Don’t get me wrong–sometimes I want to wring their necks.
We talk a lot about millenials in my profession because they’re a big chunk of our constituency. Now, I’m aware and sensitive to the fact that not everyone born between 1982 and 2004 (SN: What’s the generation after 2004 called?) embodies ALL of the characteristics ascribed to the millenial generation. We are, after all, all unique individuals. And, of course, there’s some wiggle room on the start and end years. As a Gen-Xer, I share some characteristics of the millenial generation (i.e. obsessed with social media). And my husband is technically a millenial by birth year, but he probably resembles those kids less than I do (of course, he may or may not also believe he was meant to born 10 years earlier). You need only spend some time in our classrooms, though, to realize that many of them do share some of the traits associated with their generation by the experts. And many of them are not complimentary…and are the kinds of things that make me want to wring their necks. However, sometimes I just want to cry for them. Here’s 5 reasons why:
1. They are so stressed out! And I say this as a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder. Even when we think they’re exhibiting a “devil-may-care” attitude about their studies, a lot of these kids are straight freaking out on the inside. Because of the nature of the courses I teach and my particular teaching style, students often open up to me about more personal things–like their anxiety. This is an example of what I heard or read from students this week:
- What if I choose the wrong career? What if I’m not good enough?
- I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail this class just because I can’t get organized! I’m trying not to let anyone down. But I’m letting everyone down!
- I’m not going to early advising because I won’t be back in the Spring. I already failed at college. And life. [note: it’s only MIDTERM of the first semester]
Wow. Breathe, kids, breathe. It’s college. You’re not supposed to have it all figured out, yet. You’re supposed to have time to mess up a little. It’s how you learn! This is the period in which you find yourself, figure out who you are as an adult. I can’t imagine what this stress is doing to them or how it will affect them long-term. But I do not envy them this level of constant anxiety, this constant fear of failure.
2. The American Dream is (maybe) dead. I’m not talking about the in-debt-up-to-my-eyeballs with a fancy car and McMansion dream (because some of them still seem to be “achieving that,” temporary though it may be). I’m talking about the real American Dream: to be able to move up in social class, to work hard and earn money and own a home and save for retirement. I’m talking about striving and succeeding at achieving a life better than that of your parents. I don’t think that these kids will achieve upward social mobility through hard work. I think they will work hard and scrape by. They will be no better off than their parents. They, in fact, may be worse off than their parents (with whom so many of them are back to living). Maybe there’s still hope. I don’t know. But I do know that they don’t feel that hope today…not in the way we did. Maybe that’s why they’re so stressed–they keep being told to work hard, that if they do, it’ll pay off. And all around them, they see evidence to the contrary. Maybe that makes them feel like they aren’t good enough. I don’t know, but I do know it’s sad.
3. They do not know a world in which they’re not constantly “plugged in.” They’re constantly connected. And again, I say this as a person with a social media management system on her phone, Android tablet, and iPad (auto schedule is the best thing ever). But think about this: they live in a world in which work is never just 8 hours a day. It’s 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. And it always has been. It always will be. It’s expected of them at this point. That makes me want to cry because it stresses me out for them.
4. They have never lived in a world in which a war was not on TV–in real-time. Seriously. Think back. And then think about our 24/7 news cycle. It’s just sad. And I have to wonder how that desensitizes them to violence.
5. Speaking of which, school shootings (and other mass murders by automatic weaponry)! Have always been a thing. Remember when school was a safe place? Where getting mowed down by an AR-15 after math class was not something that would EVER cross your mind? Yeah, my students don’t. And that? Makes me want to cry.
They get a lot of flak. And they seriously drive me bananas sometimes (and by “drive me bananas,” I mean “make me want to shake them until common sense settles in”). But I also feel for them in a lot of ways. I try to imagine what it would be like to have grown up like they did. To be in college now. To be job-hunting for the first time now. It’s easy to judge them for their sense of entitlement, for thinking they’re special & the rules don’t apply to them, for having been so sheltered they now seem incapable of functioning in the real world.
We want them to be like us. We want them to do it our way. But doing it our way isn’t going to get them anywhere. They’re going to have to find a way to do it their way.