The irony of it all! Kids born in this period of time in North America have more opportunities than ever before… and ambitions are at their all-time low. I see it. Immigrant parents, working day and night so their kids have a better life, and the kids would rather whittle away their day on social media. Professional parents with a bright kid whose future endeavour is to be a You-Tuber. Boys’ sports teams that are half-empty because the kids would rather play video games over committing to practices and putting their egos on the line in real-life games.
A lot of young adults are the product of too much time in the virtual world. Some are getting a rude awakening in their careers, others in relationships, the biggest one being parenthood, “Normal” life skills that were taken for granted, but are increasingly uncommon. These include hemming your own clothes, cooking, hand-washing dishes, household chores of all types, checking the oil in your car’s engine, spelling, grammar, drafting a letter, hanging a picture, using a level. We can blame it on schools not teaching these skills, but that’s not fair. Many of these skills (excluding spelling & grammar) were never a part of the core curriculum.
The problem lies in a shift in society’s attitudes, and the increasing availability and sophistication of media. It’s been said that, “the last of the great thinkers and writers were all born before World War II”. So it’s not just a Millennial thing. Degradation of society started with the Baby Boomers, and it’s gone down hill ever since.
The Baby Boom, beginning after WWII, was a time of unprecedented wealth across a huge demographic. This is the beginning of the white picket fences, suburban living, TV’s, TV dinners, household appliances and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. It was thought that the ready-availability of TV entertainment ate into young peoples’ natural imagination and thus began the demise of aspirations to be the next great novelist. Materialism and instant routes to wealth or fame were much more valued and so grew the cult of the high school or collegiate athlete and the push towards higher education.
The next generation, called Generation X or Nexus, inherited a much more sophisticated platform. Colour TV, home video games, VCR, personal computer, microwaves, cellphones and the internet all made their first appearances during the formative years of this generation. Many more trappings of materialism to aspire to, and a world that changed so rapidly that the social order has turned upside-down. Generation X taught their parents how to navigate the new technology, and there were no rules and definitely no guidelines on what was safe, and what was in anyone’s best interests. Thus, you could easily hear from a Gen X-er, “I played video games all the time and I turned out alright”. Really? Says who, and in comparison to what? There weren’t any studies done to determine how much was too much. Many Generation X-ers were fed the line that, “to get ahead, you need a university education,” often from parents who themselves never went to university. University entrance requirements jumped from 65% averages in the 1970s to over 90% averages for some programs in elite schools in the 1990’s. Gen X-ers saw university ads stating, “All I needed to be a bank CEO was a Bachelor of Arts in English”. When the Gen X-ers graduated, however, the economy had taken a down turn, and there was a glut of university-educated people. A Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science was no longer valuable. You need something specific, like an Engineering, Nursing or Medical degree in order for university to lead to a job. Meanwhile, all the early emphasis on academic achievement (plus extra-curricular activity to pad application form or resume) meant less value was placed on life skills or household chores.
By the time the Millennials were born, we’re fully entrenched in a society that values achievement and materialism over common sense, imagination and enjoyment for enjoyment’s sake. Millennials’ parents are the Baby Boomers who have never felt the sting of poverty like their pre-war Depression-era parents or the unlucky unemployed Gen-X-ers. Millennial babies are the pride and joy and conversation-pieces of their status-seeking parents. But the materialism comes at a high price and so many parents of Millennials are both working and looking for any convenience available to them to lighten their load. Now is when disposable diapers, packaged baby foods, fast foods, and disposable everything is being created, marketed and the norm. Anything not “disposable” is considered “being cheap”, “unsanitary” or “behind the times”. Brand name clothing (and everything else) is the standard and defines your “style” and status level. Individuality is how you choose from a wide range of pre-packaged goods.
The current generation of kids are being born to a mix of late Gen X-ers and early Millennials. Raised in relative affluence and a lot of emphasis on achievement as determined by society, a growing number of parents are seeing the emptiness of materialism. Learning the simpler ways is an exercise in research, which was not the case two-to-three generations ago. When we read “Anne of Green Gables” and “Tom Sawyer” to our kids, (if we do), we know it bears little resemblance to our own upbringing. Some of us remember the freedom of playing outside with neighbourhood kids until dinner time, but know it’s not possible for our own kids without getting reported for negligence. Media and entertainment are so pervasive now that unless parents are super-strict about them, kids got addicted to them before they even learned to tie their shoes (for some that’s a lost art as well).
It’s as if each successive generation is living more so in a dream state, a fog, where their lives are less in touch with reality. Instead of exploring new avenues and discovering more about our own likes, dislikes, abilities and ambitions, we are stupefied by entertainment and let life pass us by. Do you want to be more alive? Take the time to unplug, be unconventional, interact with people, especially those of earlier generations, take up new “old” hobbies, be “you” or at least take steps to find out who you really are. Encourage your kids to daydream, live in the now, skip the virtual world and be brave enough to try new things, even if it means making mistakes here and there. “Mistakes are supposed to be your teacher, not your attacker”. Teach your children as you yourself learn the value of nurturing valuable qualities of grit, compassion, mindfulness, courage, creativity, playfulness, cooperation and adventure.
“…humans resist life… our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive – the risk to be alive and express what we really are”. ~Don Miguel Ruiz. The Four Agreements.