I’m an empathetic person. I have a lot of room in my heart for all kinds of people. I have a particularly soft spot in my heart for young people. Our current generation of teenagers and young adults have really gotten the shaft in my opinion. Growing up is tough work, going through a gawky, hormone-driven, acne-prone phase is humiliating and confusing on a good day. Working through it in today’s world is near impossible.
We complain so much about the “Millennials,” that monstrous group of adult children living in their parents’ basements. You know, the ones who “expect” everything and don’t want to work for it? The generation, according to the conservative portion of my social media feed, that is responsible for the downfall of our society? Millennials, who are threatening to destroy the fabric of America by not subscribing to a capitalist agenda? “Millennials,” I hear it hissed in conversations, over and over. Interestingly enough, the people who hate them the most seem to be the generation responsible for raising them.
Yes, it’s the parents. It’s always the parents. The average person’s typical reaction to someone else’s abhorrent social behavior is asking or at least wondering, “What were the parents like?” What was Ted Bundy’s childhood like?
The best recent example I can think of is the documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight.” For those of you who haven’t heard of this documentary, its focus is the true story of the Broberg family, who’s 12-year-old daughter Jan was abducted twice and sexually molested by their neighbor. As the viewer, I really wanted to blame the pedophile living next door for the series of horrifying and unbelievable but true events that transpired. I really wanted him to be the only villain in the story, but after a while I just kept screaming at my TV: “WHERE WERE THE PARENTS?” Well (spoiler alert), the mom was having an awkwardly juvenile affair with her child’s abductor, and the father’s relationship with the pedophile next door included him giving the pedophile a neighborly hand job. There isn’t a person on earth who watches that show and doesn’t place at least a portion of the blame on the parents.
What does that have to do with Millennials? In my opinion, everything.
It wasn’t too long ago that those pesky Millennials were teenagers. Millennials grew up in a world of social media, iTunes, and cell phones. Millennials are adults in our community who consider an online relationship real, whether it’s romantic or platonic. In fact, it could be argued that this generation – famous for their unbelievable entitlement – has not been deprived of anything, other than a childhood. Many Millennials – I would not dare to say all – experienced their milestone adolescent experiences through a cell phone, their first dates and first breakups, more often then discussed, were facilitated through faceless technology, purchased and delivered to them by their parents. Millennials never had to wait impatiently while their parents answered the phone and had embarrassing conversations with their friends before handling it over to them. In fact, very few parents of the teenagers I know would ever answer their child’s cell phone. The cell phone has been used to entertain parents and children while they eat dinner, wait in line, go on road trips. Using our cell phones as a replacement for social interaction has come at a cost. Saving our child from boredom has robbed them of important opportunities, such as learning how to observe their surroundings, and more importantly, the people around them.
How many children and teens take their cell phones into their bedrooms at night, free to connect unsupervised with anyone, anywhere online? Parents, please don’t comfort yourself by saying that you have “parental controls” on your child’s cell phone. I have worked with a 13-year-old who was able to crack into a Fortune 500 company’s computer system, through their million-dollar firewall, in less than 48 hours. I guarantee you, the $10-a-month safety you purchase for your child cell phone isn’t enough.
Who are we to judge the Brombergs? Think of your own online behavior. Is our own over-dependence on electronic devices any different than Bromberg’s neighborly hand job while overlooking the well-being of his own daughter?
There is a lot of us who could learn from the Brombergs, and that’s a really tough pill to swallow.
The next time you participate in Millennial bashing, I challenge you to consider the idea that there must be some shared accountability and a concentrated effort to prepare the next generation more adequately. Think. The next time you participate in an online conversation making fun of the Millennial who thinks they are above an entry-level job, or deserving of free education, consider the circumstances of their upbringing. Perhaps offer empathy and do your part.
Those of us who grew up before cell phones and social media? We are the lucky ones. We learned patience through waiting in line to purchase concert tickets with nothing but human interaction to entertain us. We know the pleasure and pain of saving $20 to buy a CD, only to find out that there is only one good song on it.
It’s a small portion of a bigger problem, and we are now dealing with a society of young people who haven’t had to wait, experience boredom or experience authentic awkward, uncomfortable social interaction. Of course Millennials are not nailing their job interviews, which require the ability to communicate face to face. Appropriate human interaction was never made a priority or requirement for their advancement into adulthood.
As a society we can chose to blame or guide our young people.
Now everybody, put that phone down and let’s start learning from each other.
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