It was during a faculty meeting that an educational researcher first delivered me the unfortunate news: I am a millennial. I belong to the same generation as the students I’ve taught, that generation often criticized as all tech, no brains, and less heart.
I assumed I was a Generation X’er because I listened to Nirvana growing up. If the “Facebook thing” didn’t happen in college, the X’ers may have retained my membership.
The news sunk in my chest like a heavy stone in water.
I am quick to judge this phone-glued youth, and quick to praise writers like Meg Wolitzer, whose novel The Uncoupling describes the generation as “the generation that had information, but no context. Butter, but no bread. Craving, but no longing.”
I went without social media for my first 8 years sober, cynical of those virtual worlds and the emotions they simulate. My disconnect was evident to my students.
Four years ago, when I spoke to the student body—nearly 800 teenage boys—about joining the yearbook, I asked, “If you enjoy tagging people on facebook, raise your hand.”
Later, a merciful student informed me. “We don’t facebook Mr. Goodson. We tweet.”
So the next year at the same assembly I said, “If you enjoy tweeting photos, you will enjoy the yearbook.”
The cold amusement of the student body descended on me from the bleachers.
A different merciful student informed me. “Tweeting’s not for photos Mr. Goodson. That’s instagram.”
I delivered the next year’s pitch with confidence. “How many of you enjoy editing photos on instagram?”
Apparently all kids do nowadays is snapchat.
There are mounting statistics and sociological studies stacked against millennials:
- NPR’s This is why millennials will never grow up
- The Atlantic’s Yes, 20-Somethings Are Taking Longer To Grow Up—But Why?
- Or, most cutting, NY Post’s Millennials need to put away the juice boxes and grow up
My personal take on millennial counterparts changed when I started blogging in January of this year. I jumped on twitter, begrudgingly signed up for facebook, and later created an instagram account. My millennial status upped from technical to participatory. Although, I don’t snap, yet.
Like all endeavors I haven’t tried before, social media is nothing like I thought it was. As an active social medialite, I’ve developed a few defenses for my fellow millennials.
So, before you jump on the millennials will sink our ship bandwagon, consider this:
1) Society will always be over-critical of what it does not understand.
No one among us—readers of my blog—know what it is like to court young romance through social media, or be bullied on a phone rather than a playground. These experiences are unique to this generation yet courtship and bullying are woven into adolescence universally. Because it is different for them, we can’t say it is wrong. To quote Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan (God it feels good to write that) “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” What unites the beats and the hippies, the lost generation and the greatest generation? Each generation has been different and therefore misunderstood by the generation that spawned it.
So my first point is, to echo Dylan once more, if the road to adolescence looks different from the one you travelled, “Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.”
2) If the world sees millennials as unemployed, unmotivated losers who live in their parents’ basements through their 20s—as the NY Post article suggests—then Generation X’ers need to take a hard look at their parenting.
Why is the focus not on the parents who continue to coddle their children? The parents who show up to their children’s job interviews? Or the legislation passed that allows Children Protective Services to haul away a 10 and a 6 year old for walking alone two blocks to their home? Or the software developers who advance child-friendly technology ahead of child-educational technology?
3) Young people will always find the easy way out if an easy way out is provided.
I see the trait in my children long before technology enters their life. I remember the desire for the easy way out in myself. I work with it in the teenage boys I teach. But I also know this. Role models are more instructive than any textbook or application. Children learn who to be by watching the adults around them. I think it is far more productive to model independence, patience, inspiration, motivation, and work-ethic, than to criticize the youth for having none.
4) The information superhighway—as I remember the internet was first called—is a powerful tool.
Like all powerful tools, it can be used for good or evil. The beauty of the free world is that we have the choice to do some good with powerful tools. The internet has connected me with folks in recovery. I’ve even sponsored someone across the globe who didn’t have sponsorship available in his home country. It has also done harm to my household—distracting me from what matters most, my family. (see here)
What does this have to do with millennials? It is not responsible to give a generation the most powerful global tool ever wielded and then take no responsibility for their mastery of it. Mastering fire, I assume, took the cooperation of many generations. Why would the internet be any different?
5) Fact: I teach brilliant teenage minds every day.
They may have horrible grammar, worse punctuation. They may only have one or two phone number stored in their memory, but their minds are alive in new and unique ways. Understanding they have a world of information at their fingertips, I care more for the characters they become than the content they keep (a phrase I stole from a colleague).
6) Educational systems fail when success is determined by standardized tests.
There is no universal bar for what intelligence is because intelligence is fluid, not fixed. Students are not “dumb” or “smart”. Young people are walking vessels of potential. They always have the ability to become smarter, better human beings. We could use more emphasis on shaping who our young people become, rather than measuring, defining, and criticizing who they are now.
I hope these views—my opinions—might spark a good dialog on millennials.
Perhaps you are one; perhaps you are raising one; perhaps one just made you wait an extra minute to take your coffee order because she was updating her facebook status. I am, as always, eager to hear your thoughts.