Posted: May 20, 2013 9:15 AM
 
In Joel Stein’s new Time article titled The New Greatest Generation, he compares Millennials to those of The Greatest Generation. While this comparison to me is laughable at best and offensive at worst, it got me thinking: Why is this generation so self-aware and entitled, and can we as parents do anything to keep this trend from continuing?
When freedom and democracy were in peril, an entire generation answered the call.

The Greatest Generation — possibly one of the best-named groups in history (kudos to Tom Brokaw). The generation who grew up during the Great Depression fought against true evil on another continent because it was the right thing to do, then came home to rebuild our great nation into the superpower it is today. To quote thegreatestgeneration on Tumblr, “When freedom and democracy were in peril, an entire generation answered the call.” They put aside their youth and their lives to quite literally save humanity. Think Saving Private Ryan. Think Band of Brothers. Think Pearl Harbor. We automatically associate that generation with World War II for good cause — over 10 percent of them served in war time military, and those that didn't serve abroad productively supported the war effort at home. Am I gushing? You bet I am. They were selfless, humble and hard-working, and they were nothing like the youth of today.

The New Greatest Generation? Hardly.

participation trophyTime magazine writer Joel Stein has written an article in which he not only compares the heroes of The Greatest Generation, those born between 1900 and 1925, to Millennials, but implies those born between 1980 and 2000 could be “The New Greatest Generation.” That is extremely high praise for a group of people known primarily for their narcissism and sense of entitlement. Think I'm being harsh? Here are Stein's own words and facts: “The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that's now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health; 58 percent more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982. Millennials got so many participation trophies growing up that a recent study showed that 40 percent believe they should be promoted every two years, regardless of performance.” 

Promoted. Every two years. Regardless of performance. Stein sums it up quite well: The children of Tom Wolfe's Me Generation spawned the Me Me Me Generation.

Boomers had it good

Baby Boomers had doting parents, a mostly stable political world and a booming economy to thrive in. They turned on, tuned in and dropped out.

It was honestly to be expected. Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were born into a time of great economic prosperity. They wanted for very little and were born to parents who, after seeing so much hardship, were happy to shelter them and give them the world. Less than one percent of Boomers served in the military, missing out on the great lessons the sacrifices of military service provides. Boomers are known for being self-involved, primarily because most of their lives they were afforded the ability to be that way. Baby Boomers had doting parents, a mostly stable political world and a booming economy to thrive in. They turned on, tuned in and dropped out. They were the generation to push the divorce rate up over 50 percent for the first time in history. How can we expect the children of this generation to be anything but a magnification of their parents?

Gen Xers ≠ Slackers

Generation X... more closely resemble their grandparents' generation in terms of family values and work ethic — albeit they tend to start a little later in life.

The interesting thing is we don't see those self-involved Boomer traits in Generation Xers. While those born between 1965 and 1979 are usually known for their underachieving apathy, statistics say otherwise. 2011's The Generation X Report found Gen Xers to be highly-educated, active, balanced, happy and family-oriented. A 2013 MetLife Mature Market Institute study found Generation X to more closely resemble their grandparents' generation in terms of family values and work ethic — albeit they tend to start a little later in life. They make life choices with the intention of providing a stable life for their family, spending time with their children and avoiding personal debt. Are these the sacrifices of war and economic depression? No. But they are far more in line with the self-sufficient, traditional mentality of The Greatest Generation than of the me-oriented traits of the Boomers.

Is social media bringing Millennials down?

social media iconsWhich brings us to Millennials. In his article, Stein asserts Boomers are partly to blame for the entitled, narcissistic characteristics of their children. That all of the participation awards and self-esteem building done by the parents actually led to an extremely high sense of entitlement in their children. He attributes the shallowness and constant self-promotion more to the social media-driven age Millennials are living in than the generation's character itself. And he may be right. Don't get me wrong — they don't have it easy by any means. It is commonly believed this will be the first generation to genuinely have less prosperity than those before it. But as Millennials are reaping what Boomers have sowed, we need to look forward to the next generation and see what, as parents, we can do to make them better.

We can make a difference — we can change the world

Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.

The post-Millennial generation will have all the same social media hindrances Stein describes in his article. I doubt Facebook, Instagram or Twitter are going anywhere any time soon. If social media really is partially to blame for the overall sense of self-awareness and lack of empathy Millennials exhibit, we need to foster activities to counteract these traits in the next generation. Our children must find value in their true friends, not their number of “friends” or “followers.” They need to recognize the beauty in what they see through their eyes, not through the lens of a camera. To quote part of David McCullough's now famous You Are Not Special commencement speech, we need to teach our children: “Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion — and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.”

Do for others for the sake of doing for others and you learn "selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself." The Greatest Generation knew that truth. Will Millennials? Who's to say? But we have the ability, make that the obligation, to make this next generation into another great one. We just need to learn from the past — sometimes a few generations behind us.

More on parenting

Are you turning your kid into a narcissist?
The myth of self-esteem
Parenting lessons we've learned from the Kardashians

Topics: