The Silent Generation or The Veterans (born 1922-43)
- Defining Events: stock market, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, WWII, Rosie the Riveter, The New Deal, Korea
- Heroes: Superman, FDR, Churchill, generals, Audie Murphy, John Wayne, Joe DiMaggio
- Growing Up: discipline, work at home, conformity, personal sacrifice, spare the rod and spoil the child
- Characteristics: “make do or do without,” practical, respect authority, conservative spender, hard-working, law and order
The Baby Boomers (born 1946-64)
- Defining Events: Vietnam, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Sputnik and space, The Cold War, assassinations
- Heroes: JFK, MLK Jr., RFK, Gandhi, John Glenn and astronauts, Elvis (?)
- Growing Up: Dr. Spock and no schedule, stay-at-home moms, suburbs, TV, “duck and cover,” play well with others
- Characteristics: “change the world,” activist, youthfulness, optimistic, driven, sensitive, cool
Generation X (born 1965-80)
- Defining Events: Watergate, Desert Storm, layoffs, terror, crises, Berlin Wall fall
- Heroes: none
- Growing Up: “by proxy,” working moms, latchkey, autonomy, divorce, self-reliance
- Characteristics: “Get real,” work/life balance, Why?, impatient, X-treme, creative, create families
The Millennials or Generation Y (born after 1980)
- Defining Events: focus on children, technology, connected 24/7, violence, stress, 9/11
- Heroes: Michael Jordan, Christopher Reeve, Kerri Strug, Bill Gates, Mother Teresa, Tiger Woods (uh-oh!), and Princess Diana
- Growing Up: parents are friends/advocates, children first, tight schedules, structured, busy lives, multi-tasking
- Characteristics: “You are special,” groups, no one left behind, diversity, confidence, civic duty, achievement-oriented
When I first saw this breakdown, I was surprised by two things: first, that Michael Jordan is considered a hero of the millennials. Wrong! Jordan’s a hero — although perhaps the only one? — for Generation X. Seriously, how would those who were only 5 years old when Jordan’s superpowers were in effect (Go Bulls!) consider him their hero? The other element of this list that took me aback is that Gen X, the category under which I fall, claims no heroes at all. However, I suppose growing up in an age of presidential scandal, athletes on steroids, corporate corruption, MTV, and John Hughes movies, that’s about right; still, it is sad.
Fast-forward to today…
My first tweet this morning read “How Millennial Are You?” and directed me to this quiz: http://pewresearch.org/millennials/quiz. Intrigued, I took the 14-question survey from the Pew Research Center and received a score of 46 (evidently, the closer you are to 100, the more millennial you are). I’m guessing I’m lacking in points because I don’t have a tattoo, nose ring, or play video games on a regular basis. Here are the quiz questions:
- In the past 24 hours, did you watch more than an hour of television programming, or not?
- In the past 24 hours, did you read a daily newspaper, or not?
- In the past 24 hours, did you play video games, or not?
- Thinking about your telephone use, do you have only a landline phone in your home; only a cell phone; both a landline and cell phone?
- In the past 24 hours, about how many text messages, if any, did you send or receive on your cell phone? No text messages on your cell phone in the past 24 hours; 1 to 9 text messages; 10 to 49 text messages; 50 or more text messages?
- How important is being successful in a high-paying career or profession to you personally? One of the most important things; Very important but not the most; Somewhat important; Not important?
- Do you think more people of different races marrying each other is a Good thing for society; Bad thing for society; Doesn’t make much difference for society?
- In the past 12 months, have you contacted a government official, or not? This contact could have been in person, by phone, by letter, by sending an email, or posting a message on their website or social networking page. Yes, contacted a government official in past 12 months; No, did not contact a government official in past 12 months.
- Have you ever created your own profile on any social networking site such as MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn, or haven’t you done this? Yes, have created profile; No, have not created profile.
- How important is living a very religious life to you personally? One of the most important things; Very important but not the most; Somewhat important; Not important.
- Were your parents married during most of the time you were growing up, or not? Married; Not married (includes divorced, separated, widowed or never married)?
- Do you have a tattoo, or not?
- Do you have a piercing in a place other than your earlobe, or not?
- In general, would you describe your political views as Conservative; Moderate; Liberal?
Pew Research summarizes millennials as confident, connected, and open to change. Specifically, they are the most ethnically and racially diverse generation so far; they are “less religious, less likely to have served in the military, and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history.” Moreover, millennials are, we know, “steeped in digital technology and social media, they treat their multi-tasking hand-held gadgets almost like a body part.” Nearly four-in-ten have been tattooed, and nearly one-in-four have a piercing in some place other than an earlobe. Furthermore, they get along well with their parents and respect their elders. Finally, unlike many older adults, millennials believe government should do more to solve problems; as such, they were Barack Obama’s strongest supporters in 2008.
From this summary, one would likely argue that (perhaps aside from their tattooing/piercings), millennials are seen mostly in a positive light. Again, they are diverse, tolerant, involved, liberal-minded, techno-literate, educated, and respectful. Having taught millennials for nearly 10 years now, I agree with almost every thing on this list. I love and appreciate the diversity in my classrooms (not always the case when I taught at TCU). I find their acceptance of others refreshing. And I enjoy interacting with them on Facebook and Twitter (filmsnoirs, cinemahistory, intro2filmDL).
It’s the word respectful that I sometimes have a hard time swallowing. Constant tardiness, walking around during class (to throw away a gum wrapper no less), text-messaging during lectures, sending hostile emails with no thought of the consequences, and calling me by my first name as though we’re friends (yeah, it’s a pet peeve): I’m aware that professors have been suffering through some of this behavior for years, but some of it, they haven’t. And sadly, unless there are strict ground-rules put into effect — which wouldn’t have been necessary when I was in college — some of this behavior seems to be getting worse with each semester.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s fantastic that the millennials are confident, connected, and open to change — movers and shakers, as it were. And a nice percentage of my current and past students fits this description perfectly. They arrive on time, participate in class, respectfully communicate with me outside the classroom, do their work, and fare well on the assignments. But many students I’ve taught over the past decade also spoiled and sadly unprepared for adult life, in large part because of their coddled upbringing, characteristics cited in the UNT presentation as “You are special” and “no one left behind.” For example, many millennials were raised by doting parents who constantly told them they were special. As well, they played on little league teams with no winners or losers, or all winners; they were given trophies just for participating. Some even blame poor, sweet Mister Rogers and his puppet-filled neighborhood. My husband, a university judicial/discipline officer who has seen millennials in his office for several years now, honestly believes that this “all-winners/no-losers” mentality is the primary reason this generation encounters the problems it does when it first walks onto a college campus. Indeed, as (millennial expert) Mary Crane maintains, unfortunately these “childhoods filled with trophies and adulation didn’t prepare [this generation] for the cold realities of work.” As a result, what you have now is a generation entering the workplace/college-life that has “grown up with the expectation that they will automatically win, and they’ll always be rewarded, even for just showing up” (60 Minutes). I think the word we’re looking for here is entitlement.
Sadly, this notion is so obvious in my classroom(s). For example, just this week, I had a student who’s taking my Film Noir course ask me if he could earn extra credit for seeing Shutter Island; “it’s a film noir, after all,” he said. Additionally, when class counts are low on certain days (because of a football game, nice weather, whatever), a couple of students will usually claim, “We should get points just for showing up today.” Third, when I asked my cinema history class about a month ago, how they might explain the 180-degree rule (defined clearly in their reading), silence fell upon the room; then, one student raised his hand, “Why don’t you just tell us.” Finally, when I point students to reading or screening guides on my website — which I have created for their benefit only, not homework — a few will inevitably ask if they can receive bonus points for completing them.
The answers are always no, no, no, and no. “It’s your job to attend class and to do the assigned readings/screenings whether you have accompanying guides or not. It’s your job to respond to simple questions; the professor shouldn’t have to provide the answers for you. And it’s your job to be curious how, for instance, classical film noir translates to a contemporary Scorsese picture without earning credit for it.” To reiterate Mary Crane, praise-filled children don’t always bode well when they are thrown into “the cold realities” of life.
There are all sorts of pamphlets, guides, books, and speakers that will tell you how to manage millennials; seriously, perform a Google search. This suggests a couple of things: first, there is a disconnect with millennials and those who have authority over them, and second, this most recent generation is a difficult, different one. This is, of course, why universities like UNT offer workshops entitled “Introduction to Generations in the Workplace.” There is work to be done to bridge the gap(s). But again, it’s work to be done on both ends as I learn more and more each day.