Good Morning, Millennials! This is your wake-up call! It’s time to go to the time-out chair — the place your parents should have sent you long ago.
I am a middle aged Baby Boomer. My generation, in its youth, decided not to trust anyone over 30. But now that Millennials are coming of age — those young adults born from roughly 1980 to 2000 — I sometimes wonder if I can trust anyone under 30. Like the times, my opinions, they are a-changin’.
First, a disclaimer. I have raised two Millennial children, and they are terrific. So are their friends. And so are my friends’ Millennial kids. Every day, I read about another promising member of this generation — the aspiring teachers and district attorneys, oncology nurses and research scientists. They’re working in the inner city, promoting children’s rights, and fighting human trafficking.
All these great young adults have one thing in common. Their parents did not raise them to believe they are the center of the universe. These kids do not feel entitled to a life of ease, privilege or instantaneous acclaim.
Then there are the other ones.
In the last year, I have had three encounters with Millennials that have left me scratching my head. The common theme: This age group has never known criticism. And they are often insulted when they receive it.
All the precious snowflakes
First example: I recently discovered some Millennial kids engaged in an illegal activity. Since I knew their parents, I decided to call each of them. (I will spare you the details. But suffice it to say, gentle reader, that many parents of Millennials see their offspring as they once saw Mary Poppins: “practically perfect in every way.” Should you suggest otherwise, these parents grow angry — at you.)
The morning after my parent alert, one of these misbehaving kids called me. “Good for her,” I thought, “She wants to apologize.” Wrong! She said instead, “I want you to know that I am over 18. I am a legal adult. Your phone call to my mother was inappropriate, and I did not appreciate it.”
My editor probably can’t publish my response. But let’s just say that kid hasn’t friended me on Facebook.
Second example: I was under a tight deadline at work on a major project. My young new secretary was on his seventh draft of my project, because he kept misspelling names. After 10 days of wasting my time correcting his spelling, I lost my temper. “Do you realize this is your seventh draft?” I asked him. “You’ve misspelled the same words over and over. We’ll never make deadline at this rate.”
“But I used spell check!” he protested.
“I think you need think check!” I retorted.
The next day, he asked to speak to me. “Good,” I thought, “he wants to do a better job.” Wrong! “You need to know that I felt totally disrespected yesterday,” he informed me. “No one has ever spoken to me like you did.” He wanted an apology.
“You’re right,” I answered. “I did disrespect you. That’s because your work is sloppy. You can earn my respect anytime by improving your work.” Instead, he quit.
Third example: I am on the board of a small nonprofit that needs to raise far more money than it has. Because I am a fund raising consultant by profession, I have offered many recommendations to the staff over many months. Though they agreed with my ideas, a year later, the nonprofit had still not implemented them, and, once again, it had not met its fund-raising goal.
“You need to change the way you do things,” I told the director. “I’ve made suggestions many times, but you keep doing things the same old way, and it’s clearly not working.”
“I resent your implication that I’m not working hard enough,” she replied, her voice full of tears. “You have no idea how much is on my plate. I’d like to see you do my job.”
Oops. My bad.
What have we done?
The sad thing about these three Millennials is this: They didn’t learn from their mistakes. The young woman who called me has still indulged in a high risk activity, the secretary still can’t spell, and the non-profit manager still can’t raise enough money to stay afloat. If we just tiptoe around the errors of the younger generation, how will they grow up to be leaders of the free world?
We Baby Boomers have created a culture where every student is above average, every teammate gets an award, and every child’s self-esteem must be preserved at all costs. So our young adults are shocked when they grow up and get constructive criticism.
Fellow Boomers, the Beatles got it wrong. Love is not all you need. Our children need standards, accountability, and, yes, criticism. Otherwise, they will go through life forever wondering, “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?”