Criticism of millennials holds true

Credit: Xiyu Wang/ Credit: Xiyu Wang/
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Older generations seem to always complain about younger ones, and the present older generation bears no exception.

It is not uncommon to find editorials or articles criticizing the millennial generation — those born from the late 1980s to around 2000. A 2008 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, which refers to millennials as “trophy kids,” reports that many older managers view the millennial generation as more entitled and high-maintenance than previous generations. An article published last May in Time magazine focuses on the narcissism of the “me me me generation.” There is an overall notion that millennials are more self-absorbed and entitled than those who came before them.

This criticism, while harsh, is almost certainly true.

Although it varies from case to case, it seems like the number of self-absorbed people has never been greater. Everybody wants others to read their daily Facebook statuses, Tumblr posts, and Twitter feeds. Some people need to take photos of themselves and their dog twice a day. Instant gratification, unwarranted self-importance, and first-world problems are abound.

This criticism is not just some anecdote-based gut feeling either. According to a study published in the American Psychological Association that analyzed values of people ranging from 18–40 years old, the millennials view money, fame, and image as more important than self-acceptance, affiliation, and community; they also have less concern for others and lower civic engagement than previous generations.

Given the way millennials were raised — myself included — it is unsurprising that we turned out the way we did. For over a decade, we were told to expect more, want more, and feel better about ourselves.

Millennials were born in a time when it was good to be an American. The nation was strong and flourishing. We watched the Soviet Union fracture and fall while the United States became the strongest, freest, and most developed nation in the world. The American dream was more than a dream; it was taken for granted that, by the age of 30, a hardworking individual could have a stable job, a suburban home, and two or three kids.

This feel-good era was rife with feel-good values. Much fuss has been made about the “every child gets a trophy” mentality in school activities, but it is really only part of the larger self-esteem movement. A plethora of Disney movies told millennials to never settle for anything less than our hearts’ desires. Books and television shows told us to celebrate individuality. Schools were plastered with motivational posters that told us to dream big, disregard the naysayers, and never conform.

Each generation’s values are directly influenced by the society they grew up in — and with the advent of smartphones and social media to serve as enablers of self-promotion, it may very well be that the values of this generation are here to stay. However, with the nation still mired in war, recession, and political conflict, it is impossible to tell exactly what the next generation will be like. But the values of the millennial generation may constitute a new normal, and in time, people may have to reconsider what it means to be “self-absorbed.”