Millennials crash-landing: Just like the generations before them

Millennials represent a generational gap that endured long before the title even existed. One writer points out that Millennials, deserving or otherwise, are targets for older generation sniping, just like the generations of young adults before them. Should we give them a break? 

Andrew Burton/Reuters
Millennials are feeling pressure as they navigate adulthood and try to differentiate themselves from prior generations. Here, millennial Sarah Azad waits to meet with potential employers at the 2012 Big Apple Job and Internship Fair at the Javits Center in New York, April 27, 2012.

Generational conflict is at the core of human life, and barring some kind of mass migration to a virtual reality matrix wherein we are all forever young, it ever shall be.

The old hope to pass on wisdom while clinging to whatever shreds of youth remain; the middle-aged still feel insecure beneath the gaze of their elders but sneer at the rising ambitions of the young; and the young feel that no generation before them has ever done anything well, and they will be the ones to set the world to rights. Everybody marches with the spear of mortality at their backs.

And so, Slate tapped into some very primal stuff with its story "Why Millennials Can't Grow Up: Helicopter parenting has caused my psychotherapy clients to crash land."

It's immediately appealing to all older-than-Millennial readers for a few  reasons: It confirms our suspicion that over-coddled young people are making a mess of things. It suggests that because the author is a psychotherapist, the story will be grounded in science, or, at least, science-y sounding language. And it gives us the sense that the upbringings of us old people - spare and sometimes unsupportive, but rife with freedom and the chance to take on responsibility - were somehow superior to the new, unworthy pack of whippersnappers that has appeared on the scene, all cocky because they're in their twenties and the world lies at their feet ready for conquest.

The article's lead is every insecure late 30- or 40-something's fantasy. A patient ("Amy") cries while talking to her therapist because for her:

It became increasingly difficult to balance school, socializing, laundry, and a part-time job. She finally had to dump the part-time job, was still unable to do laundry, and often stayed up until 2 a.m. trying to complete homework because she didn’t know how to manage her time without her parents keeping track of her schedule.

In short: Over-coddling by helicopter parents creates helpless child-adults who can't handle pressure, conflict, or, in short, "the real world" without mommy and daddy holding their hands.

The story is an interesting riff (and partial rebuttal) of the even more popular "Millennials are narcissistic, entitled monsters" storyline - we're invited to feel sorry for Millennials, not just hostile toward them. But while it is pegged to some real indicators (high rates of depression among college students, the inflation of educational credentials that means today's four-year undergraduate degree is little better than yesterday's high school diploma) it also feels a little like most of the stories of its ilk in that it's generational warfare waged by the people with power (the managers and leaders in their late 30s and 40s against those who largely don't (those in their 20s) under the rubric of "oh, those poor kids - their bad parenting has ruined them."

So long as there are generations, there will be attacks and counterattacks and fumbling efforts to cross the swamp that is cross-generational communication. And while stories like "Why Millennials Can't Grow Up" at least seem to offer a sympathetic stance toward the young, something a bit more welcoming - or, hey, even celebratory of what the next generation is bringing - would be a nice change of pace.

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