In Defense of My Millennials
I have heard so many people complaining about "those lazy, self-absorbed millennials" and how they are going to drive this country into the ground, and it makes my mama-bear tendencies come out in droves, because I am the actual, real-life mother of two of them. "Well," they say, "We aren't talking about your children." Excuse me, but if you aren't talking about my children, you are probably referring to my students, or to their friends. So in their defense, I would like to just point out a few observations:
Yep, I've met a few who are lazy. And there are a few who are self-absorbed. I am prone to laziness, and I most definitely am often self-absorbed. I went to school with a few lazy and/or selfish people. Some of their parents were lazy and/or selfish. And grandparents. You get the picture - it's so easy to generalize and assume, but it does nothing helpful to do either of those things. There are amazing and not-so-amazing people in every generation.
I also get my hackles up when we (and by 'we' I mean people over about 40 who rant about millennials) make statements like, "they all got participation trophies for just being on the team!" as if they, as little children, demanded such things. If I remember correctly, we are the ones who gave them those trophies and prizes; and do you know what I see now in my grown-up children? They have learned that everyone is valuable whether or not they are the most skilled, or the biggest, or the best. This is a beautiful thing - it has taught my children and their co-millennials to be way more inclusive and compassionate than I ever was at their age. My students regularly give up their summers to serve orphans overseas, to participate in helping women leave lives of prostitution, to work with doctors in developing countries to provide life-saving and life-altering surgeries on children, to dig wells to provide clean water for people who have no access, and so much more. Two years ago, through the non-profit Journeymen International (started by one of my millennials when he was still a student), three of my students designed and then saw the construction of: a community center and storm shelter in the Philippines, a church and youth education center in the Dominican Republic, and an education and community center in Sierra Leone. Three students. One school. One year. Imagine what happens through all of the students like these, all over the world. My students are generous to all, and know way better than me how to truly love people who aren't like them no matter what. They share extravagantly - over the long weekend, in fact, at a student conference we attended, 1000 students gave an offering to help refugee children. And $50,000 was collected. The way my children and my students care for the marginalized and outcast often puts me to shame in the best of ways - I strive to be like them.
"They are always looking at their phones and taking selfies" is another good one. We say it like it's their fault that all of this technology has happened, and that they should be ashamed of using it. Do they take selfies? For sure. When I was younger, all I could do was call a friend on the land-line phone (for hours!) or write a note or letter. Now my kids can take a picture of themselves to show their friends exactly what they are doing or how they are feeling. And we get angry at them for doing so. Yes, they use their phones to get the news (so do I. Every morning.) When I was young, the only option was local news broadcast on radio or TV. Now they get news from all over the world and are way more aware of what is going on globally. This is technology. This is a good thing. As for "fake news", don't even get me started. I have observed that my kids are WAY more savvy about rooting out the real from the fake than most of the 'old people' I know. Remember that Millennials have been advertised to and sold to their entire lives. In my experience, they are excellent at discerning the real from the fake.
"We gave them everything!" To be sure, we have given them a lot. Many good things; many things we never had. So let's not forget that besides all of the great stuff we've given them, we've also given them incredible pollution, an unstable health care system, and crippling debt. Last week I gave a student a ride and when I was asking her about her schedule, she explained to me that she holds down two jobs while being a full-time student so that her parents, who are having financial trouble since her mom was laid off from the corporate job she had for 15 years, don't have to take out more loans for her. This is not the first, second, or even third time I've heard this same story. It is sadly common. When I was in college, my tuition was $485 a semester. My daughter paid that much in rent. Per month. And she was getting a good deal. Last month a former student of mine posted on Facebook that he had paid off his college loan and was celebrating the freedom he felt from it - he graduated 13 years ago. That is not uncommon, and it is not the result of bad financial management - that's just how long it took. The debt this generation will inherit is unimaginable to me.
We've shown them that what we say and do are often two different things, and then we are angry at them for being skeptical people.
We've shown them that big business can't always be trusted, and that money doesn't make everyone happy, and then we are mad at them because they don't want "normal" corporate jobs. This doesn't make them lazy - this makes them brilliant. Redefining what the "American Dream" is so that it fulfills more of the soul, for more people. The more time I spend with those dang millennials, the more I actually understand, relate to, and actually like them. Go figure.
I might be the only old person who feels this way, but I have so much hope for the future because I actually know real Millennials and I for one cannot wait for them to start ruling the world.