The upcoming 2016 Presidential election is the first time that every member of the Millennial generation is eligible to vote. That makes it a good time to revisit the Millennials.
For some people the Millennials have become synonymous with the “trophy generation.” In the rare chance you’re not familiar with them, they are the maligned group of 80 million young people born between 1980 and 1996 who won trophies for just showing up and never failed a test or grade because the red pencil and F were removed from a teacher’s tool box.
Well some of that synopsis is true – they were born between 1980 and 1996. And there is some truth that quite of few of them were protected and hovered over by their “helicopter parents.” But then again they have become easy prey for blame that should be directed at their overbearing parents. Since when did kids make up the rules for organized sports and education? Ironically some of the loudest complaints come from the parents and grandparents who hovered over their children like flies at a picnic.
It goes without saying that it’s problematic to generalize any generation, especially one as large as Millennials.
For the record the oldest Millennials are almost 37 years old, hardly the new kids on the block. Even the youngest Millennials aren’t the youngest people entering the workforce. That would be the 20 year old and younger Generation Z. Millennials seem to have a bulls-eye on their back even when the arrows should be aimed at parents and younger siblings.
While I’m not making excuses for them, the Millennials’ formative years have been littered with what some call the “age of terror” – the attacks of 9/11, Al Quada, Isis, and public and school mass murders. For dessert we can add the Great Recession and skyrocketing school debt, compounded by a world experiencing exponential change and an explosion of information led by Google, Apple, and Facebook. In fact, demographers Neil Howe and William Strauss who came up with the term Millennials suggest they were born into an “unraveling” of normal, a time of institutional upheaval and individualism.
These events influenced many of the older Millennials to become closer to their parents, more than the free-agent Generation X or aging Baby Boomers. The younger ones, let’s say those who were only 6 years or younger in 2001 and now in their 20s, may have slightly different views because they were too young to fully understood the magnitude of the events. But as a while Millennials experienced a powerful national and even global unity following the 9/11 attacks. It only reinforced how important family and community are, making them most like their Greatest Generation grandparents . The response to the attacks and their aftermath instilled a greater sense of social responsibility too.
But as easy as it is to generalize, predicting how (and if) they will vote is a conundrum.
Politically Millennials lean left. But ironically they are also cautious and conservative. They promote tolerance but can also be nationalistic…which should not be confused with patriotism, especially considering the trend of many Millennial and even Gen Z athletes refusing to stand up and pledge their allegiance to the flag. But compared to the Baby Boomers of the 60s and 70s who disrupted events and burned the flag, Millennials are expressing disobedience in a civil, non-combative way in order to defend their principles.
In other words, Millennials come in many shapes and sizes with a diversity of world views and values not unlike every other generation. Collectively they do share many common experiences. But most if not all of them only know a world exploding with information and disrupted by terror. Everything else is just history and past bygones to them that offers little or no relevance to how they see the world going forward.
Trying to lump 80 million Millennials under one label and stereotype is helpful for starting a conversation but it’s an awful strategy for engaging them whether you’re a politician or an employer.
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