College student demonstrations are back in vogue. Students are hosting sit-ins and demonstrations; they’re petitioning authorities and heckling speakers who disagree with their point of view, in Connecticut, Missouri, California, and beyond. This time, however, the causes are slightly different than the 1960s.
The difference? Fifty years ago, students were defending their right to free speech. Today, they’re launching an assault on that right to free speech.
It’s quite ironic. Let’s examine these campus scenarios objectively.
Writer and media programmer Phil Cooke summarizes the issue well:
From objections about Halloween costumes, to the right to a “safe place,” to shouting down speakers they don’t agree with, to a hundred other “micro-aggressions,” today’s college students are being “cry bullies” for wielding their victim status like an ax.
I’ve labored to understand all sides of these issues. When the issue is racism or gender equality, it’s easy to see the need for progress and tolerance. I’m an advocate. However, I must admit that many of these Millennial students have tipped their hand and revealed a pitiful level of intolerance—and immaturity:
- One African-American student protested “white privilege” toward someone who comes from a family whose net worth is $20 million.
- Some self-centered students were upset that the media was covering the Paris terrorist attacks rather than promoting their grievances.
- A male student protested his school administration for not letting him enter a women’s restroom (for a warranted fear he’d take photos or assault someone).
- A student heckler refused to let other students speak in the quad area because those students’ perspectives were opposed to his.
How Did We Get Here?
So, what do we make of these protests and the ironic twist we see today?
- Examine the Baby Boomers who raised these kids.
The Baby Boomer generation represents those born between World War II and the introduction of the birth control pill. We grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s and often had a more respectful relationship with our parents. It was less expressive and driven by rules. Consequently, many vowed to raise their children differently. Unfortunately, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. As a result, some say we didn’t raise children, we raised our “best friends.” I often write about these “trophy kids,” who got awards just for showing up or wore safety equipment just to walk next door. We were called “helicopter parents” because we hovered over our kids, preventing any hurt from occurring. We wanted their safety insured and their self-esteem high. We perfected nearly every kid safety gadget available. We removed the need for them to fail, fall or fear. We were obsessed… and our kids were the objects of our obsession.
- Now that they’re grown, they feel any adversity makes them a victim.
Reflect for a minute what this kind of childhood produces. For a generation lavished with awards, protected from harm, and whose parents fought their battles for them, the natural reaction would be to play the victim card, believing they need help from adults. If they’ve been sheltered from criticism, adversity or negative events, they certainly won’t have the resilience to withstand hardship as young adults. Recent grads often text parents during their job interview or even take a parent to the interview. One just asked her HR department when spring break was. An increasing number of employers tell me that when they confront poor work in a young employee, they’re sure to get a call from the employee’s parent. In short, when harsh reality hits, our children are ill-equipped to do anything but complain.
I’m in front of thousands of college students every year. I will be the first to say that there are many exceptions to this rule. I love the students I meet who’ve been prepared to achieve incredible goals. Millions, however, are not ready:
- Their self-esteem has been inflated by parents.
- Their grades have been inflated by schools.
- Their sense of entitlement has been inflated by society.
May I remind you: America was built on a Bill of Rights, the first of which is the right to free speech. For this new generation, however, many want protection from that right. Pew Research says that 40 percent of Millennials want free speech censored. Of course they do. They are victims. George Washington said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
- Our choice: Do we prepare the path for the child or the child for the path?
Adults have a choice in front of them. We’ll either enable them to continue needing help well into adulthood, or begin to wean them, equipping them to stand on their own and be leaders in the marketplace. To be quite honest, I grieve over the poor job Baby Boomer parents have done raising their children. Too many failed to keep a long-term view in perspective. We wanted them happy in childhood, never seeing they’d be handicapped in adulthood.
- If they are coddled today, they’ll be complaining.
- If all we do is make them happy, we won’t be able to make them healthy.
- If we prevent harsh realities, we can’t prepare them for harsh realities.
If our kids act like entitled brats, it’s our fault. Believe it or not, kids are capable of so much more than we assume. My uncle fought in World War II at twenty, and never complained about lacking a “safe place.” Tom Brokaw called that generation “The Greatest Generation.” They hit the beaches at D-Day and in the Pacific to protect the rights these students so easily dismiss.
In Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, he remembers his mother telling him the story of the day Gordon Larsen visited the post office where she worked. Larsen was typically a cheerful member of their community, but that day, he stopped in to complain about the rowdiness of the teenagers on Halloween the night before. Surprised by his tone, Brokaw’s mother asked him good-naturedly, “Oh Gordon, what were you doing when you were seventeen?” Gordon looked her squarely in the eye and said, “I was landing at Guadalcanal.” He then turned and left the post office.
So what does your students’ behavior reveal about your leadership?