It's open season on young Americans.
So begins a piece in last week's New York Times Sunday magazine
titled "The Why Worry Generation," which tells us that, far from
being the generation that would finally make America all better,
blending the optimism of the 1960s left with the can-do spirit of
the 1990s tech boom to solve all our problems, the millenials, born
between 1982 and 2002, are self-important narcissists. Oh, and
we're often rude and turn our music up way too
Judith Warner writes:
Once described by the trend-watchers Neil Howe and William Strauss
as "the next great generation" - optimistic, idealistic and
destined to do good - millennials have been depicted more recently
by employers, professors and earnestly concerned mental-health
experts as entitled whiners who have been spoiled by parents who
overstoked their self-esteem, teachers who granted undeserved A's
and sports coaches who bestowed trophies on any player who showed
up...As they've entered adulthood, they have inspired a number of
books on how unmanageable they are in the workplace, with their
ubiquitous iPods, flip-flops and inability to take criticism. A
consensus has emerged that, psychologically, they're a generation
of basket cases: profoundly narcissistic and deprived of a sense of
agency by their anxiously overinvolved parents.
For the record, I don't wear flip-flops to work, though I am
writing this with a pair of earbuds in.
But in general, I think the millenials' critics -- and there are
many -- are mostly right. But here's the question: These days, when
uncertainty is about the only certain thing and seismic events
occur with alarming frequency, isn't that self-assurance (no
matter how out of proportion with actual talent) actually an
evolutionary advantage? It's a sort of forcefield to cushion kids
from the unpleasant reality checks that seem to keep on coming.
Just got laid off? No worries! You'll find another job, a
better job, and now that you think about it, that old job
was stupid anyway. Global warming? A troubling trend, but hey, you
have some pretty smart friends and they have some pretty
smart friends and surely one of them will figure out how to solve
The children of the Depression never really recovered. They
turned into the grandparents who sent you a check for $9 on your
birthday and told you to spend it wisely, or the ones who made you
lick your plate clean. Maybe this is the millenials' way of
Warner nods in this direction:
Perhaps it's a result, as some longtime observers of this
generation have suggested, of growing up in an era of almost
unremitting ambient anxiety: school years spent in the shadow of
Columbine, 9/11 and, lately, widespread parental job
losses. Maybe chronic unease has simply raised this
generation's tolerance level for stress, leaving it uniquely well
equipped to deal with uncertainty.
But -- and here's the but -- there's a tipping point at which
this worldview becomes self-destructive. There's a fine line
between encouraging our kids to reach for the stars and fostering a
sense of entitlement, between helping them develop a sense of
self-worth and the "irrational exuberance" Warner describes. And
that, as always, comes down to parenting.
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