how having been umbilically-connected, suckled and weaned to technology, they lacked sufficient people skills to successfully market, network and sell themselves. They could do it online. But could they do it offline when flesh-and-blood, first-hand interactions were required?
First, there was the article by Elizabeth Kolbert, “Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?” in “The New Yorker,” which stated, “With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world.”
Wow, what a sweeping statement. The parents of Generation Y were brought up to believe they were special, the article notes. This reminded me of what Helen, the mom character in the The Incredibles (2004), says to her son, Dash, “That everyone’s special.” Quickly forgotten, however, is Dash’s rejoinder, “if everyone is special, then no one else is.”
So what’s going on? Kolbert quotes the insights of two psychology professors, “Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval.” Such a parental view is a far cry from the apparently now discarded philosophy of a dad I know who always reminded his kids, “I’m your dad not your friend.”
Perhaps this explains why the purported French antidote to American ‘helicopter parents’ explained by Pamela Druckerman’s ‘Bringing Up Bébé‘ resonated with so many people here. Spare the rod? “Non!’
Elaine Sciolino’s excellent book review, “Maman Knows Best,” succintly explains the French child-rearing approach Druckerman deconstructs in her book, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, “The French leave their babies crying on their own if they’re not sleeping through the night by the time they’re 4 months old. The French exert their authority by declaring, “C’est moi qui décide” (“It’s I who decide”). The result of raising children French style, Druckerman writes, is “a fully functioning society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters and reasonably relaxed parents.”
And then there’s Joel Kotkin’s article, which asks, “Are Millennials the Screwed Generation?” But his subtitle gives the game away laying the blame on those profligate Boomers. Kotkin states, “Boomer America’ never had it so good. As a result, today’s young Americans have never had it so bad.”
Using interviews and statistics, Kotkin boils it down to a soured future for the Millennials. His reasons? First and last, there’s the worldwide economic recession, the legacy of the Boomers and the generations immediately following. But then the list continues: high unemployment; unprecedented tuition indebtedness; the overselling of advanced but worthless degrees; and the widest ever wealth gap between the young and old. And making things even worse are the imbalances of political power between the young who don’t vote in proportion to their numbers versus the Boomers who overwhelmingly vote with a vengeance to protect their entitlements. And as if Kotkin needed anything more to make his case, he notes how Boomers who carrying their own heavy indebtedness, can’t or won’t retire and open up job opportunities for younger generations. They’re continuing to work.
In the final analysis, then, was I seeing a false dichotomy? Who says Generation Y can’t be both spoiled and screwed? After all, there’s no rule that says they’re mutually exclusive.
But happily there’s a silver lining. Over-extended, over-educated and out-of-work, the ‘screwed-over’ can and do boomerang home where the spoiled life can resume. “Peel me a grape,” mom.
Photo Credits: “Lonely drunk man edit,” by OnMyWayTo at Flickr Creative Commons via Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.