Sunday, September 4, 2016

What’s the Deal with the Millennial Generation?

by Michael S. Russo

I’ve just finished reading an article in the New York Times by Ross Douthat that left me more confused than ever about the millennial students that I am currently teaching.

To sum up just a few of Mr. Douthat’s points, members of the millennial generation seem to be living much more prudent lives than those in previous generations:

  • They are drinking, smoking and using drugs much less.
  • They have fewer sexual partners and a lower rate of teenage pregnancy.
  • They are less violent and less prone to suicide. 

But in other ways they are also much less responsible than other generations:

  • They are more likely to live longer with their parents.
  • They are less likely to get married or have children.
  • They more likely to drop out of the workforce.

I found these statistics to be interesting and they seem to support out my own impressions of millennials (which I admit are completely anecdotal).

On the positive side, I have found my millennial students to be more tolerant, more appreciative of diversity, more open to unconventional ideas, and less prone to racism, sexism and homophobia than students that I had taught in the past. They also seem much more ecologically concerned than older generations. I find these changes to be welcome, indeed.

But, I’ve also found that my millennial students have shorter attention spans, less intellectual curiosity, imagination and cultural literacy, and less ambition, drive and stick-to-itiveness than students that I had once taught. They also seem to have more trouble relating to other human beings in an intimate and personal way than earlier students. These negative tendencies, I believe, might have something to do with the overuse of technology on the part of millennials, but this is just a hypothesis. (I can’t tell you, though, how many times during the past five years I have had to use the expression, “Put away your damn cell phones and pay attention.”)

Like many members of my own generation (late baby boomers), I’ve been wondering what it will be like to have adults with these sorts of tendencies running the country in the future. On the positive side, we may have a much more open and tolerant society when millennials are in charge. And that would be a very good thing.

But I admit to also being concerned about having people running things who seem afraid of—or at least uninterested in—long-term commitments and taking on the tedious responsibilities of adulthood. Are we condemned to be governed in the future by selfie-taking, hyper-tweeting, self-fixated, overly-sensitive, perpetual teenagers?

Or am I just being overly pessimistic, like members of all passing generations have been? As Cicero once said somewhere: “Our father’s race more versed in wickedness than were their sires have begotten us, a race more wicked still, duly to beget a even more wicked race.”

Maybe it’s just inevitable that older generations find younger ones to be incomprehensible.  I'm sure that millennials find me fairly incomprehensible as well.