Oh, dear, I certainly opened a can of worms yesterday with my comments about 80s babies, didn’t I? Honestly, it didn’t occur to me that my comments would be seen as so terribly offensive. I didn’t really say anything that hasn’t been discussed in lots more places than DW. I understand feeling sensitive, but this idea that I’m wrong for stereotyping an entire generation of people is a little … well, silly. Entire generations of people have been generalized for decades — it’s why there are names for so many generations: Generation Y or the Millennials (or, as I call them “80s babies”), Generation X, the Baby Boomers, the Silent Generation, and the Greatest Generation. You also have “depression era kids,” “flappers,” and the “beat generation” as well as many other sub-cultures within a specific generation. Say any of these names and people not only know whom you’re talking about, they have an instant idea of prevalent characteristics among that generation.
Is it a gross generalization to associate specific characteristics to an entire generation of people? Of course. But there’s a reason we all do it: because there are trends among each generation that hold true. Because the generalized characteristics often fit enough people to be considered a trend. Because they help us understand behavior of people we work with, associate with and call family. It’s easy to point to a certain behavioral trait that co-workers of a certain age exhibit, for example, and say, “Oh, that must be a generational thing.” Because, pretty often, it is a generational thing.
Yesterday I mentioned one generational trend — well, two, really — that I have noticed among people born in the 80s and early 90s: a kind of arrested development (a slowness to move into adulthood compared to generations before/ a bit of over-dependence on their parents) and some sense of entitlement. Does this describe everyone born in the 80s and early 90s? Absolutely not! Maybe it doesn’t even describe most, but based on my personal observation (of people I’ve worked with, people who write letters to me on a daily basis, people in my family, friends, people I meet out and about, people whose conversations I overhear on the subway, blogs I read, etc. etc.), these behavioral traits fit enough people from a certain age group to be considered a trend. It’s not the only trend I’ve noticed among 80s babies. I’ve also observed some wonderful things — traits I admire, like an unwillingness to settle for the status quo, an eagerness to create careers that fit them rather than trying to squeeze into already existing careers, and a desire to achieve a strong work-life balance.
We are all products of the environment in which we were raised, from the culture of our own homes to the culture of society as a whole. It’s healthy to look at your peers and ask yourself if you see common traits and if so, which traits you like and which ones you don’t. It’s healthy to analyze the culture of your childhood and try to determine what common experiences may have influenced and led to common behavioral traits among your peers. It helps us to understand each other — and ourselves — a lot more. I hope it helps us to be more empathetic, too.
I’m sorry if I came across more accusatory and finger-pointing than I meant to. The truth is I have a lot of empathy for you 80s babies. You are coming of age in a turbulent time. It’s not the first turbulent time society has experienced, though, and you have a lot of benefits that generations before didn’t have. But you also have a lot of challenges to contend with that generations before could never have imagined. Not to get all mushy and sentimental, but I feel privileged to be in a position to watch how you handle these challenges. Maybe I can even help you past some of them, through my own words and by creating a place where you can share your words and experiences with each other. That’s one of my goals, anyway. And in pursuing that goal, I learn some things I hope will make me a better parent, and a better person.
Anyway, this is me apologizing for offending you — you 80s babies — and opening the dialogue further in a way I hope is a little less hostile than yesterday’s dialogue. Many of you have already weighed in on whether you agree or disagree with some of my generational observations (You disagree, you disagree! You have been heard!), but are there observations you’ve made — of either your own generation or others? How do you think the culture you were raised in influenced the person you are today? Discuss.