It may be hard to spell, but “millennial” is not a “four” letter word, nor a word that should elicit negative connotations. Unfortunately, this has become true, not just for parents, but for those who fall into the millennial generation (born from 1981 to 1996). It’s incumbent on us as parents to not relate to our young adults through a biased and inaccurate lens that exists in the media and popular culture. When I have met with older adults and discussed my interests in helping parents of young adults, I am typically both encouraged and warned of the task ahead. They give me their blessing and then go on to say they and other parents have observed that millennials seem entitled, narcissistic, lazy, and high maintenance. Such attitudes about youth are not new.
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders, …contradict their parents, and, tyrannize their teachers…”
Let’s challenge just a few stereotypes that adults and the media have regarding this generation of young adults.
- Millennials are lazy and don’t want to work. Many millennials, including my son, bristle at the association of low work ethic with their age group. It is not a stereotype that holds across all millennials. There is some evidence that many millennials fall into the category of workaholics or work-martyrs.
- Millennials are entitled. Millennials have grown up with a lot more investment and attention from their parents than we, Boomers/GenXers, received from our parents. They spent more time in teams and teamwork than past generations and received regular feedback on their work. As such, they hunger, not for a pat on the back, but feedback within the workplace. 85% want more regular feedback from their supervisors and are open to corrective feedback.
- Millennials are narcissistic or self-centered. This may appear to be the case as we observe them, but the research indicates that they are no more narcissistic than we were at their age.
Such aspersions of young adults may reflect our own bias and disassociation from our youthful narcissism. Self-centeredness seems to be a trait of this stage of development:
“…are Millennials any more narcissistic than, say, the Baby Boomers, who were once considered the most self-obsessed cohort of their time? Consider the August 23, 1976 cover story of New York Magazine, in which Tom Wolfe declared the ‘70s “The Me Decade.”
The Dangers of Stereotyping
Having stereotypes about a particular generation, especially if our child fits into that group, presents certain dangers. First, we may find ourselves relating to a stereotype of our young adult and not seeing or hearing them. Once we establish a stereotype, we tend only to look for supportive data. In research, we refer to this as a “confirmation bias.” We stop listening and learning and connecting to the person by defaulting to our stereotype lens. No wonder our kids may not want to talk to or open up to use.
Another danger of stereotypes regarding millennials is to trigger off our bias about what is right or the norm. In my private practice, I saw Jim, a twenty-five-year-old male who is living at home and working as a lab technician. He has a goal of moving out within the next six months. He doesn’t dislike his job but wants to work less than forty hours a week and will make such a request at his performance review in March. As one who has worked two jobs most of my life and found purpose in these jobs, I found myself imposing my value on him. “You need to find work that you can be passionate about, I said.” Then followed with, “find a job you love, and you won’t have to work a day in your life (as the saying goes).” Classic boomer statements. It soon became clear to me that his picture of a satisfying life included less time at a job and more time for exercise, hobbies, friends, and family. For some boomers and GenXers who have strived to achieve and earn more, such an orientation to work and life seems ludicrous. Who’s to say we have the right philosophy? Jim is willing to take a pay cut to have a more well-balanced and satisfying life. How dare he have such a goal!
Finally, we have to shed the “parental” mindset that we know best when talking with our kids. Guard against our experience, the media, or bias as the way to understand our young adults. We have to take the time to be with them, listen, and learn. We have a rich opportunity to allow our young adults to teach us more than any past generation. Our adult children’s native habitat of technology and the speed of change offer opportunities for us digital dinosaurs to learn from them. We need to start from a desire for understanding, build, and strengthen the relationship before we offer our perspectives.
“Grant that I may not so much seek… to be understood, as to understand…”
-From the “Prayer of St. Francis” of Assisi