Tag Archives: Boomerang Kid

If “Everything Is Possible,” Our Milestones Need to Change

21 Aug

singles-620x412Image from Singles via Salon

In the second paragraph of Sara Scribner’s recent Salon article about Generation X, the journalist says:

Few have even noticed that this small, notoriously rebellious clan – those born roughly between 1965 and 1980, which means about 46 million Xers versus 80 million boomers — has entered middle age.

The article itself is entitled “Generation X gets really old: How do slackers have a midlife crisis?”

Let’s stop right there for a moment. The date range provided here for Generation X refers to people who are currently between 48 and 33 years old. Is 33 middle age? Is 33 “really old”? Hyperbole aside, is 48 even “really old”?

The rest of the article refers to people in their 40s. I get it. The writer is using the median age. Treatises on generations are always rift with broad-swept generalities, however the attention to age in this particular article is telling for the article goes on to bring up issues of delayed adulthood, parents, and leadership.

Scribner quotes historian and generational expert (side note: how does one get to be a generational expert? That sounds like an awesome job) Neil Howe saying:

“Xers experience agoraphobia — everything is possible.”

The article goes on to say:

That’s where this generation gets its reputation as reluctant to grow up. “It’s very hard to mature,” [Howe] says. “In order to mature and become an adult, you have to shut off options. The way Xers were raised, there were always options — their parents told them to keep options open.”

Further on in the article, Scribner explains the result of this:

[Sheryl] Connelly, the Ford futurist, says that some of the postponing of the traditional midlife period may come down to a pushing back of all the major life milestones: “Some of that [midlife questioning] would be fueled by empty nesters – the kids are grown,” she says, explaining a feeling of “now what?” “Demographics have shifted such that with each passing generation, people are postponing marriage.” With dependent kids at home, everything has been pushed back. “There’s nothing midlife about my situation right now.  I think that’s why you don’t hear this conversation.”

Maybe, but that’s assuming that we’re talking about a Gen Xer born closer to the 1965 date. Let’s take someone smack dab in the middle of Gen X. If we’re using the range 1965 to 1980, let’s pick someone born in 1972. That person today (well, depending on when their birthday falls) would be 41 years old. Let’s now assume this person married right out of college and then had a kid the following year, when they were about 24 years old. (Keep in mind, that’s younger than the median age for getting married which is closer to 27.) That child would be about 17 years old. It’s therefore not at all shocking that many—even half of—Gen Xers would have “dependent kids at home.” It would actually be rather traditional and, dare I say, old-fashioned.

More interesting is not that life’s “major life milestones” are happening later but that they’re happening at different times for Gen X.

And, just as interesting is that, even with these societal changes, Scribner still upheld conservative viewpoints of adulthood when she paired the phrase “major life milestones” with Connelly’s quote about “empty nesters,” “postponing marriage,” and “dependent kids at home.”

This is where the article gets fascinating but isn’t fully explored. Yes, perhaps on the whole, people are postponing marriage and children and many who did have children now can’t get rid of their boomerang kids, creating a period of limbo. However, just like the age range of Gen X varies, so does the age that they’re getting married and having kids. That’s apparent even in looking at the celebrities the article mentions. Kurt Cobain (born in 1967) had a baby, and that baby is now 20 years old. Winona Ryder is 41 and has never been married or had children. Liz Phair, who is now 46, married a film editor in 1995 and had a child with him the following year; in 2001 the couple divorced.

I have friends I graduated college with who afterwards got married and now have two or three children. I have other friends I graduated high school with who are still very single—and by “very,” I simply mean that they are not only unmarried but also not in a steady relationship. I have a cousin who is about two years older than me who has a seventeen-year-old son. And I have other cousins who are about a decade older than me and have children the same age and younger than the cousin closer to my age.

At a writing conference, I had an interesting conversation with one of my colleagues. On so many levels we connected. We’d had very similar upbringings. We had comparable goals with our writing. We  shared parallel interests. Only about two years older than me, she is a mother of adolescent children and confessed to fearing empty-nest syndrome. At that moment in the conversation, my unmarried, childless self felt like a complete child next to her.

Going back to the statements about Gen X’s reluctance to grow up and the difficulty of maturing in this day and age, I think Howe’s concept of “agoraphobia” is worth more attention. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with Howe’s assessment that we have a phobia, an irrational fear, of “shut[ting] off options,” but the fact that we have those options is significant. We have the option to get married right out of college or to wait until we’ve experienced more of life, know ourselves better, and have amassed a nest egg to support a family. There’s no longer the same social stigma there once was to have a child out of wedlock and so we have the option to have a child with a significant other who we may already be living with. With the advancement of medicine, we also have the option of waiting until we’re in our 40s to have children.

As Howe says, “everything is possible.” But what does that mean for our identities and for the concept of maturity and adulthood?

Does a Gen Xer who is single and childless at 48 years old have more in common with a single and childless 33 year old Gen Xer than with a 48-year-old Gen Xer with a toddler? Does a Gen Xer who is an empty nester have more in common with the Gen Xer who never had children? Does a divorced Gen Xer in their early 30s have a more similar lifestyle to a Gen Xer in their late 40s who never got married? Is the 48 year old who never got married and never had children less mature, less of an adult, because they haven’t reached certain “milestones”?

Maybe it’s time our concept of maturity shifted to match the time period in which we’re living. Maybe it’s time to recognize that today’s milestones have changed.

The Salon article says “Many Xers seem nostalgic for the serene ‘50s,” but the “serene ’50s childhood” is a myth. One, in fact, that we explore in Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” when talking about how illness killed off children, how war fractured families, how gender roles were back then, and how supposed countercultural icon Jack Kerouac longed for a wife and a ranch. Marilyn Monroe died at 36, never having a child. Ella Fitzgerald never had a child of her own but adopted one. Allen Ginsberg had a lifelong partner but his relationship was not considered traditional at the time. Clearly, there were people in the 1940s and ’50s who reached adulthood, reach midlife, without achieving traditional milestones. So why do we continue to use the same markers for maturity today that weren’t even accurate in the 1940s?

You may also like:

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Blame Parents for Millennials Acting Entitled: Helicopter Parents Have Trophy Kids Who End Up Boomerang Kids

12 Jun

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Remember my post from last July “Hipsters Hate Driving”? It was inspired by the Reuters report “America’s Generation Y Not Driven to Drive” that did not once use the word “hipster” but rather “millennials.” Well, apparently Ford—as in the car manufacturer—sponsored a panel discussion with my exact title on May 30, 2013.

Flavorwire’s Tom Hawking caught up with Hipsters Hate Driving keynote speaker and millennials expert Jason Dorsey  in the June 10, 2013, article “Flavorwire Interview: Millennials Expert Jason Dorsey Says Young People ‘Really Do Act Entitled.’” At the Ford panel, “The Gen Y Guy” had said: “[Millennials] don’t want commitment. They drop in and out of experiences. They can’t wear a shirt or blouse if it’s photographed. The worst fear of millennials is wearing the same dress twice on two different [social networks],” and Hawkings got to the bottom of whether Dorsey really did think millennials are that shallow.

Flavorwire’s title quote comes from one of Dorsey’s responses:

When you dig into it, you find that a lot of millennials really do act entitled. They really do show up and have these massive expectations and are not willing to work at [things].

The word “entitlement” has come up again and again in discussions about millennials, and Dorsey argues it’s important to delve into the “why.” Of the root causes, Dorsey mention aspects relating to higher education and employment. Valid points, but I want to highlight a few comments he made that may slip under the cracks. Dorsey says, he focuses on trends like when people of the current generation are “moving out [of parents’ homes]” and “the relationship you have with your parents” as well as “views about parenting, especially how they were raised.”

Now we’re getting somewhere! Think about it for a moment: who are the parents of Generation Y? The oldest of them are Baby Boomers, who are “the generation that received peak levels of income” and “are associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values,” as Wikipedia put it. The younger parents are of Generation X, often derided as the Slacker Generation, who, facing economic downfall, turned to entrepreneurship. In other words, the shift from Baby Boomers to Gen X itself set the stage for a new generation that would be less traditional in their career outlooks.

In terms of their parenting style, these Baby Boomer and Gen X parents of Millennials have been called “Helicopter parents.” Jennifer O’Donnell defines this phenomenon in her About.com article “What Are Helicopter Parents?”:

The term “Helicopter parents” is often used to define a group of parents who engage in the practice of over-parenting. Helicopter parents are accused of being obsessed with their children’s education, safety, extracurricular activities, and other aspects of their children’s lives. Critics have criticized helicopter parents for over protecting their children and for failing to instill them with a sense of independence and a can-do attitude. Helicopter parents are also accused of over programming their children, and for failing to allow them free time to play and explore on their own.

She goes on to explain the root causes:

But the practice of over-parenting came into its own sometime during the 1990s when parents were bombarded with news stories about child abductions, academic competition, and ultimately, competition in a global economy.

Wikipedia explained the definition further, giving light into how this parenting technique affected children’s habits:

[The term “helicopter parenting”] gained wide currency when American college administrators began using it in the early 2000s as the Millennial Generation began reaching college age. Their baby-boomer parents in turn earned notoriety for practices such as calling their children each morning to wake them up for class and complaining to their professors about grades the children had received. Summer camp officials have also reported similar behavior from parents.

The children of Helicopter parents became known as Trophy Kids. I very briefly touched on this concept in my post “Parallel Generations,” in which I discussed the commonalities between the Lost Generation, the Beat Generation, and Generation Y, when I said:

Since then we’ve seen Generation Y, also known as the Millennials or Generation Next, who are often thought of as privileged Trophy Kids.

Notice the word “privileged.” Ron Aslop wrote the book on the subject: The Trophy Kids Grow Up. As the book’s website explains:

The millennials are truly trophy kids, the pride and joy of their parents who remain closely connected even as their children head off to college and enter the work force.

As Aslop suggests, these helicopter parents have been extremely involved in their Millennial children’s careers. George’s Employment Blog writes:

Although the Millenials often seek out challenging work and high levels of responsibility, these applicants’ parents are highly involved in their kids’ job search.

In a story entitled “Helicopter Parents Hover in the Workplace” on NPR on February 6, 2012, Jennifer Ludden says parents are doing more than just sending their children wanted ads and helping them with their resumes:

With millennial children now in their 20s, more helicopter parents are showing up in the workplace, sometimes even phoning human resources managers to advocate on their child’s behalf.

She states the facts:

Michigan State University more than 700 employers seeking to hire recent college graduates. Nearly one-third said parents had submitted resumes on their child’s behalf, some without even informing the child. One-quarter reported hearing from parents urging the employer to hire their son or daughter for a position.

The result of helicopter parenting is that Generation Y is coming across as entitled whether it’s their fault—or their parents. The Wall Street Journal article “The ‘Trophy Kids’ Go to Work,” published in 2008, said:

More than 85% of hiring managers and human-resource executives said they feel that millennials have a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers, according to a survey by CareerBuilder.com.

But who’s to blame: the parents or the kids? In the September 12, 2012, BusinessNewsDaily article “What Gen Y Is Not Getting from Their Parents,” David Mielach, writes:

A new survey has found that 69 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 receive little financial support from their parents.

He goes on to say:

The research found that 75 percent of young adults would rather live independently of their parents even if it is a struggle to do so financially.

Oh really? Then what are we to make of the rise of the phrase “boomerang kid,” which refers to young adults moving back in with their parents? It’s a concept that had such resonance it got its own (ill-fated) sitcom: How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life.  T. J. Wihera wrote in the 2009 Denver Post article “Gen Y: Returning to the Nest”:

The Census Bureau reports that 56 percent of 18- to 24-year-old men and 48 percent of women in the same age bracket were living at home with their parents in 2008, though it should be noted that these numbers also count college students living in the dorms as living at home.

A more recent 2010 article in The Atlantic summed it up in the title “1 in 10 Millennials Living With Parents Because of Recession.” This year, Bloomberg Businessweek launched a business to get boomerang kids out of their childhood bedrooms.

While millennials’ parents may have raised them to be confident, independent-thinkers, and may have done everything in their power to push their little Trophy Kids toward success from a young age, their helicopter parenting techniques may have backfired. Many millennials have become boomerang kids, relying on their over-protective, control-freak parents to continue giving them the direction they have always given them.

In my recent blog post “Shunning Cars … and Life” I touched on the cultural shift that took place around the time of the Beat Generation, saying that while Jack Kerouac went on the road, today’s Generation Y is living a virtual life. Could it be that part of the reason why so many millennials have turned to living life through a computer screen has something to do with helicopter parents who “fail[ed] to allow [their children] free time to play and explore on their own” because “the 1990s […] were bombarded with news stories about child abductions, academic competition, and ultimately, competition in a global economy,” as O’Donnell wrote? In other words, perhaps parents believed life behind the computer was safer and more educational than the alternative of playing carefree outdoors. Children were the gods of their computer worlds, they could control their domain, and they soon became celebrities of social media sites like MySpace [emphasis mine], which furthered the entitlement already instilled in them by their parents.

Of course, these are generalities. Even though he was from the so-called Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac, who used the term “hipster” in his writing, could fit the profile of a millennial. His mother, Gabrielle, hovered like a helicopter parent, and he was a boomerang kid, who was living with his mother even in his forties.