Talkin' 'Bout Their Generation
by Bruce Beans
You might be a Baby Boomer if you:
- Had a black-and-white TV growing up
- Remember where you were when John F. Kennedy was killed
- Watched the first moon landing on television
- Ever used a library card catalogue
- Waited in gas lines during the OPEC oil embargo
- Watched the last episode of M*A*S*H
- Had an LP collection
You might be a Millennial if you:
- Prefer using Instant Messenger and text messaging to e-mail
- Used a computer before the age of 10
- Had a cell phone before you were 20
- Have played at least 500 hours of Nintendo or other electronic games
- Have created a podcast
- Store most of your music on an iPod
- Have an average job stay of 1.8 years
BORN BETWEEN 1983 and 2000, Generation Y, the so-called Millennial generation, is slightly larger than even the massive post-World War II Baby Boomer generation. And even their closest generational cousins, Gen Xers, born between 1964 and 1982, are often as puzzled by them as the Baby Boomers.
“If you don’t think generational differences cause problems, they do,” says Margaret Regan, president and CEO of the Future Work Institute, a New York–based human resources consulting firm that helps companies create flexible and inclusive work environments. Regan, a 15-year veteran of Towers Perrin, a global professional services firm, stresses the importance of preparing for the future by gaining a better understanding of generational differences.
Earlier this year, during a visit to Susquehanna University, she detailed for the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff the brave new world this unique generation of students is bringing to Susquehanna and campuses worldwide. Regan explored such seminal questions as how do you recruit, retain and educate Millennials? And how do you keep them engaged with the university once they graduate? The sessions amounted to a crash course on Millennials and the reasons why Baby Boomers just don’t get this generation of students.
Regan says one of the greatest sources of misunderstanding between the generations is that Millennials are so much more comfortable with technology and use it more readily. The younger generation treats personal computers and the Internet not as modern-age miracles but as an integral part of their DNA. This reliance on technology has helped foster the extremely close relationships that Millennials have with their parents, dubbed “helicopter parents” by many higher education administrators.
“The Boomers tended to rebel against their parents in adolescence, and they think that’s a natural part of growing up,” Regan says. “What’s startling to Boomers is that Millennials still want their parents to be involved in their lives in college and after college.” In fact, almost 80 percent of the world’s teenagers today trust their parents more than anyone else. Many maintain daily phone contact with their parents, providing running commentary on the day’s events as they move from one classroom to the next. After graduation, they often expect to move back home, retreating to the nest where they can pick up with their parents where they left off.
This continued dependence on parents is not just a U.S. phenomenon. It is occurring in China, Japan and Australia, giving rise in Asia to what Regan calls “Little Emperors” — often single children who have become the treasured embodiments of their parents’ hopes and dreams.
These attitudes tend to create certain challenges for colleges and universities. “Most colleges and universities see themselves as a place where students move from adolescence to adulthood,” Regan says. “How do you do that if your ties to your parents are still strong?” Twenty years ago it would have been unthinkable for a parent to call a university and complain on the student’s behalf about not getting into a desired course, about the advising the son or daughter is receiving, or about a disciplinary situation or roommate problem. Today it is a common occurrence.