BY ETHAN KOMPF
“Millennials are entitled and lazy. They want a trophy for showing up.” This is an example of a few stereotypes surrounding the generation born between 1980 and 2000. Obviously these stereotypes vastly over simplify a generation made up of thousands of individuals. It’s appealing to think that this generational divide is something new and that millennials are getting the raw end of the deal, but different generations have always disagreed with each other to some extent and each has faced its own challenges. Often articles will point to one root problem which, if fixed, would solve everything. Again, this grossly over simplifies things and weakens the argument. This article cannot hope to cover every issue that millennials face, but it does attempt to look at a few of the problems facing the generation.
Cost of education
The cost of post-secondary education continues to rise in North America. In Canada, it is expected that tuition and other compulsory fees will have tripled from 1990 to 2017. According to The Canadian Federation of Students, the average post-secondary debt load after studies is $28,000. This may be one of the reasons why Statistics Canada found that in 2011, 42.3 per cent of young adults (aged 20-29) are living with their parents, compared to 32.1 per cent in 1991 and only 26.9 per cent in 1981.
In the current job climate, a post-secondary degree is the equivalent to what a high school diploma was 30 years ago. This has led to a generation of people who are over-educated and under-employed. A TD economics report by Francis Fong found that the economic recovery has been almost non-existent for younger Canadians, who accounted for more than half of all net job losses during the recession. The youth unemployment rate is 14.7 per cent, but this doesn’t take into account those who have given up on looking for a job.
“Countless youth have become discouraged by both the lack of opportunity and the difficulty of getting their foot in the door,” said Fong in his report. “Many have simply stopped trying and have left the labour market.”
This phenomenon affects parents as well, who often have to delay retirement or take out a second mortgage to support their adult children. This then leads to fewer available jobs, continuing the trend.
Henry Giroux, a scholar and author of the book Disposable Youth, argues that this is deliberate and calls it the “soft war” on youth. According to Giroux, in the United States it would cost $62 billion a year to provide free education. The defence budget is almost one trillion dollars a year. The money is there, it’s just a matter of where it’s being spent.
“Student debt … is a way of putting students into a form of indentured serftitude,” said Giroux to CBC Ideas host Paul Kennedy. “It (forces) them into a survivalist mode that may be almost impossible for them to get out of as they actually go into the adult world … Many of them will only be able to think about what the hell they have to do to pay back this debt and not be able to think about politics, think about justice, social problems. This debt is a way of enslaving young people.”
This can be seen in Canada with past voter turnout rates. Elections Canada reported that in the 2011 federal election, only 38.8 per cent of eligible voters aged 18-24 voted, which was not much of a change since 2004.
Many people would argue that having a post-secondary degree or diploma leads to higher-paying careers, allowing students to pay off their debt, but with low job prospects, this is often not the case.
Decline of play
Another problem which has impacted millennials is the slow death of play, which has been proven to be extremely important at all ages, but especially for children.
“Over the last 50-60 years … there has been a continuous erosion in children’s opportunity to play freely,” said Dr. Peter Gray, a play researcher, in a TED talk. He is talking about unsupervised, unorganized play. Gray argued that in the 1950s there was little or no homework, school was shorter and recesses were longer and less supervised. Now play is usually structured and is overseen by adults. This lengthening of school days has had an impact of children of all ages, even those who are very young. Half or every other days for kindergarten students have been changed to full days every day in many school boards.
“It’s a lot harder for (kindergarten students) at the beginning of the school year,” said Jessica Mavin, a kindergarten teacher at Northlake Woods Public School in Waterloo. “It’s hard for them, they’re long days, they’re tired … but by this point in the school year they’ve adapted. I do notice with the very young ones that are three … you’re seeing them fall asleep … because they’re still adjusting to not having a nap.”
Although children are adaptable, it raises the question of why they should need to adapt at such a young age.
These shifts have been attributed to a number of things. There is a view in our culture that children learn better from adults than other children and childhood has gone from a time of freedom to a time of resume building. There has also been a spread of irrational fear about the safety of leaving children alone. This is the rise of helicopter parenting, which studies have found to be extremely detrimental to children once they have grown up.
“Preschool kids … should be allowed to dive, hit, whistle, scream, be chaotic and develop, through that, emotional regulation and a lot of the other social byproducts … that come as a result of rough and tumble play,” said Dr. Stuart Brown, another play researcher, in his own TED talk. Unfortunately, play has become more and more sterilized, in order to be made “safe,” robbing people of those extremely important social benefits.
Technology is also being used more in schools. It can be extremely helpful, especially for kids who have learning disabilities or those who have trouble reading, but it needs to be used properly. Teachers can learn how to use technology effectively, but at this point there is not mandatory training, meaning results can vary wildly.
“(Technology) makes it a lot more fun to learn for the kids,” said Kristin Fry, a Grade 3 French immersion teacher at St. Basil’s School in Owen Sound. “The iPads have been a little more mixed, they’re a lot more work for the teachers … to keep the kids on track and make sure they’re using appropriate apps.”
“I know there’s always conversations about the intermediate students and the junior students bringing these devices to school,” said Mavin. “(There’s conversations) about when it’s appropriate to use them, or that (students) want to use the school’s devices at break time … and trying to curb that.”
Research has linked helicopter parenting to a large number of negative side-effects. Increased narcissism, less empathy, increased rates of depression, lower levels of resilience and feelings of having less control over one’s life are only a few.
Delaying of adulthood
“Thirty is the new 20” is a popular saying currently, but this could not be further from the truth. In her book, the Defining Decade, why your twenties matter – and how to make the most of them now, clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay offers compelling arguments for why 30 is not the new 20, citing decreased financial security, fewer job prospects and more relationship difficulties for people who wait longer to “get on with their lives.”
This limbo between dependent and independent could be for a number of reasons. There is no longer a clearly defined road map to adulthood. Social media and the rise of FOMO (fear of missing out) have led to an idealistic and unachievable idea of what people should be doing while they’re young and before they have responsibility. Ideas of travelling and living a party lifestyle are made impossible for many due to high debt and spending time in limbo makes people less employable. Advertising mixed with technology and social media has lead young people to believe that their only obligation is to consume and shop. Participation trophies and parents telling their children that they are “special snowflakes” has lead young people to believe that they can do anything, but the idea of anything being possible is unrealistic and the idea of infinite possibilities makes choosing one overwhelming. Millennials are not unaware of the issues facing them, which has led to an increasingly cynical generation. All of these factors have made adulthood appear scary and undesirable instead of exciting.
Millennials are a product of the world they were raised in, just as it was the same for other generations. It’s not impossible or too late to fix these problems, but before they can be addressed they must be recognized.