We of a certain age speak of those younger than us disdainfully, sometimes.
We say, these kids never had it better. They have everything at their disposal. They have the luxury of taking things for granted because we of the generation that came before them worked so hard to provide for their needs.
As a result, they don’t labor as hard as we do, they do something easy and count it as hard work, they feel entitled to getting their way, and they are almost always never capable of doing something altruistic.
As a TIME Magazine article by Joel Stein said a few years ago, this generation born roughly between the years 1980 and 2000 —millennials, are lazy, entitled narcissists. For them, it’s not just about “me.” It’s about “ME ME ME.”
They may be our children or our friends’ children, nephews or nieces, godchildren, they may be our neighbors or students or subordinates. We love them, but why do they seem so...foreign, sometimes?
Sixteen-year-old Angela, who is in Grade 11 pusuing a Humanities and Social Sciences track for senior high school, says she is aware that people ascribe unsavory adjectives to their generation.
“They say we are materialistic, lazy, always late,” she says.
“Sometimes it’s true, but not everybody is like that...I want to prove these people wrong.”
Her sister Blair, 22, says generalizations, whether it is about the qualities of one generation or about any other issue, is just plain wrong. How does she feel about being described in a certain manner?
“I am confident, so I don’t really care what others say.”
If Blair were to describe herself and her friends—again, she does not wish to generalize—she would say they are just very much aware that they have options.
“We don’t think social norms are constraints,” she adds. “That’s why we don’t stay in one place if it makes us unhappy.”
According to The Guardian, millennials will make up half of the global workforce by 2050. Soon—if it’s not starting already —it’s their decisions, their approaches and their ideas that will shape the world we live in. They will no longer be that pesky teenager we feed, send to school, live with and complain about.
They will, instead, be that colleague who knows so much more than we do about how things run, or who gets more things accomplished in a shorter time and with what appears to be less effort, wo will speak before an audience so masterfully and convincingly when we fidget and rehearse for hours.
Each generation is different and it makes no sense to expect millennials to behave like we do or see the world the way we do. Their older counterparts may have other values—loyalty to an organization, putting duty before pleasure, valuing dedication and sacrifice—but it does not mean that one is superior than the other.
I venture these ways to view millennials so we can understand them better. I came to these suggestions, partly from research—and partly from my experience living with four of them in the same house.
First, millennials are of a certain mindset because of the world we have created for them.
Millennials’ parents worked hard to provide for their needs. Perhaps it is because we did not want them to experience the same hardships and confusions that we did. Perhaps we wanted them to realize their potential and find meaning in their lives. So long as we keep them grounded about the things that should matter, we really should not fault them for conditions we ourselves have created for them.
Second, looking out for themselves is not altogether bad.
They have been called the selfie generation—loving their own faces, the sound of their own voices (although I know of a few from other generations who are obsessed about themselves as well). Still, there is a line that separates knowing and asserting one’s worth from narcissism.
As parents of these children, we should think it is good that they know how to value themselves so others cannot take advantage of them. Martyrdom is dead, indeed. So long as they themselves do not take advantage of others, and so long as they give everybody the respect he or she deserves, isn’t that reassuring?
Third, they work smart instead of working hard.
Millennials seem to know that there is more to life than waking up in the morning, going to work, going to sleep, and doing the same thing over again the following day. They value their time and energy so they preserve them when they can. We could count as work the time we spend in the office, hunched over our desktops. Now these young people, they could be out, they could be mobile, but who’s to say they are working less?
Finally, let’s not be quick to label their confidence as impertinence. During our time, we deferred to whatever it was our parents or grandparents said. We heeded them, sometimes blindly, without really pondering the wisdom or at least the logic behind the admonition.
Now these kids are not “talking back.” They are expressing themselves and advancing their ideas. So long as they remain aware of their place (me=kid, you=parent) and express themselves respectfully and logically, why deny them the opportunity to show you that you raised a thinker, not a yes-man?
Millennials are a foreign, if not interesting, group of people. They are part of the world we now inhabit, and they will be increasingly so in the next few years. They are not the enemy. It’s not a competition; it’s co-existence.