It seems like you can’t hock a loogie without hitting an article about all the things 20-somethings are doing wrong, or should be doing, or need to do ASAP if they’re going to be high-powered CEOs with perfect marriages and 2.5 dogs by the time they hit 30. This is not one of those articles.
Every single day I scroll past another listicle about millennials, like “20 Things 20-Year-Olds Don’t Get,” “20 Job Rules for Millennials,” or “25 Reasons You Aren’t Perfect (and 24 of Them are Facebook).” I hate them with a passion. They portray people under 30 as selfish, stupid, ill-informed, and lazy. They treat 20-somethings like they’re somehow to blame for the fact that they don’t have a high-paying, upwardly-mobile career yet, even though they graduated from college only to enter the worst job market in decades.
And yet, since I just turned 30 in October, I’ve been feeling a bit reflective. It seems like I should have some advice for the youths, but really, I am more focused on what older generations need to realize. Here are 11 things for older generations to consider when interacting with or about millennials:
1. Delayed adulthood isn’t the result of laziness. The job market is terrible, which means 20-somethings are not finding work with as much ease as their parents did. This means they aren’t flush with money, which can lead to things like moving back in with parents, not buying a house, not getting married, and not having kids. This isn’t a sign that humanity is doomed, unless of course the economy doesn’t bounce back.
2. Respect the separation between personal and professional, even if you can find both easily. Look, we live in an era where everything is online, and I get that it’s easy and tempting to peek into the personal conversations of people and hold them professionally responsible for it. But that’s not fair. It holds people to a standard of perfection that is simply unattainable. By all means, Google to see if your interviewee is a serial killer or unabashed racist, but don’t hold it against them for dropping an f-bomb or sharing a party picture on a personal Facebook page.
3. This generation is being crushed by debt. Seriously, do you have any idea how much debt millennials will have by the time they get through school? In 1980, the average cost of tuition, room, and board was about $3,000 (that’s about $8,800 in 2013 dollars). In the 2011-12 school year, the same average was about $18,500. Attending public school doesn’t shave much off that total, either. So while it may have been possible to work your way through school back then, it pretty much isn’t now. And today, a bachelor’s degree is practically a necessity.
4. They grew up being told they were special. The 1980s and 1990s were eras of telling every kid they were magical and unique little snowflakes. That was the beginning of “follow your dreams” and sports games where no one kept score. So before you judge someone for majoring in ceramics, remember that they were probably told they could be anything they set their mind to.
5. Actually, yes, cell phones are a necessity. As are computers. That’s just how it is. Depending on the field, you may also need pricey software or a more expensive laptop (for example, I was required to buy a Macbook Pro for journalism school, and I need the Adobe suite for my photography). Everything is done online, from shopping to making doctor’s appointments to applying for jobs. We can no longer opt out of this stuff if we want to get ahead.
6. No one wants to pay for entry level work. These days “entry level” means three to five years of experience. If you’re fresh out of college, it has become expected that you will do an unpaid internship — something that is practically impossible if you aren’t from a background with at least some financial privilege. Those free internships sometimes lead to paid jobs, but that’s pretty rare.
7. No one wants to hire full-time employees, either. So many jobs out there are listed as “contract” or “freelance.” Why? Because no one wants to provide benefits. So even if 20-somethings can find work, chances are they’re still paying for their own health care, meaning less cash is going in their pockets. It can also screw them over come tax season.
8. Wages aren’t keeping up with costs of living. This affects everyone. Older people aren’t retiring as much, which means there are fewer openings. Many fields are based in expensive cities like New York, but don’t pay enough to get by in the city of astronomical rent. Health care is absurd. If you are stuck in one of the aforementioned freelance gigs and have an emergency, you could end up with tens of thousands of dollars in bills.
9. Values change. Every generation thinks their children are morally bankrupt, selfish little twits. Popular music and fashion will always make older generations cluck their tongues and lament the good old days. Tsk tsk at today’s pop stars or jeggings all you want, but remember that the Beatles and women wearing any kind of pants were risqué once upon a time, too.
10. The internet gives them more control. Selfies, which a certain lady blog recently dubbed a cry for help, are a way to democratize self-image, something that is especially important for young women. It allows people to see and distribute pictures of non-models, which gives more visibility to groups that are usually marginalized by mainstream media. People of color, fat people, people with disabilities, and so on, are not usually shown in a positive light, but when they take things into their own hands, they can change that.
11. The world is changing for the better because of engaged young adults. These are the people who don’t have a problem with same-sex marriage, or with trans* rights. These are the people who occupied for financial equality. These are people who think health care should be universal, and that the government needs to stay out of uteri. For the most part, at least. “Idleness” might seem like an easy target, but it’s misplaced when it’s aimed at a generation that’s fighting for a more equal society. They aren’t ill-informed or disengaged. Quite the opposite, really.