The Millennials may be the most studied generation in American history.
Their size – which exceeds that of Generation X and rivals that of the Baby Boom Generation – coupled with their distinctive characteristics are fodder for a sociological analyst’s dream. Why do they appear to be so different from previous generations in the classroom, at work and in society, in general? Indeed, cultural shockwaves have been felt in the workplace since the Millennials’ entrance a decade ago.
To be sure, some of the same things have been said of every succeeding generation. After all, all one needs to do is look at the images of the late 1960s and early 1970s – the coming of age era for so many Baby Boomers – to feel the cultural stir that permeated society.
But many experts say that the changes within the Millennial Generation are deeper and more ingrained than those from previous generations. Some say that members of this generation approach their careers in a different way than in the past. For example, paying your dues at an organization for a significant amount of time — a path doggedly taken by most Baby Boomers and their parents — is no longer viewed in the same light. Millennials tend to want to make a significant, sometimes dramatic impact, right away.
Similarly, this generation sees the world in more horizontal terms than in hierarchical terms. Ironically, Millennials appear to be less confrontational toward authority figures than their parents were at their age…perhaps because of their closer relationship with their own parents than Baby Boomers had. But that relationship also has been controversial as educators frequently bemoan a less independent student body. This style of “helicopter parenting” owes some of its genesis to the technological boom with the creation of cell phones, iPhones and other new communication vehicles.
Interestingly, phone conversations for college students have decreased over the years, according to Ro Conforti, associate professor of media studies at Southern. She tells the story of how one of her students used to complain…not that her mother called her frequently on the phone…but that her mother did not know how to text her.
Texting is considered the communication vehicle of choice. It’s faster and less intrusive than calling someone, or even emailing. And while Conforti says the new technology, including social media, allows friends and family members to stay in touch more easily, she adds that it comes with a price tag.
“I see many young people having a lot of trouble articulating their feelings or thoughts,” Conforti says. “Texting and tweeting don’t allow a person to express themselves fully. And it goes even further in some cases. Growing up, I remember looking forward to when the phone rang. We’re finding that many younger adults today actually perceive phone calls as an interruption in their lives.”
The use of high tech communication devices is bound to continue among those in the post-Millennial Generation, those born around 1996 and later and sometimes referred to as Generation Edge or Generation Z. But the early trends are beginning to show some behavioral changes, according to some experts. The prevalence of “helicopter parenting” may be waning as the children of Generation X are growing up. While a single breadwinner was common place during the childhoods of Baby Boomers, the “latch key kids” era was a trend among GenXers. In other words, they grew up in a family environment that required them to learn self-reliance at an earlier age with both parents working. It’s not surprising, then, if the kids of GenXers are being raised to be more independent.
But since the oldest GenEdgers are just now approaching college-age, the jury is still out in terms of how they will differ from Millennials, as well as previous generations.
The trends among Millennials and GenEdgers will be discussed in depth during a Nov. 18 forum at Southern called, “Ready or Not, Connecticut, the Millennial Generation is Here!…And the GenEdgers Aren’t Far Behind.” The program will explore topics such as how these two generations differ from past generations; Millennials in the workplace ; how modern technology may be affecting the interpersonal communication skills of younger folks and how to bridge the generation gaps. For further information about the forum, go to: http://www.southernct.edu/millennialforum.html