Millennials vs. Baby Boomers & Gen X: Generational Breakdown

By Katie Kohls

If you have ever worked a service job, what demographic is most likely to get angry if you mess up or aren’t on you’re A-game? At my service job, and at many of my friends’, the worst disgruntled customers to deal with are actually middle-aged to older white people (not young adults). My friend who waitressed said that it was older couples who would stiff her on the tip. My friend who is a barista claimed middle-aged soccer moms were the ones to demand free stuff when they weren’t satisfied (which was often). I’ve had men yell at me and women say “It’s not my problem” when there are accidents or problems outside of my control and I try to apologize. I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing a pattern here.

Yet millennials are the often called entitled narcissists. Many claim we lack motivation, expect to be handed what we want, and lack respect for anyone around us. While researching millennials, I looked at articles blaming helicopter parenting, hormones, lack of responsibility, and coddling as reasons for our disrespect, lack of motivation, and cynicism. Many blame how millennials behave on a variety of factors instead of attempting to see the world from a millennial’s perspective. In March of 2014, Jenni Herd wrote a response to this to the The Times in the UK. Her response was:

“Sir, I am getting increasingly annoyed at the barrage of articles about teenagers, and the adults who keep trying to explain our behavior… We’ve grown up with financial crisis and accept that most of us will be unemployed. We no longer flinch at bloody images of war because we’ve grown use to seeing the chaos in the Middle East and elsewhere. Most of us are cynical and pessimistic because of the environment we’ve grown up in- which should be explanation enough for our apparent insolence and disrespect… Has no one ever seen that we are angry at the world we live in? Angry that we will have to clean up your mess, while you hold us in contempt, analyzing our responses as though we were another species?… Stop teaching adults how to behave around us, and instead teach them to respect us.”

This is a condensed version of her response, but the point is clear: that millennials grew up in a time full of war, turmoil, and uncertainty and are expected to be grateful and when we aren’t we are scorned. Herd’s response went viral because it resonated with so many young individuals.

Now Herd expanded on this thought later, after she realized the effect of her words. Her extended opinion is that

“When adults talk down to teenagers, they aren’t talking to us, not really. They’re talking to their generation; how they remember teens to be. Some adults can be intentionally disrespectful, but I truly believe that most aren’t. It’s just that their ire and annoyance is misplaced: by being annoyed at us, we become annoyed at them, creating an endless circle of eye-rolling and slamming doors and swear words screamed across the dinner table.”

Pretty profound thoughts from a teenager, but thoughts that ring true.

Now I am not trying to justify millennials actions if they are disrespectful or wrong, or condemn the Baby Boomers or Generation X. I think we all need to clean up our acts. We are vastly different. Technology has altered our perceptions and our lives. It’s not some toy or perk, but something that we need to be a relevant and connected in this day and age. Millennials grew up within the War on Terror and school shootings as the norm. We also have crippling debt and no promise of a stable job. The world has changed drastically so of course we are drastically different. But in turn, millennials have to keep in mind that the older generations don’t understand us but we cannot hold this against them.

And this is not a drama queen moment of “no one understands me,” but an actual communication breakdown. Our perspective is foreign to them, and we have to be understanding when they don’t get it. They expect us to be like they were, but we’re not. We haven’t grown up in the same world.

To combat the generational breakdown, we all have to communicate better. Millennials have to incorporate ourselves into their world before we can make it ours. The Baby Boomers and Generation X rarely understand our confidence with technology, probably don’t understand the extent of our frustration with the world we will inherit, and are wary of the changes the #YOLO users will make on this world. So in response to Jenni Herd, I do hope those generations will learn to respect us millennials, but we also need to give them the opportunity and deserve it when they do.

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