Millennials are the children of the Baby Boomers. The oldest Millennials are about 35, and the youngest ones just graduated from high school, depending on who is writing the definition.
These young adults are shaping our culture today. They have outpaced the Baby Boomers in population, and as their buying power continues to grow, they will increasingly become the driving force behind technology and marketing.
If you are a Baby Boomer, you need to understand what is going on with these young people. What are the unique challenges they face, and how are they affecting our culture? If you are a parent of a Millennial, you need to know the reasons why their young adulthood is so different from the way yours was. Understanding your young adult is far different from understanding your teen.
Being familiar with the unique challenges facing your young adult child is the important first step to understanding their world and deepening your connection with them.
Unlike previous generations who tended to bond together in their struggles, Millennials can easily be separated and alienated by technology even when they think it is connecting them. They see so many happy and successful photos on social media, and they don't realize how inaccurate a picture they paint. We all tend to compare what we know about our own inner life (complicated, and not always wonderful) with what we know about others' outer lives ("normal", happy). Social media magnify this effect and can lead to depression and anxiety in the observer.
Anxiety, feeling lost, and relationship problems are the most common reasons that young adults contact me for help. Here are 5 reasons why I believe Adulting is hard for the Millennial Generation:
1. Millennials are used to being scheduled. There was always a plan, always a next step.
The young adults I see often feel lost. When they were in college, their environment was filled with age-appropriate stimulation. They are used to being surrounded by other young people who think like them, use technology like them, and who were raised in a similarly highly-scheduled manner.
Now they are in the workplace– an environment filled with people from all age groups and backgrounds. Their bosses often don’t understand their need for structure, and give them a lot of freedom to figure things out on their own.
They get reviews that say they are “not self-starters”, or that they don’t “take initiative”. Naturally this is confusing for them; they are hard workers and sincerely want to do well, but their bosses have often not explained the level of initiative that is expected.
Millennials need to learn how to structure their lives, both in and out of the workplace.
At work they need to determine the activities that will be most productive. The learning curve is steep, but the issue does need to be addressed. Bosses of Millennials need to find ways to train them to learn this important skill.
At home, if there is no externally-imposed structure to the day, there are plenty of stimuli to be found online. Millennials can easily spend hours on social media, or browsing the internet. Netflix figured this out pretty quickly and began releasing whole seasons of shows at once, in order to feed the "binge-watching" frenzy. Other networks quickly followed suit.
We all need to have some self-discipline, and some sort of schedule, in order to avoid the strong call of the internet when we are trying to "unwind", but Baby Boomers have years of experience scheduling and pursuing other activities in their repertoire. Millennials need to learn how to schedule other activities and ways to motivate themselves to do them. Simple tools like calendars and reminders (on their smartphones, natch!) can help with this.
2. Millennials are used to getting a ribbon. Even for participating.
Boomers raised their kids to believe that “everybody is a winner”, and that “the most important thing is trying”. We were well-meaning, but mis-informed. Many Millennials have boxes, or even rooms, at home where they store their ribbons and trophies. The unfortunate result of this “positive parenting” is that many Millennials were prevented from learning how to deal with the disappointment of failure.
Now, as young adults, they are struggling to be able to fail without feeling like a failure as a person. Many of the Millennials I see in my practice grapple with depression when they try to learn something new in the workplace and experience the occasional failure that is a natural consequence of learning.
What they don’t realize is that their bosses usually know that a certain amount of failure will be necessary. We, as parents, can help them understand this. You can share stories of your own failures with your adult child. You can share popular stories of others' failures on the way to success. And probably most helpful thing you can do, is remind them of their own struggles in the past on the way to achieving something meaningful.
Their challenge is to learn to take the risk of doing something the wrong way.
Millennials need to learn how to become comfortable with failure, but unfortunately they are no longer in the protective environment of their childhood homes and activities. Consequently, this is a more difficult task than it was for kids in generations before, who learned early on that not everyone is good at everything, and when they didn’t get a prize or a ribbon, neither did most of the other kids. And at the end of the day, Mom or Dad was there to comfort and reassure them.
3. Millennials have been told all their lives that they can do anything, be anything.
Again, Baby Boomers were told that this was the message to send their children, in every way possible. It sounds so positive and reaffirming. In fact, the best message is to let your children know they are already wonderful as they are. They should strive to be their best, and know that the process of self actualization organically includes many missteps. That is, failure.
The biggest personal challenge facing Millennials today is to learn to be comfortable enough in their own skin to accept both success and failure as an organic part of the process of growing up and being human.
The idea that we could be anything is actually quite a burden. If I could be anything at all, then why am I waiting tables or selling electronics? I must be a failure. (that word again!). Millennials have been programmed to set their sights high, and to expect to achieve their goals directly and quickly. We, as parents, need to show our adult children that we accept them just the way they are. Find the wonderful personal qualities they are expressing in their lives, and point them out. Maybe your adult child is particularly empathic, or generous, or hard-working. Reflect these qualities and actions back to them even if you think they are obvious.
And, most importantly, stop asking them anything to the effect of "what do you want to be when you grow up?". Your understanding and acceptance of their process of figuring things out will go a long way toward helping them accept it for themselves.
4. Millennials are used to spending large amounts of time on-line
Most Millennials have a sense of belonging in an online community. Indeed, their generation coined the acronym IRL (in real life) in order to distinguish it from the omnipresent on-line world.
There are distinct benefits to being connected with like-minded people all over the world. Millennials are able to spread ideas and movements all over the globe in a matter of hours. They are able to stay connected to close friends and family who move far away, an increasingly common event in our global community.
However, there can be a huge downside to spending time on line. Because of the compelling nature of social media, it often replaces a significant amount of time that would otherwise be spent on social relationships IRL. Younger Millennials are increasingly unwilling and unable to form strong personal bonds with their peers, and they turn to social media to provide them with “friends”. This is, in fact, a huge problem for the Z Generation, the kids who follow the Millennials. They are sometimes coined iGen, to reflect their dependence on iPhones and iPads. Look for my blog on this topic coming later this summer.
Close personal friendships IRL are the only way to be deeply connected with other humans. We know that 85% of our communication is non-verbal. We know that a critical component of deep communication is utilization of mirror neurons. These neurons fire when we are in close proximity, “mirroring” the expressions, body attitude, and gestures of the other person. And, of course, there is the importance of touch.
If your adult child is feeling lonely and isolated it will take them some time to develop new friendships IRL. Help them understand that this is a normal process; that 20-somethings recently out of college often feel this way. Schedule extra family activities that they can join in. However grudgingly they participate, they will actually be grateful for the connection.
5. Millennials can’t afford to live on their own.
It has always been a challenge for families to afford to send their children to college, but especially since the Great Recession, many students have been forced to take out crippling student loans in order to be able to get a college degree. Now more than one third of Millennials are forced to live at home in order to make ends meet (or almost meet!)
Many young adults will also move home as “back up” for periods in between jobs or affordable opportunities to live with other young adults. This situation means that it is extremely important for Millennial parents to understand the unique challenges facing their young adult children.
To a parent it may seem like their young adult has the best of everything: free or low-cost room and board, amenities like laundry and wi-fi, and probably a nicer location than they will live in when they eventually move out. It is often tough for parents to understand why their young adult child is depressed or lonely, why they are spending all that time on line, and why do they feel like such a failure.
Understanding some of the pressures listed above can help parents understand, be closer to, and help their adult children, whether they live at home or on their own.
And as for Millennials themselves, I hope you can see that adulting is hard for all of you, no matter how happy and successful your friends and followers may seem to be.
The Millennial Generation has some big problems to solve, but they are hard-working and eager to learn. They want the best for the planet and their fellow humans.
The Baby Boomers had the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War protests, and the protection of Women’s Rights. Boomers have begun to protect LGBTQ Rights, but Millennials will have to take this much further. Millennials will have to spread their understanding and acceptance of gender fluidity to the generations before and after. They will need to protect the rights of groups of people that the Boomers did not even acknowledge existed.
Millennials are facing different challenges from the ones the Baby Boomer Generation faced, but they will surely find creative solutions that are beyond what any of us can now imagine. Let's make sure that we, as parents, know how to best understand and support them in this endeavor.
Click here to read Understanding Millennials Part 2– What Are the Differences Between Older and Younger Millennials, and Who Are The Xennials?
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.