Okay. I’ll say this … I have been bitingly referred to as a part of “You Millennials”; this remark is generally followed by a clipped apology, a mumbled explanation that I’m not like the rest of my generation, and a choppy segue into a new subject. Millennials, unlike the terms from which it came (i.e., the Silent Generation, Generation X, Baby Boomers, etc.), has exceeded the name given to a generation of people and has instead become a stereotype. When asked to imagine a Baby Boomer, you might envision someone who is:
- Between the ages of 52 and 70
- Willing to challenge conventional ideas
These traits come indirectly from William Strauss and Neil Howe’s book on generational theory, while the term itself was coined sometime around 1970. It is a fairly generous term, describing a large number of people–my father included–in a fairly neutral way.
Now, how would you define a millennial? The most common traits of a millennial:
- Between the ages of 18 and 33
- Tech-savvy multitaskers
- Middle to lower-class
- Lazy, arrogant, entitled, impatient
These are the traits CBS News, Wikipedia, millennial ambassador Lindsey Pollak, and other sources outline. These characteristics describe a large number of people, as well, but with a notable bias; the same bias that creeps into the conversation at my family dinners.
Okay, so, bias detected. Now what? Is that bias warranted? I, as a proud member of the so-called Millennial Generation, maintain that it is. While my generation, as a whole, is extremely tech-savvy, we do indeed tend to be lazy, arrogant, entitled, and impatient; or, perhaps as a better rephrase, we make all of these characteristics more public than generations past did.
To our elders, we are the generation with participation trophies lining our walls, emotions expressed only through little icons, ears covered with Beats, hands soft from being held all our lives, thumbs particularly muscular from bearing the weight of every conversation, and memories in the form of pictures stored in a cloud. Our elders are not wrong. But there’s quite a bit they left out …
The generation before the Baby Boomers, the Silent generation, has about 55 million people. There are about 76.4 million people who are part of the Baby Boomer generation. There are 80 million people who can be categorized as millennials; we make up about 1 percent of the world’s population, which is truly staggering. It’s no surprise, then, that our parents felt the need to tell us at every turn, ‘You are so special’ and to give us participation trophies–they needed to confirm their child’s existence in a world of 80 million other children.
The price of college has tripled since 1980. 70% of millennials will graduate college with debt averaging at $29,000, which is $312 a month for 10 years in student loan payments. The unemployment rate among college graduates is 7.2%, and the underemployment rate for college graduates is at 14.9%. Our elders tell us the way to a stable life is to go to college to get a degree to get a job, but there are not enough jobs for all 80 million of us.
I began taking standardized tests when I was eight and didn’t stop until I was eighteen. Whether I answered A or D as a second grader designated my score, which academic track I took, the quality of classes, the quality of teacher, the quality of education, the quality of college, the quality of my future. In applying for college, my SAT score was twenty points under the threshold for a presidential scholarship, while my GPA was 0.7 points above. For all I know, the reason my parents and I lie awake at night, wondering how to pay my tuition bill, is because I was tired the day I took the SAT. Or I didn’t eat a good enough breakfast. Or because the phone in a bag somewhere in front of me wouldn’t stop vibrating and I spent the entire test session fighting the urge to dropkick the bag across the room and in frustration, answered C instead of D. All of the above.
I grew up with a cellphone in my hand, an iPod in my back pocket, and came home to two computers at my disposal. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that “most teens–85% of those aged 14 to 17–have cell phones … so do 69% of 11-14 year olds and 31% of kids aged 8-10”. I was a master of Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter before I finished Algebra I. I listen to music, answer emails, text with my mom, eat my dinner, and reread the book about which I am writing an ‘A’ paper and all of this will take about three hours. My screens have been programming me to multitask since I was a child. I can chat with my sister on the other side of the world, apply to jobs, watch movies, confirm my employment for the next six months, and illegally buy a gun from my room, behind a screen.
I was about to go to one of my first days of afternoon kindergarten when my mom kept me home on September 11, 2001. Since then, there have been 27 deadly terrorist attacks in the United States, resulting in 45 people killed by jihadist attacks and 48 people killed by far right wing attacks. Additionally, a New York Times study showed that:
“There were, on average, 16.4 such shootings a year [in the US] from 2007 to 2013, compared with an average of 6.4 shootings annually from 2000 to 2006. In the past 13 years, 486 people have been killed in such shootings, with 366 of the deaths in the past seven years. In all, the study looked at 160 shootings since 2000” (Schmidt).
Millennials have grown up in a time of unparalleled terrorism, violence, and uncertainty. Our elementary school days were interrupted with lockdown drills in case of an intruder. My high school had two bomb scares, two gun scares, and six suicides in the four years I spent there alone. Book series like Divergent and The Hunger Games are only slight dramatizations of our reality.
This is what life has been like for me, a millennial, these past 20 years. This is the world I have grown into. So … perhaps if I do not want to work, it’s because I’ve been learning and working only in order to pass the tests I’ve been force fed for the past fifteen years. Perhaps if I assume I know more than you, it’s because the technology that rules your world is an extension of my right hand. Perhaps if I feel you owe me something, it’s because the education I obtained at your behest has taken every penny I’ve saved. Perhaps if I am impatient, it’s because I am waiting to fix the world I am going to inherit on my terms, not yours. Please do not misunderstand: these are not excuses.
The reality is that every ‘generation’ has something wrong with it. The Silent Generation wants to feel needed, are conformists, and are conservatives. The Baby Boomers were known for being rule-followers, cynical, distrustful of government, and believe productivity to be less important than teamwork. Generation X-ers are known for being slackers, needing feedback to work, distrustful of institutions, and are rule rejecters. However, these generations did not go down in history as the downfall of American civilization.
In essence, I would like the Silent Generation to expand their conservative mindset, Baby Boomers to override their cynicism, and the Generation X-ers to stop slacking and make the effort to view Millennials for what we are: optimistic, patriotic, entrepreneurial, culturally and racially tolerant, accepting of change, financially savvy, and constantly looking for opportunities to learn. I wish only to share our point of view and to eliminate the bias against the millennial on the other side of your screen. Because if you know more about me, I will gladly override my lazy, arrogant, entitled, and impatient nature.