In a very recent Time Magazine article by Joel Stein, he writes about the young generation of “millennials”—the generation born from 1980 to 2000, the height of the digital age.
Stein, a GenXer, finds that in the current world, the gap between the youth and middle-aged individuals reflects a completely vast world of difference in perspectives about life, relationships and career. He then goes on to describe the millen-nials: “They’re narcissistic. They’re lazy. They’re coddled. They’re even a bit delusional.” Strangely so, they do live with their parents, still.
My family and I literally live each day in the company of millennials as we have a dozen teenaged children, nieces and nephews who continually stream in and out of our house. Being neighbors, these teenagers share similar interests and tech-savvy skills that we, their middle-aged parents, can only watch in amazement.
For them, group work means logging in online through Skype till the wee hours of the morning to get a group project done. So too, school events are continually posted on Facebook just so everyone can get a glimpse of what’s going on. Then, there’s the virtual world of friends from different corners of the world who connect with each other as hobby clubs or fan clubs.
For the millennials, posting every single life event and photo on Twitter and Instagram is but a natural part of daily life. The one thing though that Stein warns against this seemingly narcissistic generation is that inadvertently such an attitude leads to a sense of entitlement. Not having lived through war and conflict as the older and post-war generations did, there indeed lies the daunting prospect of raising the youth who do not value hard work, and who may not know what the difference between wants and needs are.
But honestly, these traits and attitudes may not simply be exclusive to the millennials. Mind you, the “me, me, me” mentality isn’t confined to millenials. These are also the traits that many of my contemporaries have seemingly imbibed themselves—the “been there, done that” syndrome. One’s self-worth in real life has now been extended into the virtual world. Who hasn’t seen a friend or colleague post an album-full of travel photos or a collage of the posh cafes they’ve tried? And unfortunately, as you see your friends seemingly have the best time of their lives, the more one may grow discontented with one’s own life.
Even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had spoken about how people these days seem to live parallel lives. Back then, he had already cautioned the youth against being more present online than in social relationships in real life saying: “In the search for sharing, for ‘friends’, there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself.” One does need to know the limits of posing a self-identity that is so far removed from our real selves.
Yet despite all these, there is hope for the millennials. Even Stein concedes that notwithstanding the shortcomings this young generation may have, they are inherently kinder, but more challenging of the establishment. Just see how many young people have taken up an advocacy and shown that they can care too about social causes. Perhaps ultimately as we raise this generation, reminding them about basic life lessons in self-acceptance, simplicity, hard work, respect and gratitude is what we need. Then too, we can learn a lesson or two from the millennials themselves—that inherent sense of optimism and openness to opportunities.