A Boomer’s Guide to Understanding Millennials
Have you noticed the millennial bashing that’s going on? Here’s just a minuscule sampling of headlines in the press: Millennials are killing off the car industry. Millennials are killing off paper napkins. Millennials are killing off bar soap. Are Millennials killing off wine? How millennial lack of manners is killing off class.
Hmmm… decades ago, Boomers were in the headlines, commanding the economy and cultural zeitgeist with our sheer numbers. The millennials are the future. We need to be kind to millennials, not deride them. By 2020, millennials will be 46% of the workforce. It’s their world now. And it’s a tough one.
Remember that Millennials are the Children of Boomers
We created them! If they have a sense of entitlement it’s because we gave it to them. We are the helicopter parents. We over scheduled them with Kumon, jazz dance, football and violin. We hovered over their homework. We fretted and fixed things before they became broken. We fostered the “participation trophy” idea, making sure everyone felt good instead of awarding achievement. Then, we hovered over them in college, texting them while they were trying to separate from us.
Understand that Millennials Came of Age in a Dystopia
Millennials were in primary school when 9/11 happened. 9/11 defines everything about them. Catastrophe and suffering, danger, terrorism, natural disasters, nuclear accidents, Osama Bin Laden, ISIS beheadings, suicide bombs, et. al. are the biggest part of their world view. For us boomers it’s shocking, but for millennials, it’s par for the course. Their doomsday world view is the exact opposite of our positive, hippie, love culture of candles, beads and bell bottoms.
I don’t need to tell you that it’s a tough world out there. It’s our job as parents, mentors and the older generation to provide inspiration and comfort to young people. To cheer them on for the challenges that seem overwhelming as they try to make their lives in these trying times.
Boomers Have to Do More Listening and Less Talking
We had our chance with the economy and the world. Now, millennials outnumber us and it’s their turn to run things. We already know what we know. Listen to them and they will tell us how the new world works. You can pooh pooh the social media influencers like Kim Kardashian who make millions of dollars for living their lives in public, but they have tapped into a new form of advertising that is cost and market effective. You, a Boomer, of all people, should be open to new ideas.
Understanding Millennials: They Set the Pace
We boomers might be overwhelmed by how quickly the world is changing and how the pace of change has rocketed. Fast feels normal to a millennial. It’s all they’ve ever known. They adapt quickly to change and innovation because they have to; their survival depends on it. It’s change or die.
To a Millennial, Connectivity is Life
It’s not interesting or helpful to complain about a millennial reliance on electronic devices and social media. Whilst we can remember life with phone booths in the street, of leaving the house or office and being completely out of touch, millennials came of age during the mobile phone phenomenon.
The mobile and social media are the way that millennials feel connected in a time of dislocation and speed. It’s how they feel connected to their friends, to current events, to life.
I once heard a Boomer bashing a Millennial for bursting into tears when she accidentally dropped her cellphone down the toilet. The crisis was bigger than that of the expense of replacing her mobile. It is literally her lifeline. If you think that’s silly, well, this is the reality of the world we live in.
If you wonder why Millennials prefer to message rather than hit the call button it’s because efficiency means something else to a Millennial. We view picking up the phone as efficient, but they get more done by blasting off texts, not having to engage in small talk to get things done. It’s not that they don’t want the intimacy of a voice to voice conversation, it’s a different definition of efficiency.
Millennials are Not Your Tech Repair People
It’s not cool to hand your electronic device (mobile, iPad, whatever) into the hands of a millennial the minute you meet them and ask them to fix it or teach you something. I’m not kidding; I’ve seen it over and over again. “How do you use this? Can you fix this? What’s this button?”
Millennials resent being used as tech experts. They especially resent your frustration when they can’t fix or adjust your device in two seconds. Each device is distinctly different and has a learning curve. It’s work for them, too. What you don’t know is that they spend hours figuring out technology as well. Most important, respect that they may not want to figure out just because they’re young.
Don’t burden them with all your tech inquiries and then criticize them for being addicted to technology! You either ask for help – nicely – or you criticize them, but you can’t do both.
Our job is to understand them, not criticize them. Burdened with tens of thousands of dollars of college debt, they don’t want a mortgage, or a fancy car, and are scared away by credit card debt. Our job is to support and cheer them on, not bring them down and accuse them of not wanting to play by the rules by which we lived our lives. We boomed our way through our lives; we had our chance to change the world. Now, it’s their turn. Godspeed!
I adore young people and learn lots from them. What have you learned from your favorite Millennial? How do Millennials enhance your life? Do you feel like you really understand millennials? Let’s share, below!