Millennials are getting a lot of bad press lately. They’ve been labeled The Narcissistic Generation. Generation Me. The Snowflakes.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about Millennials, and the older they are, the less they can distinguish among Gen X, Older Millennials, younger Millennials, and the youngest generation, iGen, or Generation Z. And who are these "Xennials"?
The Millennial Generation, like all “generations”, has various parameters, depending on the source. Pew defines Millennials as being born from 1981 to 1997. The US Census defines Millennials as being born between 1982 and 2000. Other sources define Millennials as being born between 1977 and 1994.
This means that Millennials are currently anywhere from 17 to 40 years old.
Naturally there is a huge difference in upbringing, attitudes, behavior, and life challenges from the oldest to the youngest of this group. I would challenge anyone to find many similarities between a 17-year-old and a 40-year-old from any of the cohorts (Gen X, Boomers, etc.).
This intra-cohort division is not new.
Baby Boomers may remember this situation in their own cohort. Those born in the first half of the Baby Boom, from 1946 to about 1954, fought for Civil Rights, and marched against the Vietnam War. They grew their hair long and celebrated the introduction of the Pill. Social change was paramount and sex was free and easy.
Those born from approximately 1955 to 1964, were more influenced by Watergate, Iran Contra and AIDS. The government was sneaky and sex had serious consequences. They graduated from college and became yuppies, not hippies. They invented the 50-hour workweek.
Similarly, the Millennial Generation has a divide based on social history, as much as actual stage of life (20’s or 30’s)
Older Millennials were raised without smart phones, social media, or YouTube. In their 20’s, they were early adopters of technology, but they conducted all their teenage relationships IRL (in real life).
In my experience, these older Millennials don’t feel connected to the younger half of their cohort. They see the fact that they remember land lines and dial up internet as being a huge difference, and they are right. They came of age without the ability to share their lives instantly with hundreds, even thousands, of other teenagers, and without the constant pressure to do so.
These 30-somethings have coined the term “Xennials” for the people born between 1977 and 1983, to show that many of them feel as connected, if not more connected, to GenX than they do to the Millennial Generation.
Younger Millennials (now in their 20’s) grew up with cell phones and social media, but they didn’t grow up having complete relationships online the way that Generation Z, or iGen, does. Depending on the way they were raised, they may be either digital natives or early adopters as well.
They seem to care less about how they are labeled than the older Millennials do. They mostly use Instagram, not Snapchat (for iGen) or Facebook (for Xennials and older). They all have Tinder on their smartphones, and browse just for sport with friends or alone.
Older Millennials had their dating style well established by the time Tinder was introduced in 2012. Tinder, for the uninitiated (Boomers, generally!) is the dating app that is notorious for the swipe left to delete based on just the photo. It is the ultimate in speed dating decisions based on outward appearance only.
Young Millennials are often accused of being narcissistic and shallow.
This stereotype is usually blamed on their upbringing by well-meaning but mis-informed Baby Boomers.
Younger Millennials were over-scheduled and over-praised. As a result, Millennials are often struggling in their 20’s with learning life skills and life lessons that generations before them learned in their childhood and adolescence.
This was a problem that grew over time until the last few years when “helicopter parent” became the dirty word associated with the over-involved parenting style that had been previously encouraged and rewarded. Younger Millennials are much more a product of this parenting style than the older half of their cohort.
This parenting style even followed younger Millennials to college.
About 8 or 9 years ago, colleges began having introductory programs for parents telling them to GO HOME and let their teenagers begin school on their own. Many parents of college freshman at that time heard anecdotal stories about parents who would camp out on the floor of the freshman dorm for days while their student began classes and fall activities.
Needless to say, this was awkward for roommates.
Small wonder that these students later struggled to find their way when they graduated college and became young adults in the working world.
My blog post on Parenting Millennials addresses some of the struggles that Millennials are now facing as young adults, and how parents can help.
These Millennial stereotypes generate a fair amount of debate, even among Millennials themselves.
Older Millennials are more likely to poke fun at the Millennial stereotypes; they feel somewhat separated from them, and maintain a sense of humor. Younger Millennials (true to stereotype!) are more likely to have hurt feelings about these same stereotypes.
This is partly a cohort characteristic, and partly a result of the idealism that is integral to being 20-something in any generation. We can all joke about the expression “back in my day…” that the older generations employ when remembering their own youth through rose-colored glasses. We easily forget that we were all idealistic and sure of ourselves in our 20’s.
The ever-droll JP Sears, who at 33 is an older Millennial, posts vlogs on his Facebook page Awaken with JP where he pokes fun at just about everything. Last week he posted a vlog about Millennials. His previous videos about The Paleo Diet, Minimalism, and Gun Control got 2-4 million views, and 600 to 1400 comments.
His video about college debt really struck a chord with his viewers and got almost 10 million views, but only 882 comments–everyone seems to be in a fair amount of agreement that college debt has become a huge problem for society at large.
JP’s video about Millennials, however, got six million views, and over seven thousand comments in the first few days. Some people took great offense at his statements, even though it is clear that his attitude is tongue-in-cheek, he makes equal fun of everyone, and he himself is a Millennial.
He makes fun of the classic stereotypes, like getting a “gold medal” for 18th place, and being with friends while texting other friends instead. He also makes some comments that are really much more stereotypical of the iGen than of Millennials, like they prefer to associate with their friends’ online personas, and they often speak with letters (acronyms) instead of words.
Many of the comments (in all fairness, I did not read all 7,140 of them) were friendly retorts in kind, showing that Sears’ sense of humor and ability to laugh at himself are shared by many of his cohort. A typical response here from Daniel Hagadorn:
"I consider this video to be an intellectual microaggression...or at least I would have yesterday when I self-identified as an entitled snowflake. Besides who are you to judge me for being judgmental?"
On the other hand, there were many comments like these:
"This... is stereotypical and disrespectful."
"This is condescending and stereotypical of a very small percentage of that generation."
"...we use our phones because it is 2017. we are like this because we are just trying to survive in this economy that your generation ruined!! we are offended by garbage like racism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia when you guys get offended that your kid is using their iphone."
And my personal favorite:
"Have you ever thought about other factors why some millennials are like this? Most millennials are like this because there is not a wiser influence out there that can help them conquer modern day problems."
This particular person went on and on in the same vein– it was clear she didn’t see the irony.
Poster Mauricio Macias definitely DID understand the irony:
"Ok, so according to my birth date, I'm a millennial, but I didn't relate to anything depicted here, so... does that mean I don't share the millennial spirit, or that I'm way too millennial??"
So what can we conclude from such a lengthy and heated discussion?
We can see that many Millennials are able to laugh at themselves (and are also quite clever!) But there is a reason that each generation has its stereotypes, and there is a reason why Millennials as a generation are characterized as being overly sensitive, probably largely as a result of the way they were parented.
In the end, the best thing we can do is try to understand and empathize with each other on an individual basis. Everyone has their own unique personality, and deserves to be related to on a personal level.
At the same time, it can be tremendously helpful to understand the events and attitudes that shaped the generation to which an individual belongs. To examine the things that influenced the Millennials when they were growing up will help foster communication and understanding across generations. Only by first understanding one another can we be truly, deeply connected.
This is Part 2 of a series. Click here to read Understanding Millennials, Part 1.
Could you use a little more help?
If you would like to understand and communicate better with the Millennial in your life, if you would like help learning to manage your stress and anxiety, or if you would just like to explore ways to create a life of joy and meaning, please call me at 323-999-1537 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 20-minute phone consultation, to chat about how therapy might be helpful for you.