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Lies Boomers Tell Themselves About Millennials

This week, I’ve teamed up with my colleague, Andrew McPeak, to offer two lists you may be interested in. Andrew and I are from two different generations; I am a Baby Boomer and Andrew is a Millennial. We enjoy a great relationship, and felt we could explore the lies each generation tells themselves about the other—and often, don’t even realize it. We stereotype; we assume and we profile. At times, there are good reasons we do. At other times, we presume we understand someone we don’t in reality. Minimally, we hope yesterday’s blog post and today’s can spark conversation between generations and furnish language to better understand and empathize with the other. Both Andrew and I believe our various generations have strengths and can add value when we understand and call out the best in each other. Let me share four of the most prevalent lies my generation (Baby Boomers) tends to believe about Millennials:

  1. These young people don’t care about anything but themselves.

I hear this all the time from employers and educators. I’ve even felt it was true myself as I watch many Generation iY kids taking multiple “selfies” every day, and post what they’re doing on Instagram or Snapchat even when they have little of meaning to say. I believe, however, that it’s a lie to say they’re only interested in themselves, once they are exposed to great causes or needs. They actually do care once they’re introduced to problems that invite big ideas or solutions. I’ve watched a narcissistic, lazy adolescent become completely engrossed in raising money to dig wells in Africa—once he learned about their need for clean water. He just needed to discover something more interesting than himself. We are all better versions of ourselves when we lend our talents and energies to something bigger than “me.” It’s our job to expose students and young employees to such causes and problems.

  1. Their attentions spans are too short to go deep into any topic.

I have written about the research on this issue. In 2,000 teen attention spans were 12 seconds long. In 2015, they’d been reduced to 6 seconds. This means that kids will divert their attention to something else—perhaps another screen—if we don’t offer an interesting change to what we’re saying. The truth is, this has less to do with attention spans and more to do with the strong filters adolescents have developed inside. With so much information everywhere, they have little time to pay attention to any one item. But they can and will if it’s compelling. We all know students who will binge watch eight or nine hours of content on Netflix, so they do know how to stay focused. Sadly, we often fail to engage them with anything worth their attention or time. When we do, I’ve seen them stay engaged. My friend Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children, produced the video on Joseph Kony, called “Kony 2012.” It was a 30-minute long video, that got over 100 million views and was shared primarily by young people. Our message must be three-fold: very compelling, always changing and stylistically creative.

  1. They won’t take risks.

I am concerned with the risk-averse generation today’s parents and schools have created. With our obsession over safety (or litigation) we unwittingly tell to play it safe, wear a helmet, don’t do anything dangerous. When I talk to college students, I find far too many who are paralyzed by the thought of failing. The first 18 years of their lives have been about avoiding it. While this may be their track record, we’ve begun discovering young adults who’ve taken great risks, once they are led well, and conditioned to not fear failure. I know educators who lead classes called “Failure 101” attempting to recondition students to see failure as a step on the path toward success; to realize it’s not as disappointing as refusing to try at all. Too often, we’ve conditioned them to fear disappointing a parent or told them they are “awesome” or “the best” and now they hesitate attempting a task for fear they wont live up to expectations. Life is all about managing expectations. Adults need to exchange our report card for them—and start communicating the value of wise risk taking.

  1. These kids don’t follow our example in ethics and work ethic.

This one is significant. Very often, I hear my generation whine about how kids today don’t follow our leadership. I beg to differ. I’m concerned they’ve followed our lead far too well. Our example has been obvious and it’s often been unhealthy. Adults are frequently guilty of abundance or abandonment—we’ve done too much for our kids or we’ve done too little, and have been absent in our leadership. But our behavior is always an example to follow. If students act entitled, how do you suppose they got that idea? If they are lazy, is it because we’ve done so much for them that they never had to build a work ethic? If they have no manners, aren’t they simply following the model in front of them at home or school? I believe something at its core: Kids rarely listen to their elders, but they always tend to imitate them. By default or design, we have created most of the messes we see in their life.

Today’s youth may be the greatest generation America has ever produced. But, only if we lead them well. Let’s start a reverse mentoring relationship with a student, where we can both give to, and receive from each other.

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Lies Boomers Tell Themselves About Millennials