Much has been written about Milllennials (born after 1980) in comparison to their baby boomer and Silent Generation elders. While many older folks believe that our good old days were better, I wonder if their opinions aren't skewed by selective memories.
I believe children respond to their circumstances based on natural ability, temperament, family upbringing, resilience and supports received from educators, coaches and other mentors. While I am concerned about Millennials' tendency toward narcissism and their increasingly less direct interpersonal interactions, I am relatively optimistic about their response to today's societal conditions. But we elders need to help them more.
Back when Cokes were a nickel and allowances a quarter, we sure knew the value of a dollar and of hard work. I scoured construction sites for returnable bottles at age 7 and mowed lawns by 10. We were more rooted then and maintained lifelong friendships like those I still enjoy with elementary, high school and college buddies.
In the 1960s, without Internet, cellphones and cable TV, we also enjoyed fewer sedentary activities, and sports had no overlapping seasons. Thus, we had more opportunity to directly interact and run ourselves ragged in less-supervised outdoor play. Sure, we'd get in trouble, but arrests, teen pregnancies, runaways and obesity were relatively rare in our two-parent families. (Ahh, those good old days!)
But there was another side to life back then. Physical and sexual abuse were more hidden and rarely reported. Drinking and driving laws were lax, the drug scene was exploding, and alcohol-related highway deaths, though less publicized, were much higher per capita.
We were also pretty closed-minded religiously, socially, politically, educationally and racially. Stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination were more accepted. Many fewer minorities attended college. Intelligent women were encouraged to aspire to nursing or teaching almost exclusively, while the world was wide open to guys like me.
While these areas are definitely improved today, clear Millennial regression is also evident. Their lower scores on tests of empathy are likely related to their increased narcissism and fewer personal interactions now that texting and social media are the norm.
Most Millennials also demonstrate a weaker work ethic and stronger sense of entitlement to the latest fashions, activities and gadgetry. However, both trends have been promoted by boomer parental permissiveness, our world of abundance and its nonstop media advertising.
Similarly, parents have actively supported sports and other activities becoming year-round obsessions. We have doubtlessly enabled the Millennials' prolonged adolescence, decreased financial responsibility, and reduced fitness as well.
Millennials do score higher on creativity tests and have been found to be significantly more accepting of individual differences. Generally, they are more open-minded, innovative and adaptable than their elders. They are also surprisingly resilient and resourceful in tolerating our world's rapid changes and information overload.
But since we now live in an ever busier, faster, more dangerous and less controlled world, it is increasingly difficult to raise Millennial children. This problem has been intensified by parents' work schedules and the plethora of activities that can distract, over-stimulate, and corrupt younger Millennials. So what can their elders do?
As parents, we need to spend more time actively modeling and teaching the values of compassion, service, physical activity, personal relationships and financial responsibility. We must stop giving our children so many material comforts and be willing to risk their dissatisfaction with us — relating to them as parents, not as friends.
Our children grumbled but nevertheless adjusted to parental rules that their TV time equal their reading time and that they help cover college tuition and other expenses. They have since thanked us for such expectations.
What advice do I offer today's youth? Don't text when your communication should be face to face. Focus more on the long-term "we," not the "me." Find a good mentor to learn from. Get outside to exercise, work hard and play directly with friends. Cautiously take your time in negotiating life's pressures, and recognize that your most foolish actions are usually selfish, sensation seeking and impulsive.
Remember, too, that today's mistakes result in more lasting consequences. Given my own brainless college escapades, I'm glad Facebook and cellphone cameras were non-existent at the time. The ability of employers, colleges and relatives to discover your idiotic actions online has increased exponentially.
Finally, remember that the path to a life well lived hasn't really changed at all. Find value within your family, your faith, your work and service to others. Be thankful for all you have and cherish your ongoing relationships with true friends.
You'll be especially glad you did as you face the more difficult junctures in your lives.
Mike McGrew is a Carroll County school psychologist. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun