in defence of millennials

This morning on Twitter the hashtag #HowToConfuseAMillennial is trending and of course it is filled with the usual stereotypes of millennials being ignorant, spoiled, precious snowflakes who expect the world handed to them on a silver platter. It makes me so angry.

I am only a few years off from being a millennial myself. Because I went back to university after working for a while, I identify much more with millennials than whatever my generation is. I’m in the same life stage as some millennials: trying to transition out of university life and into the working world, struggling still to find permanent employment in an economy that really sucks (through no fault of our own, I might add), and pay off the heavy student loans we acquired because, unlike earlier generations, a single university degree rarely seems to be enough to find employment and working unpaid internships has become de rigeur. 

I went to university with millennials and many of my close friends are millennials. They are establishing lives of their own as contributing members of society. They are raising children and trying to make their way in an economy that is not friendly to all (do the people writing the think pieces appreciate how much childcare costs these days?). We follow several generations that had unprecedented economic and education benefits. We can’t expect to get jobs without post-secondary education, so not attending college or university isn’t an option. Our predecessors could work the summer and pay their year’s university tuition; they defaulted on their student loans to the point that now, the only way to “get out of” OSAP (government) debt is death. Seriously. OSAP loans are immune to bankruptcy because an earlier generation of post-secondary students didn’t want to pay their thousand dollar debt. Now, we are graduating with $20k debt into no jobs, insecure part time jobs, or unpaid internships. We are criticized for living with family and not buying our own homes, but how can you buy a house when you can’t make a living wage? We didn’t create this economy; the people complaining about us not working did.

I have spent the past nine years teaching millennials in the university classroom and they are a diverse and fantastic bunch. I love my students. I love their energy and passion and their desire to learn. They are contributing to their society through their jobs and volunteer work. They are dealing with unprecedented anxiety levels and pressure to do well so they can get a job somewhere, somehow when they are done their degrees. They are struggling with financial and academic pressures in a social, political, and economic climate very different to that of the preceding generation. 

The millennial generation is as varied as any other. Are there millennials that fit the entitled stereotype? Sure, but there are entitled people in EVERY generation. They’re not unique to the millennial one. And before blaming them for being self-important, special little snowflakes, let’s take a minute to ask WHY they might be that way. Who raised them? Who gave them participation trophies and minimized competition so no one’s feelings got hurt? Who passed their school assignments so they wouldn’t feel the sting of failure or be left behind their friends? It wasn’t the millennials. It was the people now complaining about the millennials.

So if you want to confuse a millennial, here’s how: Tell them they need a university degree, but saddle them with debt. Shame them for living with their families, but price them out of the housing market. Criticize them for not working hard enough while you retire to sunny climes. Tell them they’re lazy for not working, but run the economy into the ground so there aren’t enough secure jobs to go around.  Tell them they need to be saving for retirement by the time they’re thirty, but don’t pay them a living wage. Sneer at them for being entitled after you’ve spent their lives telling them they are.

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Artist, writer, creator, teacher, researcher Twitter & Instagram @InnesAlison

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