Being a Part of the “Fragile Generation”

Originally Posted January 5th 2018

I am a millennial. I was born in 1996. Since going to college in fall of 2014 I have come to face many opinions regarding my generation. Not all of them good. There are always those people, usually professors, who have come to realize that they need to teach us how to make the world a better place because pretty soon, we’ll be in charge of it.

Let’s get something straight – what are millennials?

Millenials are those of us who were born between the years 1982 and 2000-2004. (The end dates are a little fuzzy still.) Generally, people born 2002-present are part of “generation Z” or the “iGeneration” so nicknamed for the technology that is practically raising them.

So let me explain something based on what I just told you. The oldest millenials, as of 2017, are 35 years old. The youngest millenials are 17 and 18, just old enough to start voting.

We. Are. Here.

Many of us have children. (Not me.) Most of us are in the workforce. My parents just barely qualify as “not millenials” and fall in that awkward space between Gen-X and Millenial, sometimes referred to as Generation Y. My brothers, though of the same familial generation and born in 2002, most likely belong to the “iGeneration” – or the societal generation after mine.

Millenials are often portrayed as children. The younger of us can be very child like. There are millenials with children who are millennials. And thus it can be very difficult to understand who millenials are, though people seem to use the term mostly in reference to college aged millennials, so the very youngest of us. I know 35 year olds who don’t have to put up with half of the stigma that I have to deal with at 21 years old, simply because no one thinks of the beginning of the generation as millennial. So, I hate this term, millennial. No one really knows what it means.

But, I stray.

In a recent articleLenore Skenazy & Jonathan Haidt discuss the formation of the millennial generation/the stigmas that make the generation what we think of it as.

This article drove me nuts. Not because I didn’t agree with it, because there were parts that I totally agreed with. It drove me nuts because not all millennials grew up this way, and I certainly wasn’t one of them, for the most part.

People my age, a little older, and definitely younger than myself, don’t quite know how to be adults. There are basic skills we lack. I know people my age that don’t know how to boil pasta or chop onions. Many people my age are afraid to talk to other people about things that make them feel uncomfortable. Many millenials have been so coddled that they have never had to perform these basic tasks of life.

There’s the fear that everything children see, do, eat, hear, and lick could hurt them. And there’s a newer belief that has been spreading through higher education that words and ideas themselves can be traumatizing.

Here’s the thing about this quote from the above mentioned article, I agree with half of it. We do fear that everything can hurt children. We protect them from everything, we don’t allow them to be exposed to so much as a skinned knee if we can help it. We want them to be happy all the time. It’s so bad that, as the article points out, we won’t even let children settle their own squabbles with their friends. We get involved, and try to solve it for them. I, personally, was so excluded at first that I retreated and excluded myself even more. Now, when something goes wrong with someone I start to ask other people, the older adults in my life usually, how to deal with it and how to solve my problems.

It really is a problem.

But the second half… It’s true, there is a belief spreading that words can hurt. It’s not just in higher education. This is where the article and I have our first difference. It treats this statement as if it’s a false statement. As if words can’t hurt or be traumatizing.

As a writer, I have what might be considered a biased opinion of the power of words. But words – words have the power to start and end wars. And I’m not just talking about the fictional ones.

Personally, I’m heavily of the opinion that people should watch what they’re saying at all times. It’s a basic principle in many a lore. The most prevalent example I could think of would be Faery lore. (No, that isn’t a typo!) In Faery lore, the Fae are a wild and mischievous bunch. Saying one thing the slightest bit — off — can result in an offence that will lead to war, on your person with the Faery in question. One wrong word could leave you indebted to that Faery until they feel you have repaid them properly and you never know what they will consider fair repayment. If you anger them, or seem impolite at all you’ll likely die for the offence before you have a chance to make another.

Words, even words that seem harmless, have power. Words can be life or death. So, yes, words can hurt. I’ve actually gotten mad when someone said that words can’t hurt. I’ve been hurt by words. Just little things too.

No, words can’t kill you. They won’t kill you. The pain caused by words is not a physical pain, it’s an emotional pain. That’s why millennials have “safe spaces.”

The article points out early on that parents are afraid to leave their children at home without an adult “Take the kids with you, or save your errand for another time.” After all, “you want to make sure that no one’s feelings get too hurt if there’s a squabble.” And this can be so very true. Maybe not all millennials were treated this way, but some were. If you never leave children alone to deal with their own squabbles they will later need to  learn how because, news flash here, you won’t always be there to resolve their arguments for them.

“Safe Spaces” are portrayed as a bad thing in this article, but here’s the thing. A safe space isn’t necessarily a shield from all the bad words. If anything, a safe space is a place where opinions can be freely expressed and discussion held. It is a place where you learn to think about your words because, they might be offensive, and you learn to resolve your differences of opinion, culture, religion, or whatever peacefully. A safe space is somewhere you don’t have to worry that you’ll get hurt or be attacked because it’s all about resolving differences and learning to do those things that you didn’t get to learn as a kid in your little bubble. The point of a safe space is to make it so that later, we won’t need safe spaces because we finally know how to resolve conflict without hurting other people. Learning to be a decent person essentially.

After school, kids no longer come home with a latchkey and roam the neighborhood. Instead, they’re locked into organized, supervised activities. Youth sports are a $15 billion business that has grown by 55 percent since just 2010. Children as young as third grade are joining traveling teams—which means their parents spend a lot of time in the car, too. Or they’re at tutoring. Or they’re at music lessons. And if all else fails, they are in their rooms, online.

None of these things are bad, necessarily. What’s not good is when kids are given NO TIME to play and do things unsupervised. This is when and how children learn best. It’s how puppies and kittens, and horses, and wolves, and birds, and gazelles… basically the whole animal kingdom, learns to survive in the lives they have.

This is where we get the argument that, they aren’t wild animals, they’re children. But, the same principle applies. Children learn by play, and if parents aren’t letting them just play and explore, they’re going to have a problem. I have children in the 1st grade sunday school class that I teach who don’t know what to do with legos if it isn’t a kit with some kind of instruction book or someone showing them what to build. I find that absolutely ridiculous. By structuring children’s lives like we do, we are robbing them of creativity and imagination. (May I also point out that these 1st graders aren’t millennials!? They are technically part of the “iGeneration” and thus being raised by millenials and Gen-Xers.)

Even more dishearteningly, adults who believe it’s good for young people to run some errands or play kickball down the street have to think twice about letting them, because busybodies, cops, and social workers are primed to equate “unsupervised” with “neglected and in danger.”

This statement, right here, this statement kills me.

There are people who have been arrested for child endangerment and neglect for letting their 12 year old watch their younger siblings while they made a quick run to the grocery store for ingredients for dinner because the neighbor called the cops once they realized the kids were all alone.

I was discussing this with my aunt, and she said that when they were kids (70s/80s), they didn’t dream of misbehaving because the neighborhood busybody wouldn’t call the cops/CPS, they’d tell your mother/father exactly what you’d been up to and what you were doing wrong and then you would hear about it later – big time.

These days there is no sense of community. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is one that comes to mind. But there is no village anymore, it’s every man for himself. As a kid, I was half-waiting for a knock on the door from CPS because of how often my parents left us home alone. Luckily, that never happened.

As a part of “the fragile generation” can you tell I’m getting upset at this article? And I know that’s a “millennial” thing to do, but I’m trying to put the record straight.

Just because we’re young, it doesn’t mean we’re wrong.

What we’re doing, is looking for our freedom after years of being closed in by parents afraid we’d be kidnapped. (Statistics say that the odds of being kidnapped are very low. Especially if you teach your children what to watch for and not to take candy from strangers and stay away from the bad part of town. But, they can figure it out. Like in the Lion King, Show them what’s their’s and teach them to stay out of the outlands – badlands – whatever they were called.)

Millennials are defining their space, they aren’t demanding new spaces, they are defining the space they have, a space that was never defined for them as children kept in boxes like veal.

Millennials didn’t get a childhood, not the way it was meant to be experienced.

Admitting Our Faults

I’ve never made a secret out of it, except maybe to myself. I have anxiety and depression. I struggle with basic things, like crowds, getting out of bed, and motivating myself to do simple things and things that I love.

There is no shame in admitting that you have mental health issues. But, there is a line. When your mental health becomes an excuse and a crutch, there’s another issue happening there, and you should probably seek professional help in order to overcome that crutch.

Part of the rise in calls [to the counseling center] could be attributed to the fact that admitting mental health issues no longer carries the stigma it once did, an undeniably positive development. But it could also be a sign that failing at basic “adulting” no longer carries the stigma it once did. And that is far more troubling.

We’re probably all familiar with #adulting and the sucesses and failures that come with it. Let me just come out and state my opinion as a millenial and explain this for all of you “non-milennials”.

It’s a good thing that it doesn’t hold as much of a stigma!

Newsflash, old people, your judgement of our inability means nothing if you haven’t taught us how to do these things.

What happens when we take away this stigma and share our failures? People who are better at it than us know where they can help us. It’s like when you’re in high school math and you just aren’t getting it, so you ask for help from the “smarter” kids and get a tutor to help you figure it out. There’s no shame in admitting you can’t do something because if you just go on pretending you can do it, no one will be able to help you do it for real.

Frankly, I don’t want to screw up on my taxes and end up losing money one way or another because I was too afraid to admit that I couldn’t do this basic adult task. I’d rather say I can’t do it and find someone willing to teach me how to do it.

This IS NOT a byproduct of the participation trophy culture.

By the way, I’m pretty sure participation trophies were for the parents more than the kids. No one wants to accept that their child isn’t the next Michael Jordan, or Stephen Hawking because somehow in our brains that means they “failed” as a parent because their child wasn’t an all star champ.

Children can learn to deal with failure. They know they lost. The participation trophy is for the parents who don’t want them to have to deal with failure. Let me tell you, I never improve more than when my ego takes a hit and I get knocked to the ground, I am never more motivated to come up swinging and prove that I am worthy of that trophy.

But, when the parent is so upset by that, the child learns to be upset by it. The issue transfers. Problems like this don’t show up overnight. They are learned somewhere. Millennials, by learning to admit their failure to each other and the whole world, are learning to accept failure and move on like they weren’t really able to do as children. why do you think in YA books parents are either absentee or overbearing in such a way that the main conflict is the child just trying to breathe?

Little Timmy doesn’t want to go to school on a football scholarship and be an NFL player, Timmy’s dad! Timmy wants to dance in the New York Ballet and be the best male ballet dancer the world has ever seen. Quit putting your dreams in his head, Dad!

In free play, ideally with kids of mixed ages, the children decide what to do and how to do it. That’s teamwork, literally. The little kids desperately want to be like the bigger kids, so instead of bawling when they strike out during a sandlot baseball game, they work hard to hold themselves together. This is the foundation of maturity.

The older kids, meanwhile, throw the ball more softly to the younger ones. They’re learning empathy. And if someone yells, “Let’s play on just one leg!”—something they couldn’t do at Little League, with championships (and trophies!) on the line—the kids discover what it means to come up with and try out a different way of doing things. In Silicon Valley terms, they “pivot” and adopt a “new business model.” They also learn that they, not just grown-ups, can collectively remake the rules to suit their needs. That’s called participatory democracy.

Best of all, without adults intervening, the kids have to do all the problem solving for themselves, from deciding what game to play to making sure the teams are roughly equal. Then, when there’s an argument, they have to resolve it themselves. That’s a tough skill to learn, but the drive to continue playing motivates them to work things out. To get back to having fun, they first have to come up with a solution, so they do. This teaches them that they can disagree, hash it out, and—perhaps with some grumbling—move on.

These are the very skills that are suddenly in short supply on college campuses.

These are things that weren’t allowed to us as children, so we’re learning now. We just have to do it in an adult manner.

Experiencing Childhood as an Adult

I’m in the middle of this right now. I’m just now discovering, and I mean really figuring out, that I don’t just like 80s rock and whatever my dad listens to. I’m 21 and I’m  just now discovering Fallout Boy and Ed Sheeran. Everyone else my age liked these people/groups when they were teens. I’m just now discovering that teen angst phase that I was so determined not to go through as a kid because I was beyond that. I mean, i’m not going full on Emo, but I’m learning to like things. i’m learning to figure out what I want to do and be.

In December I had a day where I panicked, and I mean panicked because I realized that I had no idea what it was to actually be passionate about something. I mean, I’d had an obsession with horses when I was a kid, that lasted years. But I didn’t have anything I was passionate about. Even my writing wasn’t a passion. I realized that I’d only been writing this long because people told me to, because it was something they wanted me to do and I felt pressured to do it. I’m just learning, as I write this, to set their pressures and ideas aside and figure out what I want to do.

My aunt has been asking me to write a story for fifth grade boys because she knows someone with an in to a publishing company that wants non-fantasy books for fifth grade boys and that would be me getting paid as a writer. Which is great, except for one thing – it’s not what I want to do. I’m not passionate about it. I love writing, but I don’t want to write that. And with that situation coming up it has never been more apparent to me that I lost my passion for writing. It became a career move and I started to feel lethargic about it. Writing was no longer fun, it was a chore to be completed.

I’m learning now, to have fun with it again. I’m not in school, though school and my time in the Ball State English Department gave me tools to use. I’m just now getting a chance to play with the tools and learn how to love writing again.

I’m learning that I love the outdoors when I’ve been such an indoor type person my entire life, because that’s what people thought I was. People assued because I liked books I didn’t like being outside very much. Because I didn’t have other kids asking me to come play, I didn’t go outside so I must not like it. I must be telling them all no, there’s no way I would choose to stay inside if I liked going outside. Now, I work in a garden center and I like to take the dog to the county/state parks when I can because I want to be outside. I want to breath the air and be a real person.

I’m not going to lie, I feel like Ive been robbed. I didn’t get to have a childhood the way a lot of other people seemed to.

I always thought I wasn’t susceptible to peer pressure, but I was wrong. I was just susceptible to pressure from adults to become an adult too fast. I don’t think they realized what they were doing. I think they just made assumptions and acted on them and I was too submissive to rebel against those assumptions like other people my age and discover what I actually liked for myself.

I’m doing it now. I’m more mature in some areas, I know what I like. My faith is something I won’t rebel against, but music, clothes, books, art, hobbies, the outdoors, and even movies/TV. I’m learning to rebel in these things against the normal things that everyone has always assumed I liked. I’m learning to like what I like. I’m learning to be passionate about my own things. I’m experiencing what I should have experienced in childhood, now in my early 20s.

When parents curtail their kids’ independence, they’re not just depriving the younglings of childhood fun. They are denying themselves the grown-up joy of seeing their kids do something smart, brave, or kind without parental guidance.

When we don’t let our kids do anything on their own, we don’t get to see just how competent they can be—and isn’t that, ultimately, the greatest reward of parenting? We need to make it easier for grown-ups to let go while living in a society that keeps warning them not to. And we need to make sure they won’t get arrested for it.

When children are denied the ability to test themselves, parent’s are denied the opportunity to be proud of them. And let me tell you, now that I’m experiencing these things now, there’s no one to be proud of me for it. And I mean really proud because the things I’m learning how to do on my own and learning to enjoy are things I should already know at this age. Just learning to go to the store alone without freaking out.

Sometimes I’m still nervous about making a run to the store for lactose-free milk or shampoo, or some other thing I try to pay for on my own when I get out of work after 9 or 10 at night. When I was 8, that would have been something for my parents to be proud of, not only am I paying for something I need on my own, I’m going to the store by myself. I’m being independant. Now that I’m 21 it should just be something that happens without me thinking about it. But I have to sit in the car for 10 min before convincing myself that I really do need my soap and non-deadly milk and that I have to go in and buy them. And don’t get me started about taking to a cashier vs. going through self-checkout.

There is no reason for anyone to be proud of a 21 year old doing something this simple.

The Point

This article that I’m responding to states: “We want them to be insulted by the assumption that they and their classmates are so easily hurt that arguments must stop before they start.”

Well, they got what they wanted, because I am insulted by that assumption.

More than that, I’m insulted that they think we aren’t already insulted. Millenials are here. Millenials are adults. Millenials are making up for what we missed in childhood, right now. And we’re pissed that that’s what we have to do. We’re pissed that you assumed this about us in the first place!

We’re angry that you assumed we weren’t trying to fix ourselves.

We’re angry that you started this and now you don’t like the way we have to fix ourselves.

Adults learn a little different than kids. As a result, we fix ourselves differently than kids. And you may not like it, but we’re doing it.

I’ve got news people.




And we WILL NOT be silenced just because you don’t think we’re “real adults.”

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