I’ve been surprised at the astounding maturity level of some of the high schoolers I’ve observed lately. Supposedly this generation is video game obsessed, unprepared for the real world, spoiled, and self-involved, but anecdotally I can report that at least some of them seem to have maturity and wisdom that I don’t see among many twenty- and thirty-year-olds.
I don’t want to violate anyone’s privacy, so I’m going to be very vague with their personal details here, but let me describe a little bit of what I’ve witnessed.
1. I recently met a high school senior who got married not long ago and not because of an unplanned pregnancy. It sounds like it should be a terrible situation, but in reality the young couple have vocational education and job plans all mapped out, and one of them is already working and earning decent enough money for someone so young. They have a workable division of labor such that their home is clean and they have home-cooked meals, and they stay within their budget.
I know middle-aged people who aren’t doing that well.
2. I overheard a high schooler talking with an adult about a sibling who graduated from college after spending a huge sum of money on a useless degree and who is now working at a minimum wage job. This high schooler was angry about it because the sibling wasted the parents’ money but did not pursue any sort of career. The high schooler resolved not to follow in the sibling’s footsteps.
3. Demand for vocational education among the high schoolers I know is high. Others who plan to go to college have expressed the intention to live at home while doing so in order to avoid the party scene and to save money.
4. Many of the high school girls I observe look better than girls just 5-10 years older. College girls who have cut their hair short, dyed it blue, and added a nose ring are a common sight around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, but the high school girls out in the rural areas look pretty decent. The desire to mutilate one’s appearance seems to be waning and few of the high school girls I’ve spoken to have indicated an interest in getting tattoos or facial piercings. You Go Grrlisms are less common than in young women just a few years older.
5. I was observing some girls at the sports club where one of my daughters plays volleyball. The gym was packed with tall, lithe girls with long ponytails, chatting pleasantly with their friends and parents, working out, or draped over benches with their textbooks out, catching up on studying while waiting for their team’s turn on the court. They seemed both pleasant and serious, focused on doing well in school, excelling in sports, and having good relationships with their friends and family. They seem nothing like feminists even though they are fairly focused on personal achievement. They don’t seem obsessed with proving anything about girls or women. They don’t expect to be handed a free ride and they don’t expect trophies just for showing up.
6. Most high school girls and a surprising number of the boys that I’ve chatted with say quite plainly that they want to get married and have children. Many of the girls say they would like to do so while still relatively young. Some say they want to wait until after college, but I haven’t heard any say to me that they want to wait until they’re in their thirties to get married. That is in stark contrast to the official line that my generation of women (Gen X) spewed at the behest of the second-wave feminists that many of Gen X’s mothers were.
This is only anecdotal and is likely influenced by the demographics of where I live and work, but it seems like the group of high-school-aged young people who technically occupy the “millennial” generation label are quite different than Millennials who are only 10 years older. Compare the students I have just described with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Jessica (not to be confused with President Obama’s Julia):
A summary of Millennials, told in short story form
Titled “About ‘Jessica’” as it is one of the most popular names given to girls born in the 1980s and 1990s1
Jessica earned her first soccer trophy while she was still in nursery school. The soccer trophies and medals kept on coming, as did the ones for swimming, karate, basketball, Girl Scouts, and debate. She has been encouraged to be anything she wants to be. Because of the almost constant support she receives and her full schedule, she craves lots of attention in the form of praise and feedback. Her baby boomer parents shower her with attention and consult her about what restaurants the family visits and where they will go on vacation.
Jessica has a full collection of Beanie Babies. She and her parents would discuss which were the most coveted ones when they would drive her to school in the morning. Then, her parents would surprise her with these collectibles after purchasing them online, some at hefty prices! They are now neatly stored in her parents’ attic for the time she has a child or house of her own.
Upon college, she expects a return on the investment in her tuition to be a minimum of a 3.6 GPA. Her Gen X+ professors want her to earn it. The transactional perspective on education typical of her generation is a harsh disconnect with her instructors.
Her college’s family engagement center enlightens instructors of this new student philosophy and encourages instructors to provide students more leeway than past cohorts. Professors endeavor to relate to and educate this new student and are humored by the continuing reminders of not using Wikipedia as an annotation source.
Jessica thinks that she will be in the top 20% of graduates in her class. The problem is that 66% of her peers think so too. That expectation later leads to some anxiety and a bit of depression, which concern her parents. They continue to support her and with the school find her a therapist to build up her usual hopefulness.
Jessica has a hard time finding a paying professional job upon graduation and wonders how she will afford her shared apartment and pay her remaining student loan debt. Once her unpaid internship does not result in a job, she moves back in with her parents.
Jessica acts quickly to a text from her friend Michael (the name given to more babies born in the 1980s and 1990s than any other1) that his organization is hiring. Happily, she interviews and receives an offer with a fine starting salary. She verifies with her potential employer that she can still make her Wednesday late afternoon volleyball games and consults with her mom about the offer before accepting.
Her manager, who is 49, appreciates her enthusiasm and energy. Jessica clearly wants to be competent and successful. And while she can manage multiple tasks at once, her manager sees her missing some important information in meetings and wants her to improve her client relationship skills.
Lucky for Jessica, her manager has received training on how to coach his employees, particularly Gen Yers. Jessica has appreciated her manager’s support, and their relationship is positive. Jessica told her parents the company is OK, but her manager is great, so she plans to stay a while. She is enjoying the feeling of stability.
Her manager invests extra time in providing more context, interim goals, and plenty of feedback. The payoff is that Jessica is receptive and very open to developing her skills and is looking forward to her mentoring relationship with a director in another department. The director is also looking forward to a fruitful and informative alliance.
Many of Jessica’s friends are still looking for jobs, so she feels lucky. A few are going back for their master’s degrees. She’d like to increase her education one day as well. She texts her friends about her volleyball win and tweets that her company just launched a great new product and suggests they try it out.
Like Julia the creepy government daydream, Jessica sounds like some kind of creepy corporate daydream. No husband, no children, just a boss who tells her how super great she is and whom she loves so much that she’s just gonna devote her life to this company…why she loves it so much that she tweets to her friends encouraging them to buy its products. Yes, surely life’s meaning is found in our devotion to Encorpora and our commitment to Moar Master’s Degrees!
Jessica is an illusion, much like the fleeting illusions of “game” and beauty that can be used to hide something ugly, and what she represents is a deception meant to seduce and entice our young people away from kith and kin. But there is no Jessica and it seems like some of the younger Millennials are observing older Millennials and figuring this out for themselves.