The course interviewed several baby boomer psychotherapists, most of whom elected to call younger generations distracted, lost, troubled, and disconnected. If you’re a millenial, you may have heard your parents or teachers say the same things about you.
They are wrong.
First of all, these statements are a gross generalization. But more importantly, they’re untrue. And additionally, they’re offensive.
And I’ll tell you why.
You know how these boomer experts appear to be determining that younger generations are distracted? Because younger generations are not paying attention to them. As though the idea that anything might be more worthy of attention than their instructions, their advice, their ideas is absurd. As if an inability to focus on them is tantamount to an inability to focus at all.
Which is patently ridiculous. Millenials pay attention to plenty of things. Millenials couldn’t build the things they build without paying attention. Millenials are the engines behind the mobile apps that you use every day: Twitter, Facebook, Lyft, Tinder — built by millenials in dev shops in San Francisco and Toronto. Millenials write what you see and read on SNL, Medium, and Autostraddle. That uh-mayzing speech by Michelle Obama? A millenial wrote that. The majority of Barack Obama’s speeches? His speechwriter is also a millenial. Millenials are leading the Black Lives Matter movement and The Black Youth Project.
The things that Millenials do make it clear that, when they pay attention, it is to things way more worthy of attention than their parents’ advice about “eating your wheaties” (by the way, turns out we’re supposed to eat way less wheat than we were told growing up).
Something that actually happened in the aforementioned psychotherapy course: A lady called a therapist to discuss her son’s anxiety about school and friends.
The therapist’s response, which was intended to be humorous: “Well, at least he’s not worrying about the war in Syria!”
Whew! Thank God he’s focused on himself rather than thinking about a conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands!
Hold. The. Phone. Excuse me? That’s your idea of a thing to be thankful for? Interactions like this one demonstrate exactly why millenials might discount the perspectives of their elders: those perspectives are frequently naive and narrow.
Millenials (and the subsequent generation, whatever we’ve elected to call them) involve themselves in social activism, and they speak out about global events. Those are important and worthy things to do, and it takes an oblivious person to chastise and trivialize them.
The “lost” and “disconnected” labels are just as untrue. No, parent or mentor. The youth not as connected to you as they once were. But they’re connected to plenty of people. In many cases, it’s people who, on various narrow issues, are much more capable of advising them than you, because they can reach out over the internet and form relationships with people they admire.
And often, by the way, the youths that you’re lamenting asked for your advice. And they watched you struggle to come up with something. Because you didn’t know what to do, but you couldn’t bring yourself to say the words “I don’t know.” And so, rather than be honest, you tried to fake your own omniscience.
Millenials are not lost. New technology isn’t evil. And younger generations are definitely not doomed.
Instead, select members of the party of elders have noticed that young people’s behavior is different, and they have indiscriminately characterized different as bad. In their view, the things young people do that they don’t get are due to the young people’s inadequacy — when in fact, younger generations are often much more empathetic, much less self-centered, and much more honest with others than those elders were, and certainly more so than they ever advised the next generation to be.
Clearly, it’s not all of them. Nothing is ever all of anyone. But it’s a striking pattern and, if I understand correctly, it’s a pattern that repeats itself across generations. But given the strengths and gifts that the younger generations have demonstrated to the world, it would be a shame for them to feel discouraged by the chastisement from the older folks.