Fact, fiction … or scapegoats? Negative stereotypes of millennials don’t fit

By Aaron Miller

Recently, I was drinking coffee in one of our fine local establishments where one of the patrons was holding forth on the problems with the younger generation. The caffeine-fueled sociologist went on a diatribe about all of the failings of millennials.

His conclusion was that the youth of America want everything handed to them without working for it. The expert alleged that the supposed problems with the younger generation are the result of millennials playing sports where everyone earned a trophy for participation.

As someone who works with young people every day, this is an argument I have heard before. It is also an argument I don’t buy for a second.

Although my evidence may be anecdotal, many of the students in my classes are working hard to make their dreams come true. They expect nothing to be handed to them. Many of these young people are working unpleasant or menial jobs in addition to taking classes. They also might be taking care of a family. Students in high school or college might be trying to break a cycle of poverty or ignorance that has lasted for generations. That is not easy to do. Some of my millennial students have very little support for their quests.

When I talk to students about their goals and aspirations, money is usually not their primary focus. Instead, they want a job and they usually want to make the world a better place. Remember that millennials are protecting our country as they serve in the military. Other millennials are dedicating their lives to keeping our communities safe as police or firefighters.

I am sure that since the start of the human race, older generations have complained about younger people. Cave dwellers probably did not like seeing the younger generation giving up the cave life in favor of planting crops on a farm.

To me, the whole concept of a generation is artificial. To say that a person has a certain personality or character due to the year of their birth is a narrow way to define an individual.

There are many other factors that determine who we are. People have attributes and tastes from many different times. For example, I prefer the black and white movies of the 1940s and 1950s and music from the 1970s over the culture of the present.

I find that many young people have not rejected the past. They are interested in history. I see millennials embracing old traditions and keeping bygone technology alive. Ironically, the internet has made preserving the past easier.

It is a tough world that we hand to the next generation. We live in a dangerous and violent time. The economy is growing slowly. Health care and college used to be cheaper. Jobs used to come with pensions. The planet has fewer resources and faces numerous environmental crises.

Of course, this is also an era of unusual political disharmony. These are just some of the challenges facing millennials. Passing along tired stereotypes about young people won’t help.

Aaron Miller is one of The Republic’s community columnists and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He has a doctorate in history and is an associate professor of history at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus. Send comments to editorial@therepublic.com.