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Stop Blaming the Next Generation For Your Problems

Right now, Millennials and Baby Boomers make up the biggest age-based demographics in America. Image adapted from The Wall Street Journal.

There’s this interesting cycle that we humans have created called generation blaming. It goes a little something like this: 

  1. Kyle is born in the [b] time period.
  2. As a child, Kyle is told to respect his elders, who come from the [a] time period.
  3. Unfortunately, in turn, the [a] period does not respect Kyle. Why? Because Kyle and the [b]ers are from a new generation, meaning that the world has changed and they too have changed with it. 

The cycle repeats itself until it’s blue in the face. If you don’t believe me, check out this article by Quartzy. It details a 2,500-year history of the old hating on the young. In fact, it probably started with cavemen themselves, and may have gone a little something like this: 

  1. Marv, from Gen [1], discovers that he can catch fish by spearing them.
  2. A decade or so later Marv’s kid realizes: Hey, we can string up nets for this and catch even more!
  3. Gen [1] disdainfully watches as Gen [2] perpetuates the new method. They refuse to use nets, complaining loudly, “Kids these days don’t know the value of hard work.” All of this is communicated in guttural caveman grunting, of course. 

Joking aside, I see that phrase used very liberally across social media and sometimes straight from the mouths of Boomers. “Kids these days don’t know the value of hard work.” It’s blunt, accusatory. It’s often paired with, “Your generation is too soft,” or laden with the trademarked term “Snowflake.” 

Yes, I am a “Snowflake.” A Millennial. A young person. Whatever you want to call me. And like my friend Kyle, I’m wondering: If my elders don’t respect me, why should I respect them? 


Chronic Fear of Change Syndrome (or CFCS)

Despite our best efforts, humans routinely struggle against any type of change in our lives. People from my generation like to label older folk as “stuck in their ways,” but we do it too. Let’s face it, change is scary. Whether it’s small change like a switch in grocery stores or big change like a job transfer. 

The issue isn’t that we’re scared of change; it’s that we resist it when it happens. This creates a problem over time when a group of people living in the modern world are resisting that modern-ness. 

Chronic Fear of Change Syndrome is most often the root of generational blaming. It is best defined by someone who lashes out against change through mean words or stubborn actions. For example, a person who grew up without a computer may be put-off by the rapid evolution of technology. Instead of reacting curiously, they shun cell phones and the people who rely on them. 

This “fear of change” is not so much fear, but a lack of understanding. And older people who don’t care to understand why things are different can become frustrated or even outright hateful to younger generations who exercise those differences. 

Credit: Quora.

Young People Do It, Too

There’s no hiding the fact that Millennials aren’t the biggest fans of Boomers, either. As a whole, we resent being judged for growing up in a different era. We don’t think we deserve to be called snowflakes for not being spanked as a child, or having resources like the internet and video games. But we are just as guilty as Boomers of assigning blame. 

Boomers single-handedly invented economic despair, environmental deterioration, and simple stupidity… this line of thought seems to be the general consensus among us Millennials. I’ll be the first to admit it — I’ve hated on a Boomer or two in my time. And no, this article is not meant to ostracize them. I actually banked on the fact that their attention span would keep them reading to this point, as opposed to the 8-second attention span of my younger comrades. 

A piece by Linda Bernstein describes “What To Say When Young People Blame Everything On The Boomers”. She brings up several good points, including the fact that Boomers tend to be the ones who house Millennials until they’re ready to fly the coop — which is statistically much later than previous generations

Millennials are also not the only ones who suffer from crippling college debt. Many Boomer parents struggle to support their kids through school, and even remortgage houses or draw from retirement funds to meet the rising tuition rates. 

Writer and Gen Xer Jonah Goldberg ties generational blaming in with off-hand stereotyping and misinformed generalizations. He argues, “characteristics can be generalized, but character is formed by individual deeds,” and concludes, “If it’s wrong to demonize Millennials, it’s probably wrong to demonize the Boomers, too.”


Key Values of Boomers and Millennials

It makes sense that different generations have different priorities. Generational blaming comes about, in part, when we can’t see where someone else is coming from. Let’s take a look at some main Boomer traits vs. Millennial traits. 

Boomers grew up in the post-WWII and Vietnam era, a very turbulent time in our history. This taught them to be:

  • Goal-oriented with a strong work ethic. They needed to work harder so they could have better lives than the generations before them.
  • Resourceful. Many of their parents or grandparents lived through the Depression, and the grit it took to survive that was understood by Boomers.
  • Disciplined. Boomers were often raised in strict households, and value the discipline this taught them.

On the other end of the spectrum, Millennials came up in the Gulf War era, separated from direct conflict and focused on how to get ahead in an e-America. This taught us to be: 

  • Tech-savvy and connected. Millennials view technology as a tool to use in both our personal and professional lives. 
  • Progressive. Growing up in a more diverse time – with better opportunities for women and people of color – means that Millennials are driven to continue breaking down barriers for minorities and underprivileged people. 
  • Curious. We didn’t have the same hardships that Boomers and their parents did. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have any at all, but we are prone to questioning traditions rather than following them. 

Folks from each generation have their good and bad traits; we’re products of different conflicts, different types of government, and different cultural norms. This difference isn’t really a positive or negative thing, and shouldn’t be viewed as such. 


Generational Blaming in the Military

The military is not immune to generational blaming. Actually, it seems like military service just inflames the already-popular practice of Boomer bashing and Millennial maiming. 

Young civilians will gripe and complain about how elected officials are all much older than them, and how they can’t possibly understand the problems facing young Americans. But within the hierarchical military, young and old service members must work much more closely together; each one’s actions directly affect the life and career of the other. 

Today, senior leadership positions are heavily stocked with Boomers, and Millennials make up the majority of lower-ranking officers and enlisted personnel. This creates a game of tug-of-war between the two forces — the younger generation wants forward progress, and the older generation doesn’t want to leave behind traditional military values. 

Gen Xer and former pilot Jeannette Haynie writes about the generational gap in the military here

“When flying with older pilots, both as a student and later as an instructor, I consistently heard, “Well, I’ve never flown with a woman before.” It happened so often that we would joke about it in the squadron, and I came up with a set of one-liner responses (“Huh, is that right, sir?” gets old). But I never heard it from those my age or younger. Not once,” remarked Haynie. 

While not necessarily a bad experience, Haynie’s story illustrates the difference between her younger peers and older ones. Today, it’s much more common to see women pilots, and they’ve been flying in combat for nearly 30 years. But there are still challenges for women in the military, and other challenges that Millennial service members would like to address as well. 

Conversely, Boomers don’t want to see the military’s infamous work ethic and discipline be lost on new generations. As the way we train recruits changes, they refuse to forget that we are still training them for the same thing: war. And war requires a certain mentality and set of skills that leaves no room for softness. 

Haynie gives some very good advice when she says: “None of us are unbiased. I am a product of my experiences, as is every one of us, and those experiences are valid and deserve respect. A decade, two decades from now, this military will be led by midgrade and junior officers and enlisted members, and we need to do the best we can to set them up for success in every form.”

Credit: MEME.

Stopping the Cycle of Generational Blaming

Here’s a quote from Time in 2001, about young people: 

“They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.”

The author is seeking to paint these generational differences in a bad light, but they’re really just differences, born from a natural progression of time. 

“They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder.” To me, this reads: “They are questioning why the general public places value on constant work over taking any time for yourself.” Work ethic is important, yes — but not everyone is meant for a traditional 9 to 5, and it’s fair to expect some people to break that mold. 

If we don’t take the time to understand each other, or at least try, then the cycle of petty jabs, ageism, and generational divide will only continue to poison our society. I’m imploring you to be the bigger person. Step up and ask yourself: Am I really going to shame an entire generation? We can debate all day on who was raised with better values, but in the end we are like a dog chasing its own tail and never quite realizing why. 


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