There seems to be a conundrum among critics when it comes to Millennials.
On the one hand, they’re a bunch of narcissistic, self-assured, entitled tech gurus and simultaneously are fragile, coddled, easily offended, free-speech killing snowflakes.
In other words, nobody seems to know exactly what box to fit the generation whose biggest crime is not being like their predecessors.
Anyone under the age of 35 is not only the go-to punching bag but also a social experiment.
As the first generation to grow up on social media in the new millennium – and being raised in a post 9/11 climate – critics and theorists flock to their research and statistics to decipher and nit-pick this generation of double tappers and Snapchatters as they explore everything that makes them awful.
They’re impatient and lazy, overly sensitive and depressed.
But they’re also way too confident in their abilities and are continuously looking at ways to promote themselves in hope of standing out from their competition.
Technology is killing them as they continue to seek validation in heart-shaped buttons.
But at the same time, employers – who are likely to be Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers, the same people who see this age group as problematic – expect you to be tech savvy because of the year you are born in – if you don’t know how to make snappy six second videos, are you even a Millennial?
[pullquote align=”right”]For these sensitive, coddled souls, it’s less ‘stiff upper lip’ and more ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’[/pullquote]Our addiction to technology and the need for immediate gratification has led to an ‘I want it all and I want it now’ culture.
A culture where waiting three to five business days is absurd and 30 seconds of advertising is 30 seconds too long.
An addiction that has been compared to that of drugs and alcohol as we rely on our mobile phones to get through the day.
Add same-day delivery and entertainment on demand to the mix and you have a cohort that is out of control and defined by touch screens and ‘Netflix and chill’.
Other generations, of course, avoid the internet like the plague and do not benefit from it at all. Not even a little.
But these technologies also provide ammunition to critics.
Previous generations did not have the luxury of multiple platforms that helped communicate not only the materialistic side of life, but also fears and anxieties.
It has given a voice to a generation that can express their concerns, but it also leads to critics referring to Millennials as a bunch of whiny cry-babies who take offence to anything that doesn’t align to their views of the world.
And these critics have decided to give them a name that sums up young people today: Generation snowflake.
The general argument is that due to the thin skin of Millennials, our elders have to walk on egg shells, in fear of upsetting young adults for voicing an opinion that is unpopular and controversial.
For these sensitive, coddled souls, it’s less ‘stiff upper lip’ and more ‘wear your heart on your sleeve,’ something which other generations seem uncomfortable with.
These critics tend to come out of the woodwork when it comes to issues relating to safe spaces, trigger warnings and the banning of controversial speakers from universities, which they view as an attack on free speech.
Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas and author of I Find That Offensive, told Artefact that the youth of today have a narrow, conservative view of the world with the demand to limit exposure to what people can stand and accept.
“There is nothing rebellious about arguing that you should not be exposed to certain ideas because you find them offensive,” she says, “being rebellious is the demand to know more, not less. It just paralyses us from having intelligent discussions and exchange of views, which is unhelpful.”
Besides, what do those techies know about social justice?
But there is a rebellion among Millennials.
A rebellion that can start with 140 characters and become a movement in its own right.
They go out and protest for free education for all, participate in their hundreds and thousands in the Women’s March and vocally support movements like Black Lives Matter.
The issue does not lie in them but rather in the people who choose to ignore the voices of this generation and brush it off as irrelevant.
God forbid there is a generation that wants more for their peers and future.
They don’t want to live in the ideas of the past because of how damaging and outdated they can be.
However, that is not to say that the Millennial way is the right way of thinking – the generations after us will find faults in us too – but it is to say that the Baby Boomer way is not the only way of thinking.
Furthermore, when you come from a background of privilege, it’s easy to question and not understand why some things are more offensive than others to some.
Who are you to dictate what someone should and should not be vocally offended by?
Who are you to tell them to brush off homophobic and racial slurs?
Young adults of today see these as old ways of thinking that don’t make sense today.
Naturally, someone somewhere will not always agree with your perspective on the world – and it’s not like this is the first generation of young people to disagree with their elders.
Besides, if anyone seems offended, it’s the same generation that cannot fathom why Millennials can’t be just like them. [pullquote align=”right”]Anyone under the age of 30 is not only the go-to punching bag but also a social experiment[/pullquote]
Take, for example, Tom Utley’s article for the Daily Mail, in which he says that generation snowflake is “so easily upset by events like Hillary Clinton’s defeat,” which was accompanied by a picture of two young women crying.
The irony here is that young people take a lot of flak for being disinterested in politics and yet, here we have them engaging and it becomes a crime against humanity.
You’re damned if you don’t care and you’re damned if you care too much.
At least these precious snowflakes are standing for something.
We have a generation that is growing up in an uncertain climate and will continue to do so for the next few years.
Yet despite the uncertainty, they are not idly watching their future go up in flames.
Jeffrey Arnett, a professor of psychology at Clark University and the author of Emerging Adulthood describes Millennials as “optimistic and idealistic,” telling Artefact that they are “striving to make a good life for themselves and contribute to the world, despite all the nasty stereotypes applied to them.”
Yes, they may use hashtags and 140 characters along the way, but these are the tools of their generation and they would be foolish to not use them.
Arnett, who has written extensively about young adults says that qualities associated with this generation such as narcissism should “be seen as psychological resources during a life stage that is often difficult”.
He argues that if there was the case of narcissism rising, then impulsive behaviour would be on the increase too but he says that this is in fact “diminishing across multiple indicators.”
And these critics are not so innocent themselves.
Take President Donald Trump who, by being born in 1946, is a Baby Boomer.
The man can dish out offensive remarks but cannot take them and if the ‘generation snowflake’ label is anything to go by, Trump was born in the wrong era.
He has tweeted about theatres needing to be ‘safe’ spaces and often uses Twitter to communicate his thoughts.
You don’t see the same critics labelling one of their own as a ‘special snowflake’.
The suggestion is that as a result of the parental failures of the same people that love to criticise Millennials, it created a weak generation.
Children were socialised to fear every stranger, that they should get awards for just turning up and suddenly children had the audacity to be seen as special.
This ‘trophy generation,’ as it is sometimes referred to, continues to seek that validation in adulthood.
One critic went so far as to describe this cohort as “as needy, especially at work (when they’re not complaining about unemployment that is)”.
Funny that they acknowledge some of the issues faced by this generation but choose to mock the state of their future.
Fox believes that her generation is responsible for creating ‘generation snowflake,’ saying that they have “stopped them from learning how to stand on their own two feet and feel exposed and out of control. They don’t really know how to behave as mature agents of their own destiny. We’ve done people a real disservice.”
The blame lies in what psychologists refer to as ‘helicopter parents’, who have infantilised this generation.
Ralph Ryback for Psychology Today says that Millennials were raised by parents who were not authoritative and that they grew up making the rules as opposed to their parents.
Essentially, these helicopter parents raised their children to become entitled pricks.
However, Arnett disagrees with the claim that today’s young adults are “selfish as a consequence of overindulging parenting and consequently pose a danger to society,” adding that he believes that it’s less ‘generation me’ and more ‘generation we’, a generation that “holds great promise for improving the world”.
It’s one thing to be offended, for example, but another to turn away and say ‘I’m not going to listen to you because I’m modern and young and you’re old and outdated.’
[pullquote align=”right”]“Being rebellious is the demand to know more, not less”
Claire Fox[/pullquote]The assumption is that they demand that their feelings take precedence over everything.
However, is it really the worst thing in the world to be mindful of someone else’s feelings?
Not everyone will need a trigger warning or a safe space, but it’s not another person’s call to make.
Maybe we have been socialised into not viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses; that it can be ugly, destructive and yes, sometimes offensive.
But being emotional about the state of things is not a weakness nor does it necessarily mean that this generation is more fragile than others.
It just means that maybe they’re more vocal about the things that they are not happy with.
However, that’s not to say that there isn’t a bigger issue with this generation, one that transcends emotion and technology.
Take, for example, the recent research published by the Prince’s Trust Youth Index which found 58 per cent of the 2,215 16-25 year olds polled said that the political events over the past year have made them more anxious about their future, with 28 per cent feeling that their lives were ‘out of control’.
The figures also showed that compared to the findings of previous years, emotional health has dropped to its lowest level with a particular decline in confidence and happiness among young people.
Add to this mental health issues (self-harm has risen by 14 per cent in the last three years as of 2016), the hefty price tag on education (students walk with at least £51k of debt), increased job competition and the struggle of getting on the housing ladder – not to mention other social pressures – and suddenly there is more to this generation than streaming services and status updates.
“The potential consequences of failing to help these young people who are so clearly in need of support have huge implications for our nation’s future,” chief executive of the Prince’s Trust, Dame Martina Milburn, wrote of these findings, “we simply cannot allow them to be paralysed by their circumstances and self-doubt.”
Fox says that there is something troubling about people actually feeling unable to cope with difficult ideas.
“I don’t doubt that there are difficulties about being young today [but they] need to overcome [them] than whinge about them,” she says, “there are new challenges and every generation needs to confront [them].”
It’s easy to understand why the elder generations may not grasp the concept of growing up today.
The world has changed overwhelmingly and it’s hard to keep up.
The snowflake generation is the first of its kind to be growing up in the dot com era and it’s not surprising that Baby Boomers don’t understand how someone can be so affected by some words on a screen.
The world is changing yet again and our elders are scared because they’re not at the centre of it all.
At times it does feel as though today’s young adults are overshadowed by the technological advances of our time and that there is nothing more to them.
Mention Millennial and somewhere along the line you’ll also mention social media.
It’s a generation that is constantly under a microscope and perhaps quite misunderstood.
But is there substance to the ‘snowflake’ label?
While the statistics above show that there is an underlying issue among adolescents when it comes to emotional health, it is also a generation that doesn’t keep quiet about issues that they see as damaging and outdated.
When these snowflakes come together, they can make a blizzard – their collective strength should not be underestimated.
“I don’t think it’s too late,” Fox says, “I’m very optimistic that young people will get fed up of being treated like children, and want to overthrow some of the over-protective and paternalistic adult interventions in their lives. I’m looking forward to that youth rebellion.”
“Your story is not yet written,” Arnett said in his TEDx Talk, “that’s one of the beautiful things about being young.”
So beware – a generation of worriers can still turn into warriors.
Featured image by Glasseyes view via Flickr CC.