It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Millennials (and Their Helicopter Parents)

Interesting how the blogosphere reaches many of the same issues from so many different viewpoints. I've been meaning to post on this one for awhile, and others' recent material was enough of an incentive to get to it now.

Last month my Dad was fortunate to attend a talk by lawyer and business advisor Mary Crane. These days, Ms. Crane is famous for her lectures to business leaders and general audiences on the topics of style differences, business ethics, gender gaps and generation gaps in the workforce. Regarding the last, she explains why the twenty-somethings now entering the workforce ("Gen Y," or "Millennials") are the way they are, and how their behavior and attitudes are often at odds with those of the previous generations, namely,

"Traditionalists (born before 1946),
Boomers (born between 1946 and 1962), [and]
Gen X (born between 1962 and 1982)..."

Before reading on, I highly recommend this recent 60 Minutes feature. If you only have a few minutes, listen to the opening piece, in which Morley Safer nicely summarizes the phenomenon. He continues by interviewing business executive and Gen Y expert Marian Saltzman, who notes that there are two types of Millennials: those who work hard, and those who are basically spoiled brats. Her advice on how to work with them:
You can't be harsh. You cannot tell them you're disappointed in them. You can't really ask them to live and breathe the company, because they're living and breathing themselves and that keeps them very busy.
Later, Mary Crane is shown giving a training seminar to Millennials entering the workforce, on the subject of workplace basics -- and I mean basic basics, like how to eat with a knife and fork. In her analysis,
You now have a generation coming into the workplace that has grown up with the expectation that they will automatically win, and they'll always be rewarded, even for just showing up.
...The Boomers [are] going to have to start focusing more on coaching rather than bossing. If you tell [the Millennium] generation in particular, You gotta do this, you gotta do this, they truly will walk, and every major company knows this is the future.
(On a personal note, I was once "privileged" to have a spoiled Millennial on my staff, and I can attest that she made life miserable for me, and for many of her colleagues. She regarded work orders as mere suggestions, which she accepted or rejected at will. She regularly blamed others for her own errors, and, yes, acted as though she deserved a medal just for showing up, all while whining about what a sensitive soul she was. At the end of the year she was told she was being transferred to a different department, and she refused, quitting her job instead. Good riddance).

One of the reasons the Millennials can get away with their behavior is that they know that there are more job positions than candidates. They've learned quickly that they don't face a lot of competition, so why work too hard?

The culprit? WSJ columnist Jeffrey Zaslow tells us, no-holds-barred: Mister Rogers. When you read Zaslow's piece (highly recommended), it starts to make a lot of sense. Sort of.

The real culprit? (Breathe. This is the hard part). It's us. The parents of Gen Y. (Ok, not me in particular -- I'm a Gen X, in the midst of mucking up Gen Z. But for the moment, I'll join you Boomers in solidarity). In the words of finance professor Don Chance, quoted in Zaslow's column, it's not Fred Rogers per se, but rather him as a "representative of a culture of excessive doting." Our own doting, on our own kids. Professor Chance compares his Asian-born students with their American counterparts. The former see a lower grade as an incentive to improve in their studies, while the latter "hit you up for an A because they came to class and feel they worked hard."

Apparently it's no longer unusual for parents to call the professors and demand a better grade for their kids. The grade-school version of this is known as helicopter parenting: the parents who hover over their child correcting every homework error; who drop everything to run a forgotten lunch bag over to school; who call the teacher demanding perfect test scores for their precious child. And the trend continues into the workforce, with Boomer parents calling their children's bosses to demand a raise.

Returning to our humble jblogosphere, many have recently referred to a shidduch (matchmaking-based dating) process tainted by hollow standards, an over-emphasis on family reputation, and generally unrealistic expectations. Many threads have begun to expose, denounce and tackle this problem, so prevalent within the religious community, but for the moment I'll direct you only to one, Conversations in Klal, who offers a Boomer-generation comparison.
Here's where my generation differs greatly from today's generation: we knew that our paper dolls were playthings and nothing more than that. We had no expectations that our paper creations were suddenly going to appear in front of us in the flesh. We knew that the make believe worlds we created for our dolls were just that: make believe.
While I don't particularly relate to the paper doll imagery (Gen X was more of a Barbie generation), her point is clear: If you want to find a real relationship, get hold of some realistic expectations.

That sounds about right, but it leaves me with a question: Where did this generation's expectations come from?

It could be that dating was a lot more fun in the Sixties, and that it has led to more solid, happier marriages. It very well could be that those realistic expectations prior to marriage, provided a solid base for realistic expectations throughout the marriage. But we have no way of knowing if that explain a higher divorce rate today, because the reality is complicated. For example, to really understand why more Boomers stayed married, we'd have to factor in the idea that for Gen X, divorce is far more socially acceptable than it was a generation ago, even in the religious world. Forty years ago, unless you were a Hollywood couple, you just put up with a painful or abusive marriage. Divorce was shunned, and generally illegal. My generation doesn't recognize a world without "no-fault" divorce. Over the past decade or two, my parents' generation has come to accept -- and sometimes embrace -- this new social reality, and back out of miserable marriages as well.

I believe there's a direct connection between the "Millennials in the workforce" issue, and our society's dating problems, and I think we have a lot to learn from the business world, at least in terms of how we frame the problem. If we're really going to tackle this, we'll need to help Gen Y-er's come to terms with their expectations of themselves and of others, in all facets of their lives. But first, we'll have to come to terms with our own expectations -- realistic and otherwise -- of them.

I would love to be able to offer more concrete solutions, and if you have any, please share them. Meanwhile, at least we've begun to define the problem, the first step toward determining the answers.

Keep the balance,



ProfK said...

Thanks for the link.

I think the acclimatization of the Gen Ys needs to happen well before they get into the work force. In today's economy there aren't more jobs than workers to fill them. I tell the boys in my business classes that getting a job and keeping it is analagous to the shidduch circus, only they are playing the girls' role in the process. They don't get to choose--they need to be chosen.

And yes, parents need to stop hovering and mixing in in their adult children's lives--always assuming you are dealing with adults looking to get married. When 18 and 19 year old children start out in the shidduch parshah they have zero life experience to draw on and intrusive parents to boot. A bad combination.

SuperRaizy said...

When I taught high school, I witnessed this phenomenon first hand. Kids who had failed 8,9, even 10 classes over the course of their high school careers were outraged to learn that they would not be granted diplomas unless they retook the failed classes. They complained loudly about "getting screwed over" by the school. As one girl put it "If you're not gonna give me my diploma, then what the hell did I show up for every day?"

A Living Nadneyda said...

SuperRaizy -- I believe it. Let's assign them a semester of fieldwork in some severely impoverished unindustrialized nation, where kids walk barefoot for 3 miles in the blazing heat, ducking bullets all the way, just to reach a one-room hut of a school with no running water or electricity, and where they sit on the dusty floor and share an outdated, ripped textbook with two other kids. I think that'll improve their appreciation levels for all the opportunities they wasted -- and still have the chutzpah to complain about.

ProfK -- I assume your girl/boy - employee/employer analogy works well for your students, if only because I'd like to think -- am really, hoping, actually -- that the girls who go on shidduchim feel that they are actively choosing, and not passively being chosen.

As for parental hovering, I agree, absolutely. I think it's very legitimate for parents to offer advice, support, a keen ear and an open mind to their children, just as they can give them advice on how to take an exam, or teach them to set up a study environment that promotes concentration.

Better yet, in the case of shidduchim, parents can be a living example to their children of how to communicate well, treat each other with respect, and build a mutually nourishing relationship.

But that's where it ends. We have to send them out to take the exam, or meet their date, on their own, and then to deal with the results on their own. To do otherwise is to do them harm.

DYS said...

Anecdotally I agree with you. It definitely seems like kids today are more self centered and disrespectful. There seems to be a distinct lack of derech eretz.

However, there's room for hope. I remeber the same charges being leveled at my generation (generation X) and I think we turned out pretty well. And I've met young people who are polite, kind, and well behaved.

A Living Nadneyda said...

DYS - I agree that Gen X's are pretty much OK (no accounting for personal bias, right?).

The big question remains: How will our kids turn out? What's our gen's parenting style, and how will it play out 15-20 years from now when our kids are getting out of school and flooding the job market?

Jury's still out...

Jack said...

I am not real fond of being classified or categorized as anything, but for the sake of discussion I am Gen. X.

I wrote a post called How To Deal With Failure that outlines some of my thoughts about this topic.

I haven't any love for the parents who have failed their children by teaching them that they can't fail because someone will always catch them.

It is a huge mistake and we are going to pay for it. It irks me to no end to listen to some of the millenials demands. They are not entitled to any more or any less than the rest of us.

A Living Nadneyda said...

Jack's article can be found here.