Roll back the clock about 40 years and 74% of young people said there was a generation gap between themselves and their parents. Of course if you are a Baby Boomer, you recall growing up in war and recession.
It’s not surprising then that 79% of Generation Y, according to a recently-released Pew Research Center report, today acknowledge a generation gap, the highest level ever recorded. The parallels between the late 1960s and today are uncanny — two wars and a recession. You’d expect the tension between young adults and parents to be paralyzing. Surprisingly, you would be dead wrong.
The members of this Gen Y generation, ages 10 to 30, are BFFs (best-friends-forever) with their parents. It is reported that college students typically check in with their parents about 10 times a week. If you speak with some parents and young adults, it’s even more often than that. Kids and parents dress alike, friend each other on Facebook, listen to the same music and fight less than previous generations. Gen Y even assert that older people’s moral values are generally superior to their own.
Like every preceding generation, Gen Y is a product of their parents. But unlike their Boomer parents who were raised to believe that second place was first place for losers, Gen Y were raised to believe that everyone who plays is a winner. For the record, born between 1980 and 2000, these “trophy kids,” also known as Millennials, have been coddled by their parents and nurtured with a strong sense of entitlement. Their anxious parents were afraid of their children growing up with an inferiority complex. In games, it was common for everyone to receive a trophy — win or lose — thus the name “trophy kids.”
Kids no longer fear the bad report card either — teachers do. This generation was treated so delicately that many schoolteachers stopped grading papers and tests in harsh-looking red ink to avoid bruising the child’s precious self-esteem.
If the bond between parents and children is so strong, why does nearly 8 out of 10 Gen Y believe there is a gap? It is in their use of technology where Gen Y sees the greatest difference, starting perhaps with the fact that 83% of them sleep with their cell phones. It is also this technology that young people believe can be leveraged to build community. They think technology unites people rather than isolates them. Technology is a means of connection, not competition.
That hunger for community further distinguishes them from the radical individualists of the baby-boom years. In fact, in some respects Gen Y emerges as radically conventional. Asked about their life goals, 52% say being a good parent is most important to them, followed by having a successful marriage; 59% think that the trend of more single women having children is bad for society. While more tolerant than older generations, they are still more likely to disapprove of than support the trend of unmarried couples living together. While they’re more politically progressive than their elders, you could argue that their strong support for gay marriage and interracial marriage reflects their desire to extend traditional institutions as widely as possible. If boomers were always looking to shock, millennials are eager to share.
The greatest divide of all has to do with hope and heart. In any age, young folk tend to be more cheerful than old folk, but the hope gap has never been greater than it is now. Despite two wars and a nasty recession that has hit young people hardest, the Pew survey found that 41% of millennials are satisfied with how things are going, compared with 26% of older people. Less than a third of those with jobs earn enough to lead the kind of life they want — but 88% are confident that they will one day.
Let’s hope that optimism doesn’t get extinguished with the passing of time and maturity. Based on the way things are going, future generations will need every bit of hope and heart they can muster.