Millennials get plenty of flak on the internet, so much so that I could spend hours ranting against the myriad incorrect assumptions of bloggers and so-called experts. (And I have.) But this time, I’m going to defend a different, unexpected generation
Underneath the snide remarks about our entitlement, laziness, and desperation for attention is a largely undiscussed condemnation of our parents. When critics rant about millennials' need for affirmation, our parents are the real culprits. Our bookshelves overflowing with trophies — trophies dispensed by our Boomer parents to appease the fragile egos of their children — are clearly to blame for all of our generation's problems.
I'm not joking. That's literally the argument made in a recent article by Brooke Donatone at Slate, which claims that helicopter parenting is to blame for millennials’ struggles, an assessment based on the author’s observations of her psychotherapy patients.
"Intrusive parenting," it seems, causes her patients to be totally helpless, unable to figure out how to ask their roommate to turn down the TV at night, in addition to decreasing the healing power of post-break up ice cream. Donatone writes, "Maybe millennials are narcissistic, like most 14-year-olds are. And maybe they will outgrow their narcissism later in life if 30 is the new 18. We don't have the data on what millennials will be like when they’re 40.
"But more importantly, they need to learn how to cope."
Call me crazy, but an individual’s ability to cope with challenges is a personal problem, not an adequate basis for comparison between two collective generations.
The "trophy theory" of millennials which Donatone espouses further completely disregards the many facets of our life where there absolutely were and are winners and losers. Think about adolescent bullying and cyberbullying, sport championships (because even if you got a trophy at the end of the season, you still knew if your team lost or not), grades, GPAs, the ever-worsening divide between the haves and the have-nots. We grew up knowing that what getting trophies really meant was that we would be in constant competition.
In my childhood, I received plenty of trophies and accolades. My parents absolutely had their helicopter moments. (I had to give a week’s notice during high school when I wanted to go out with my friends.) But somehow, unlike Donatone's patients, I was still able to deal with adulthood.
To chalk any of our generation's behaviors (widespread or not) up to trophies and over-involved parenting is a rudimentary explanation of a complex situation. It insults millennials by insinuating that we're unhappy because we don't get enough affirmation, and it insults the Boomers who raised us with love, who involved themselves in our lives, by telling them that what they did was wrong.
To authors like Donatone, our overly attentive parents raised us in such a way so as never to impart self-reliance. Now, none of us can handle confrontation without calling on mommy and daddy. These generation-bashers, having decided to label all millennials as narcissistic and entitled, in turn universally condemn Boomers for raising us to be so awful as a justification for the stereotype they themselves created.
As for our over-involved Boomer parents, what lies behind trend pieces about employers invite our parents to the office and most other articles chiding our Boomer parents are mere anecdotes, presented without any kind of context. For instance, the oft-cited study claiming that millennials are bringing their parents to job interviews only spoke to 507 graduates of a four-year college — not exactly a sample we should be drawing all conclusions from. Most millennials I know would never dream of having their parents accompany them to an interview, but they might talk to their parents about their careers and aspirations or may utilize their professional networks for job prospects. I certainly did.
When I listen to Donatone, and critics like her, I hear them take the real issues facing millennials and call them entitlement and affirmation issues. Ridiculous.
Today, we're all about responsibility, but our foremost responsibility seems to be to find someone else to blame. Suicide and depression rates are up across the board in all generations. The economy is in shambles, making it hard for the best-prepared of us to succeed. But somehow, that means we can't fend for ourselves, and that our parents are to blame? That our parents didn’t teach us to cope and now we’re in some sort of permanent regressive child-like state?
Yes, millennials have had immediate access to parental feedback even after they leave home due to cell phones and email. Yes, we have seen greater involvement from our parents in our schooling, team sports, and careers. And yes, we have had to rely on their generosity and willingness to open their homes to a much greater extent than any other generation. But can we please silence the Freudian peanut gallery for a moment to figure out if blaming our parents for our problems is actually valid?
Our trophy-proffering parents are not to blame for what life is like for millennials today. We were born and raised under circumstances entirely unique for our generation, and that has far greater bearing on how we have or haven’t learned to cope and thrive. Analyzing the world we've come of age in — and, dare I ask, some unbiased advice on how to proceed from here — would go a lot further than finger-pointing at the Boomers.