Name: Millennial Generation
Birth years: 1982-200?
Like the previous generation, there is no readily accepted name for this generation. Some call them “Generation Y” (after Generation X) some call them the “Mosaic Generation” emphasizing their greater degree of diversity. Strauss and Howe call them the “Millennial Generation” as they were the generation coming of age as we entered the new Millennium. I will be using the Millennial moniker.
Millennials first began to appear on the scene in the early 1980s. Several factors have had an influence on their formative years. First adults were looking at the dysfunctional behavior of the trailing edge Baby Boomers “Prophet” (born 1942-1960) and leading edge Generation X “Nomad” (born 1961-1981) cohorts who were just entering young adulthood. Parents, politicians, and experts were concluding that something was going horribly wrong with childhood. Some believe that part of the appeal of Ronald Reagan elected in 1980 was his championing of conservative family values concerning children. Children re-surfaced as a cultural issue.
Second, many Baby Boomer women delayed family formation and childbirth for higher education and starting careers. As the biological clock began ticking ever louder many opted to start families. Because so many had delayed parenting for so long, these new Millenial children were especially valued by their parents.
Third, leading edge Xer women were becoming mothers as the 1980s progressed. A common theme heard from many of this generation is a declaration that there children will not have the childhoods they endured with rampant divorce and absentee parents. Xers have tended to more cautious about marriage and have married later but when they do tie the knot it has often been with a greater sense of determination and commitment.
I mentioned in earlier posts that the early 1960s entertainment featured children as cherubic beings like Opie and “the Beaver.” By 1968, children were demonic characters in movies like Rosemary’s Baby and, a little later, The Exorcist. Similarly, the movie E.T. was released in 1982 and became an all time favorite childhood movie among Xers. Central to movie was a chaotic Baby Boomer parented family with “latchkeyed” Gen X kids (including Drew Barrymore, who would become a poster child for the stereotyped Gen X bad girl.) It featured an extraterrestrial that was more authentic and loving than human adults. Another Drew Barrymore movie was released less than two years later called Firestarter, about the same time as another movie called Children of the Corn. Both movies featured evil children and both flopped at the box office. William Strauss and Neil Howe point out that by 1987, three of the most popular movies of the year were Raising Arizona, Three Men and a Baby and Baby Boom. All three featured children cherished by adults. It was also during 1987 that Fatal Attraction was released portraying the potential “downside” to the 1970s loose marriage values.
By 1993, Republican Bill Bennett was publishing his Book of Virtues, championing the importance of raising children with strong personal morality and character. Three years later, Democrat Hillary Clinton published her It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, making the case for healthy societal institutions that support family functioning. Many attribute Bill Clinton’s election success to his ability to connect with “soccer moms” who were intent on providing wholesome childhoods for children. Some claim the two Bush election wins happened, in part, because of “security moms,” mothers voted for him because they felt he could provide protection from global threats. Since the 1988 presidential election, children’s issues have become an increasingly high priority. Everywhere (at least where I live) you can find bumper stickers that remind you to consider, “Is it good for the children?”
As Baby Boomer and Generation X children grew up, you could find increasingly lenient childrearing with each passing year, even between oldest and youngest children in the same family. That pattern is now reversed. We see increasingly stringent childrearing from year to year with younger children often receiving more restrictive parenting. As a result, teenagers and young adults today are among some of the most respectful and well behaved of their age in forty years. Dysfunctional behavior like crime, teenage pregnancy and substance abuse have been in significant decline for the past two decades.
All this being said, parents today seem to exhibit more anxiety and concern about parenting than at anytime in the past few decades. If children, are doing so much better, why is this not easing concerns about parenting? I think it is because forty and fifty years ago parents saw social institutions and the culture as allies in their nurture of children. They could become more lenient and could justify being less diligent because there were other institutions that would pick up the slack. Today I think parents see most institutions of society as dysfunctional if not outright enemies of what they want for their children. They feel the improvement that is happening in their children happens through their dogged determination and not through the community. Plus, the standards of a “well-raised” child keep escalating.
A key aspect to the parenting of the past twenty years has been the hands-on direct supervision by parents of their children's lives. The parents of Baby Boomers intentionally raised their children to be inner-directed. The neglect of Gen X children virtually assured that they would be an inner-directed generation as well. Baby Boom and Xer parents now schedule vast amounts of their children’s lives for them. Children are encouraged to work and think as teams in everything from school projects to watching “Power Rangers” on TV. That means these children a very outer-directed generation.
The upside is that the Millennials are often masters of coordinating and operating as teams. The downside is that many often lack the ability make decisions based long term vision. I heard one corporate CEO recently say he saw a tremendous aptitude among recent college graduates for task oriented work but he was concerned about their inability to connect short run tactics to long term vision. Many Millennials actually report feelings of anxiety when their lives develop to much unscheduled time.
The media has also coined a name for some parents (mostly late Boomers and early Xers) of Millennial college students. They are called “Helicopter Parents.” They show up at college freshman orientations to ask questions and clarify policies. They “hover” at registration, helping their kids decide which classes to take. Student advisors report episodes of pressing students for which classes they want to take only to have the student call home on a cell phone and hand the phone to the advisor saying, “Here, talk to my Mom.” Some Universities have set up separate Parent orientations to coincide with student only orientations for the freshman. This is a dramatic change from the world of twenty years ago. Another dramatic change from the not to distant past is that more than 70% of children say they have a positive relationship with their parents.
If the Kennedy Assassination was a seminal moment for the Baby Boomers, and the Challenger Explosion was a seminal moment for the Xers, then surely September 11, 2001, was a seminal moment for the Millennial Generation. Just barely four years hence, it is too early to tell what impact those events have had, and will have, on the psyche of the children who are alive today. It seems likely that it has impressed upon them the idea that world is a much more dangerous and less secure place than they or their parents believed it to be.
The oldest Millennial generation children will begin to turn 25 next month, so there is no history to comment on in terms of their character. What might we expect from this generation? The resemblance of their situation is strikingly similar to that of the G.I. Generation in the 1930s. The world as they know it is confronted with a threat to survival. They look at their elders and see utterly dysfunctional institutions enmeshed in rancorous acrimony. They wonder “Why can’t these people do anything?” They become increasingly disturbed by the emotionalism of the times and people’s unwillingness to come together for the common good. Forty years ago Baby Boomer’s looked at their elders and cultural institutions and saw a faceless efficient machine with no soul. The situation is now a complete reversal. Millennials look at their elders and see folks utterly in touch with their feelings who can’t make anything work. I suspect that they will increasingly come to see their destiny as one of making the civic world work again. If there is a major war or some other catastrophic event, it will be on their backs to do the work that makes or breaks the future. If successful, they will have lived out their “Hero” archetype.
Sampling of the Millennial Generation
Kirsten Dunst (1982- ) Actress
Danica Patrick (1982- ) NASCAR Driver
Leann Rimes (1982- ) Singer
Ben Roethlisberger (1982- ) NFL Quarterback
Lebron James (1984- ) NBA Player
Ashlee Simpson (1984- ) Singer
Frankie Muniz (1985- ) Actor
Michael Phelps (1985- ) Olympic Swimmer
Mischa Barton (1986- ) Actress
Amanda Bynes (1986- ) Actress
Lindsay Lohan (1986- ) Actress
Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen (1986- ) Actresses
Hilary Duff (1987- ) Actress, Singer
Haley Joel Osment (1988- ) Actor
Michele Wie (1989- ) Golfer