…and you can’t tell me I can’t have it!
by Melissa Chaiken | Section Editor
Are we raising a generation of Veruca Salts? Remember that little sweetheart from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? When I hear the often-tossed around terms “millennial” and “entitled,” Veruca’s pivotal scene in the movie comes to mind. Have we ever been more gratified with a fictional character’s fate than when Veruca is deemed a “bad egg” and is abruptly deposited down the garbage chute of the Wonka factory and into the furnace for all eternity? Was Veruca a millennial ahead of her time or just a badly behaved, spoiled little rich girl?
The label millennial refers to the group of people born from the early 1980s through the early 2000s. This set of individuals encompasses our younger teens through our twenty-somethings and makes up the largest age group in the United States with a population of approximately 80 million. They have been described as coddled, materialistic, disengaged, fame-obsessed, and even delusional. Yet, millennials have also been characterized as confident, pragmatic, open-minded, more supportive of gay rights and equal rights for minorities, and more likely to challenge convention.
“Can you imagine how many Instagrams of people playing in the mud during Woodstock we would have seen? I think in many ways you’re blaming millennials for the technology that happens to exist right now.”
-Scott Hess, Senior VP Human Intelligence for Sparks SMG
It seems that the negative qualities attributed to millennials are many of the same qualities we have always associated with spoiled rich kids, like Veruca Salts. But aren’t teens, by definition, self-centered and narcissistic? Joani Geltman, author of A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak You Out, says teens have “growing brains filled with thoughts, worries, and desires that are new to them. Consequently, just managing and keeping up with that deluge is a full-time job, making them impervious to other points of view. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily bratty, spoiled, or entitled.”
“Well,” you may say, “that explains our teen’s behavior, but what about our 24-year old who is still living at home?” Millennials have also been identified as the “Peter Pan Generation” or “Boomerang Generation” due to their propensity to move back home after college graduation and be unable or unwilling to move on developmentally by starting a career, getting married, or entering other adult rites of passage. We find ourselves asking this generation: What is wrong with taking an entry-level job and working your way up the corporate ladder? Why do these millennials believe they are entitled to start at the top with benefits, perks, and vacation time that their parents put in years of work to earn?
Experts contend that teenagers and young adults have changed because parenting styles have changed. Anthony E. Wolf, author of Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl To the Mall?, believes that it is not an illusion that teenagers are different today. He says, “Teenagers treat the adults in their lives in a manner that is less automatically obedient, much more fearless, and definitely more outspoken than that of previous generations.” Wolf attributes this change to a kinder, gentler style of parenting. He deems ours an era of “permissiveness.” Wolf says that through this permissiveness, we have empowered our children (which is a good thing!). The problem is we didn’t realize they would be so ungracious about it!
Along with this change in parenting style, a trend developed in which it became a socially obligatory standard for every child to be told he or she was “special” and “a winner.” Nothing illustrates this phenomenon more clearly than the participation trophy ceremony in which each child in the organization receives a trophy, medal, or ribbon for simply taking part in the activity. It’s no wonder that the millennial generation became so self-interested.
Beyond parenting trends, today’s young people have been dramatically influenced by the availability of technology. However natural and normal it is for young people to be self-absorbed, the Internet and technology seem to have intensified this trait. The current teens and twenty-somethings have access to information that once was only available to the wealthier sector of our society. Additionally, this generation of young people all have instant access to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., allowing them to be in the know about their peers’ whereabouts and actions at all times, as well as to broadcast their own every waking moment.
These high-tech developments appear to have somewhat leveled the playing field for this generation. Time recently published an article, “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation,” written by Joel Stein. Stein contends such technological advancements have created a group of millennials worldwide that are more similar to one another than to older generations. Stein says, “Even in China, where family history is more important than any individual, the Internet, urbanization, globalization, and the one-child policy have created a generation as over-confident and self-involved as the Western one.”
Older generations have always claimed younger generations to be lazy, entitled, and selfish. Baby Boomers labeled members of Generation X as slackers, cynical, apathetic, adrift, and contradictory. Despite these labels, however, Generation X grew up to start careers, get married, have children, and generally be respectful and productive members of society. And as far as the offspring of Generation X? You know, the recipients of those participation trophies? Well, I say they may just need a little more time to prove themselves. Millennials’ values and goals may be different from ours, but that doesn’t mean they are not valid and worthy, and it certainly doesn’t mean our children are like Veruca Salts. They may be on a different track to reach greatness, but it’s a track we laid out for them, so let’s give them a chance to be as remarkable as they think they are.