Archive for June, 2010

Articles that make sweeping claims for an entire generation make me crabby, and the essay in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine was no exception.  It was by Judith Warner, who isn’t usually prone to over-generalizing, and her point (I think; it wasn’t a great essay) was that we Baby Boomers have ruined our Gen Y children, raising them with an eye on boosting their self-esteem rather than teaching them skills and humility, creating a generation of young people who are entitled, narcisstic, unwilling to work hard, and have that annoying interrogative way of talking.  OK, the interrogative thing is just my own pet peeve — all the others are stereotypes that come straight from Judith Warner.

She defines this cohort — who have also been called, variously, millennials, echo boomers, Generation Me — as people born between 1982 and 2002.  Really?  That includes Nutmeg, who’s 26 — but it also includes my 18-year-old niece and my cousin’s 10-year-old daughter.  These people could not possibly all be in the same generation.

That’s the first objection, then.  The second is that there are so many exceptions to Warner’s observation that her whole point strikes me as meaningless.  Yes, my exceptions are anecdotes — but so are her generalizations.  Warner herself admits that she bases her opinion on interviews with nine young people.  Nine.  Based on that, and on a couple of interviews with a couple of psychologists, she concludes that kids today feel entitled to jobs that are rewarding, creative, and worthy of them; they turn down job offers as though there’s a whole string of alternatives waiting in the wings; they don’t know how to make compromises; they wear flip-flops to work.  What emerges based on her nine interviews, she writes, is

a picture of emerging adults with a striking ability to keep self-doubt — and deep discouragement — at bay. Many were jobless, others were dissatisfied with their work or graduate-school choices, yet they didn’t blame themselves if life failed to meet their expectations. They didn’t call into question their choices or competencies. It was as if all the cries of “Good job!” they heard as children armed them against the repeated blows of frustration and rejection now coming their way.

To her credit, Warner defends these kids — they’re resilient, she writes, and maybe the fact that they were raised in an atmosphere of “unremitting ambient anxiety” from 9/11, Columbine, and blah blah, has given them a higher tolerance for the kinds of stress they’re facing now as they try to figure out how to make a living in a tough economy.  But I’m sorry —  even positive generalizations make me twitchy.  My own two daughters never acted especially entitled — there might have been times when Meta felt insulted by the demands made at her entry-level jobs, but she reacted to that the way any mature employed person is supposed to, by doing her job while looking for a better one.  Both of them always seemed willing to work long hours if that’s what it took to do their work.  (Warner writes that employers complain about kids who expect to work 40 hours a week and no extra.)  And since I know a bunch of their friends, especially Nutmeg’s friends, I can say that most of the young people I know are serious, hard-working, willing to put up with an employer’s crap if they have to.  They might grumble about it — often on Twitter and Facebook, which does make me nervous — but they do the work.  They are not the Generation Me kids that Warner describes.

And anyway, what would be so unusual about that if they were?  Wasn’t the Me Decade the term Tom Wolfe invented to apply to MY generation, those of us who were young when he wrote his classic New York magazine cover story in 1976?  Maybe a little self-focus and high self-regard is part of what it means to be in your twenties, no matter what generation you’re in.  Maybe that’s what it takes to figure out your rightful place in the world.

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