Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Everyone Gets A Trophy: The Millennials Need A Pacifier

Millennials. Generation Y. People born in the 80s and early 90s that have grown up and are coming to prominence right now. It seems like everyone is talking about them lately, and about how parenting tactics have turned them (us) all into sniveling wimps in the face of the current job market.

Today, a story is being circulated that a woman is suing Chuck E. Cheese (you know, the place where a kid can be a kid?) because it teaches and promotes gambling. Debbie Keller, the mom in question, says that many of the restaurant's games are Vegas/roulette style games that take moments to play and simulate a 'casino-style' atmosphere. While I was ironing my clothes and watching The View (don't judge), Sherri Shepherd said that she agreed with the sentiment. She went on to say that she is trying to teach her young son that hard work is what gets you ahead in life and not to depend on the luck of a rolling ball or a whacked mole to help you instantly succeed.

While I can eagerly get behind the sentiment that kids these days need to be taught hard work and dedication to a task, I'm not sure that Chuck E. Cheese is counteracting that type of mentality. Everything in moderation, right?

Allen Chernoff, a correspondent for CNN, is running a piece this week during the Newsroom block on that channel that discusses the high maintenance attitude of the so-called Millennials. I caught a bit of it today as well. While statistics show, according to the report, that 3/4 of folks my age believe that hard work and dedication will help you succeed, the definition of what hard work and dedication is supposed to be seems to be skewed from what it meant a decade or 3 ago. "They talk like they tweet," was the analysis by one of the people being interviewed. Employers feel that this new generation, thanks to technology, has learned to multitask far beyond the abilities of older employees. (thanks to the need to Facebook, Tweet, Text, and talk simultaneously...no I'm not making that up, apparently it's a marketable skill set now)

However, the flip side of that is younger employees don't seem to want to put in the effort that older generations do at the workplace. They don't want to read more than a few sentences of information. They speak in shorter, more blunt and direct ideas. Positively, they want their employers to give more concrete goals and standards, and to simply offer more frequent feedback - whether positive or negative. And they're also more willing to jump ship if an employment situation isn't working out. I have to admit, I identify with both of those sentiments. Conversely, they want to be spoken to in a coddling, comforting, uplifting manner, just like their parents have always done.

Yep, here we are back at parents.

Each generation wants better for their progeny than they got. That's the general hope for parents the world over. They want their children to be healthier, happier, more grounded, more successful, better looking, more popular, more kind, and just more than they ever were. That's our pride, our joy, and (to repeat) our hope for the future. It's evolution, folks. The next generation needs to be better, stronger, in order for us to thrive as a species.

But I believe we're taking a step back.

McDonald's mascot Ronald McDonald is under fire, and has been for quite some time, along with the inclusion of toys in their Happy Meals. Nutritionists feel that the declining quality of McDonald's food paired with the bright, fun, kid-friendly aesthetic is selling impressionable children unhealthy food. Basically, if we dress crappy, overly fattening food up with a bright orange smile and give you a toy to go with it, then you'll forget how to say no to unhealthy choices and just dig in. Part of me sees the point,  and part of me wonders why we're asking McDonald's to make the diet choices for our children. If you feel your child is getting obese because of their Happy Meals...then don't take them to McDonald's. Isn't that, like, basic math or something?

It's been a running joke on TV shows like King of the Hill, American Dad, and more that children in little league sports get a trophy whether they win or lose. Everyone gets a trophy. Your child no longer has to feel the sting of defeat, because they get the same shiny piece of fake metal that the kids who kicked their ass gets. For showing up. And losing.

Who are we? And we wonder why the rest of the world is kicking our students' collective asses in academics. It's because our spirit of competition and winning is going down the "everyone is a special snowflake" toilet. The Millennials were brought up with the Snowflake mentality. They are told they are special, unique, and if they fail it's because the person firing them or not hiring them or dumping them just doesn't understand how special they really are.

In my family, I was in competitions for theater, public speaking, poetry, as well as playing at one time or another soccer, baseball, and basketball AND playing piano and French Horn.. Now, was I very good at any of the sports? Meh... I was decent at soccer because I could run well, but I didn't have the heart to practice and get good at anything else. My father - the ex-Navy Seal, former Olympic athlete, and current doctor - and my mother - the child musical prodigy on the cello - didn't let me off the hook when it came to practicing. I was told that if I wanted it, I had to work my ass off for it, and that I was going to have to fail frequently and often if I wanted to get better.

So, I became 2nd chair French Horn. I was 1st division at piano - until I quit, because I didn't like practicing when I could be doing other, more productive things, like watching television. But, because both my parents and my director never, ever coddled me...I was Best Actor every single year for 7 years in every competition I went to, and I went to state and placed in the top three in at least 2 of my 3 events every year of high school. Collectively, that means I beat out something like 65000-70000 kids every year for 4 years in each of my events. (Texas is a big state.)

Now, what did any of that teach me? It taught me that if I wanted to win, to be better than my opponent, that I needed to be practicing, researching, and getting better while my opponent was sleeping, watching TV, or doing something other than preparation. It taught me that I was not going to be handed that gold medal by sleeping in on Saturday morning or staying out late to party the night before a big day. Oh wait...I also had to hold down a job since the day I turned 16, working at least 30 hours a week, to teach me balance and responsibility.

It also taught me that, if I had worked my ass off, there was absolutely no shame in a 2nd or 3rd or 6th place finish. Because, once you got to the state level, once you were in the top 20 of 65-70000 kids, you couldn't say you weren't good. My Junior year of high school, I received silver medals in every event. In One Act Play, I didn't receive the State Best Actor award, I received the silver. I got 2nd place in Persuasive Speaking as well as Poetry Interpretation.

But, that was my favorite year of all in my high school competitive life. I didn't have the pressure of making that year count for scholarships like I did my Senior year, and I had the knowledge that I was talented. I could have fun.

My brother didn't have that. He was always more attractive and better at sports than I was. We all know that in Texas, being good at football meant a much different life in your formative years. He was passed from grade to grade, despite barely passing scores. He was never required to hold down a job, and he was told he was going to get into a Top 10 college straight out of high school and probably go pro.

We went to a 2A high school. For those of you that don't know, that means it was small. Our football team never made it out of district, which meant that they were never, ever seen by any scouts from any of the Big 10 schools. Today, my brother has failed out of college twice and is making a career out of being at a community college. He has never held a job more than a couple of months, has severe anger issues, and has aspirations to somehow work for his old high school's football team, probably as an assistant coach. Full circle, huh?

This generation isn't taught gambling by Chuck E. Cheese. They're taught to complain and seek an easy payday from the mom who wants $5 million because some kid's pizza parlor/game room has win/lose games. They're not going to be heavily sought after by current employers, because they're short-tempered and expect to be patted on the butt everyday at work. They're not getting fat because McDonald's has a clown mascot and toys in their Happy Meals. They're getting fat, because their parents cannot tell them no! They're passing on the responsibility of teaching their children right from wrong, proper food selection, and safe sex practices to schools and restaurants instead of doing it themselves. They're not going to ever learn that practice and hard work is it's own reward if they always win an award without trying.

They're going to continue the stigma of the fat, lazy, Snowflake American.

My generation might have some points. There are newer, better ways to do things. Employers, if possible, should set more concrete goals so that employees know what they're supposed to be doing and working towards. The workplace will advance positively if more frequent feedback is given, because how do you know you're doing a bad/good job if nobody ever tells you. But, I feel my generation needs an enormous wake-up call, and I'm starting to wonder who is going to be the one to give it.

What do YOU think about the new crop of Gen. Y/Millennials in the workplace?

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

14 comments:

  1. On McDonald's: Having McDonald's every now and then (even once a week) is not likely to affect a child's health significantly. And to be frank, McDonald's does offer healthier menu items (their salads are quite delicious, too.) So the problem isn't so much the store, but what people order for themselves and/or their kids while there.

    On competition: Personally, I'm not big on competition, simply because we live in a society that too often uses where someone places on the accomplishment hierarchy to determine that same person's personal worth as a human being. I have a problem with that. I also think that a healthier approach in general is to see how far one can improve oneself in terms of progress as opposed to seeing how many people one can best. (Again, see the problem with achievement ranking being equated with worth.) I'm not against competitions, per se, but I think we need to find a way to promote hard work and real personal excellence without playing into the "dog eat dog" and "pecking order" mentality that so often crops up when competition turns far too aggressive.

    On Chuck E Cheese and gambling in general: Please, playing games at Chucky Cheese as a kid or buying the occasional lottery ticket as an adult is not inherently the same thing as learning to expect something for nothing. These are things that can be done for fun by otherwise hard working individuals. To pretend otherwise leaves me wonder if people aren't projecting their own frailties (such as a gambling addiction) onto all of humanity.

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  2. LOVED this! I've written on these very topics so many times--they provided me with lots of great material for the columns.

    For me, bottom line about McD's and Chuck E. Cheese's and the like is simply for individuals (or parents, when we are talking about kids) to make the choices that they think are best. If a mom doesn't believe that the atmosphere at Chuck E. Cheese's is a healthy one for her kids, she shouldn't take them there. Bam! Problem solved. Same goes for the bellyachers who complain about the menu at fast food places. No one is forcing them to eat there. Ridiculous.

    Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Most of us remember our parents saying no to us. We survived.

    As far as competition, life is competitive. I think kids do need to be given compliments--but they must be sincere. Kids know when they're being bullshitted and if every little thing is touted as a record-setting accomplishment, genuine accolades will lose their luster.

    There's a quote that I really like: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." ~ Albert Einstein

    We're all good as some things, but I don't know anyone who excels at everything. That's life.

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  3. Jarred - Let's be clear. I did compare 'healthy competition' that teaches our children the value of working hard towards a goal, versus 'competition for competition's sake' which simply focuses on winning. I completely promote and believe in competition as a method for learning valuable life skills, because when you know you've put in the work but you still didn't get the gold, you might be disappointed for a moment but you can't deny the feeling of satisfaction you receive from hard work.

    It goes back to, are we going to teach our children to fish (building them up, teaching them to learn from their mistakes), or are we simply going to tell them there will always be fish?

    I do find it interesting that you kind of eschew the notion of competition in one way, but praise the value of hard work and not necessarily giving someone what they want in a spiritual sense (your comment on The Next Level...). I think they're similar. Nobody should be handing out information. Nobody has a right to a trophy or someone's worked-for spiritual knowledge or a feeling of unearned accomplishment.

    But...that's just my view. (And the view of most folks who've analyzed the current Gen Y culture.)

    FL

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  4. I have seen this pattern in you are speaking of and it's everything in me not to roll my eyes ( they may fall out because I'm not sure I can make them stop) My kids, especially my eldest, think I am the meanest mom in town ( and so do his friends) I make them do their chores with out an allowance, I call it contributing to the well being of the family, they have to earn good marks in school or they are grounded and have nothing better to do other than chores and reading, and Gaia help them if they sass me!

    I hope that my children grow up to later understand that while I was a "mean mom" the fact that learned how to earn their own way and do their best has benefited them in the long run.

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  5. ugh. . . ok mommy needs a nap! I cant even type straight!

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  6. Always a fan of your witty and well-researched posts. So much so that I have named you winner of THE VERSATILE BLOGGER award: http://paganpresence.blogspot.com/2011/05/versatile-blogger-award.html

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  7. Ugh. Snowflake syndrome. What I really dont like about this particular mindset is that it can lead to so many negative things. Entitlement, feelings of superiorty,drama,and of course narcissim. I definatly agree that alot of people are not inspired to work as hard as their predecessors. Though I think this may depend on situation. When parents spend most of their time distracting them from reality, I dont really see how most people would get a healthy mindset out of that. For example my niece is sat in front of a tv to get her out of the way. Fed snacks so often that she refuses to eat dinner. Now I love my niece very much, however already at age 3 she is gaining this snowflake mentality. To be honest I find that very disturbing. I have to wonder if this snowflake thing is an extension of the childhood whine long enough and you will get what you want. Thank you for giving a good example of a balanced mindset. On the topic of chuck e cheese, I recall going their as a child and none of the games resembled "hard core gambling" at all. Unless people are playing highstakes skeeball now. As for Ronald Mcdonald, I really dont see where people are getting the idea that a mascot is making anyone fat. People seems to be suing anything if they think they will get some money out of it. Its like these parents are blissfully unaware of the effect their actions have on their children. In the end its all about taking responsibilty for ones own life and behavior.

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  8. Insightful and thought provoking as always....you cut to the chase!

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  9. As a 54 year old with millennium aged children, I think that all the hype about "generations" is just that. Every generation since the beginning of time has complained that the young ones just don't work as hard as their elders did and that the parents are coddling them. "They" alternate this sort of thing with "this is the best generation ever" (and can multi task). Many objective studies don't show the differences that the managers in your blog perceive. To me, performance is very individual and not age based. Some 70 year old's I have met are sharper than people 30 years younger, and I have met 20 somethings so stogy I couldn't figure out what planet they were from.

    The main difference between generations are the life cycle phases that people go through. And not every person of each generation goes through the same life phases.

    "The Earth is degenerating today. Bribery and corruption abound. Children no longer obey their parents, every man wants to write a book, and it is evident that the end of the world is fast approaching."
    -- Assyrian tablet, c. 2800 BC

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  10. I myself am a generation y/millennial type person. I got the participation ribbon on field day in grade school. Oh how I loathe thee, green participation ribbon. Being the youngest of three I know what it is to be in last. I was never very good at sports. But I have to say I would rather have gone home with no ribbons than to have had the green monstrosity that is the participation ribbon. When people lose, let them lose. It makes them try harder. Don't give them a ribbon to commemorate the occasion.

    Chuck-E Cheese scares the crap out of me, but not because of the gambling thing. The guy in the big rat suit... *shudders*
    But seriously? It's called an arcade. When I was little and living in an town in upstate New York, my family and I would go to the mall on a rare occasion. They had an arcade in there that my sisters and I would go to if we had been on our best behaviors. Games of chance are FUN. Not to mention that some of the games are actually challenging (like the Whack-a-Mole game... good for fast reflexes). If you do well, you get tickets. If you don't, you had fun anyways! It is like gambling in a way, I suppose. Kids could get addicted. But then again, isn't it the parent's job to make sure kids do things in moderation? Things like arcades should be for fun. They lose their appeal and become an addiction if moderation is thrown out the window. If we're going to have this mentality then all casinos should be closed and carnivals can't have games.

    Leave Ronald alone. You barely see him on commercials anymore. I've only ever seen him on packaging where I live. Parents control what their kids eat. If you have a child that won't eat anything but McDonald's, don't blame the clown. He isn't brainwashing your kids. You just need to dig yourself out of the eating on the go habit and cook at home. Or get something healthier.

    Everyone is special. No one can be someone else, have their upbringing, personality, etc. But people can't expect the world to give them a pat on the back for mediocre. Or even a great job every time they do one. People need to be able to self-soothe and be confident in what they do without reinforcement from other people. People need to know the difference, especially in a work setting, between a situation where they should be outspoken and looking out for themselves and when they need to be a team player following instructions.

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  11. It's a mom's (and a dad's) job to make themselves obsolete - they know they've done their job right when the kids can handle being in the real world without them (*does her best impression of her mother in law* though a visit here and there, a phone call would be nice, nu?)

    I second Mrs. Oddly. I spent an afternoon with my kids, especially my son, grumbling about switching over the winter clothes. He grumbled something about doing it not because he enjoyed it but because he loved us and I said that's how I feel when I have to handle his stinky socks in the laundry pile.

    The Chuck E. Cheese thing is ridiculous. I don't even know where to begin with that...if she doesn't like the idea of the kids learning that getting something for nothing from good ol' Chuck, what makes it any better when she tries to do it? Is it that she's playing for higher stakes than cheap plastic crap?

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  12. This Gen Y paranoia is just nonsense. It's people taking the old, ancient fears of younger generations and bubbling it up into this piling puss of shit that no one can clean up.
    I wrote a blog piece and filmed a video blog bit on this in response to Mark Burlein's 'The Dumbest Generation', (www.abandonyourfear.blogspot.com) which regarded this issue in a more educational view, but was every bit as derogatory as these fear-mongering news reports are. The fact that CNN would run a piece on this is insulting (yes, I am of this generation. I am suffering the problems of and attempting to overcome the curse of being of this now hated generation.) We are discussing something that cuts in the basic rights of man, let alone American civil rights. Age plays into these rights, not just race, creed, gender, orientation and religion. 21 year olds gaining the right to vote is a historical fact of this being valid. To degrade Generation Y this far is discrimination, no matter what psychological, cultural and environmental factors are at work here.
    You want to know why Generation Y is full of snotty, stuck up, spoiled, 'snowflake' American kids? It is because our parents were, speaking now as a member of this bunch. We are as every bit the children of the past generations of this nation and we represent both the good and the bad. If you can't deal with it, you are living proof that this country, that is grand dream, is doomed to fail.
    I am sick and tired of the blame being shoveled on me for everything wrong in America, just because I am one of these 'snowflake' kids that everyone views as a menance. I work hard, dream big, learn large and fight to preserve the beauty of the American dream too. If I can't get respect for that, then there is something wrong here.
    Just wait, these Generation Ys might surprise you. I intend to.

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  13. Lady Faceless

    I agree with you. The same nasty things were said about my age group many years ago. In fact the disapproval was daily on the street. I'm not sure how intense it is today. Maybe older people (including those in their 30's) are so "youth obsessed" meaning they are scared of getting old that they take it out on the 20 somethings. People under 30 and over 45 are the most likely candidates for bullying in the workplace.

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  14. Fluoride in water lowers I.Q.'s 20 points. We're precisely as dumb [nationally] as we're meant to be. Your age cohort are meant to believe a friend is as defined by facebook and that you have a bunch of them, when statistically you're likely to have fewer than ever. As a mother of gen-Y'ers,I noticed that one was supposed to coddle one's children precisely as much as others coddled theirs and in precisely the same ways, though how this precision of consensus was reached seems mysterious. luckily or not, for me the idea of fitting in is scary, but my children were so deprived of the coziness of conformity that they crave it immoderately now. They'd fit right in here, for instance.

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