Recently I watched an interview with Simon Sinek explaining the millennial paradox and why you might be challenged when working with someone born after 1984. He claimed that there were four factors contributing to a disturbing trend in statistics where this generation is experiencing plummeting self-esteem, increases in addictive behaviour, depression, suicide and death due to drug overdoses:
Now I know plenty of well balanced, happy and responsible young people under 33 so I recognise that being categorised as a millennial in this context may seem like a gross injustice to you. In the same way that as a Gen X (that’s me) being tarred with the same general brush that my generation is typically being perceived to be disaffected and directionless ….. hmmm
But here’s the thing, you are likely to become parents too in the next few years so will your children befall the same increase in statistics as they say your generation is prone to?
The facts are that the statistics are rising which means there a greater proportion of young people experiencing depression and addictive behaviours than there was before (and probably across a broader generational range than we are talking about here).
As someone who coaches people into personal and professional success, has a passion for supporting future leaders and is the parent of a 29 year old and a grandparent of children under 5, this topic sits close to my heart so I am sharing my thoughts to open a robust conversation about the topic.
Sinek’s argument regarding “failed” parenting strategies was interesting. He argued that a parent’s tendency to tell their children they are “special”, “can do anything” (just because the parent says so), and complaining in schools to get their children in the best classes or helping them get jobs without having to prove themselves actually results in lowering a child’s self-esteem. They learn that they don’t need to do anything to get what they want.
He has a point, although I don’t totally agree.
Leadership 101 talks about how building confidence comes from taking action (and making mistakes) and then applying what we have learned to finally succeed. Anyone who has trained and mentored people in the workplace knows that a person is more likely to develop as people and leaders when they have the opportunity to stretch themselves, experience with all the senses the range of feelings that come with learning something new, applying what they have learnt, making mistakes and then improving to then master the task. That feeling of knowing they largely did it on their own in the end makes them stand up straight with their shoulders back, and smile to themselves with a sense of self pride.
Our first weeks at work we may be cut some slack because we are new, yet this doesn’t last long and we have to start thinking for ourselves.
Now I know as parents that we all want is the best for our children yet there has to be a way to create balance. It’s the swing of the pendulum.
At one end there is the “old school” way of throwing young people into the deep end to fend for themselves (parents may remember being “chucked” into the water as a kid and having to try and stop yourself from drowning!) and at the other end mollycoddling and thinking for them to the point of suffocation. At what point does our “helping hand ” become a hindrance to the process of building self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth?
If we as parents are to bundle our millennial’s in cotton wool, how will they learn the art of taking responsibility for their actions?
Getting stuck in the “over providing”
So many things can influence the way we parent. Feelings of not having enough ourselves as children, life has always been a struggle or just wanting our children to be happy can unconsciously set us on the path of “over providing” or over compensating for what happened to us growing up. We want life to be different for our children.
In addition, guilt around working all of the time and not spending enough time can result in over compensation by buying everything, being overly lenient and fixing everything for them.
Is it really fair to them that on the one hand that we do everything for them and then on the other we wonder with total frustration why they are not taking initiative and taking responsibility?
Are we really preparing them for the realities of finding and keeping a job, having a family and going through life as confident and happy human beings?
Is it possible that by doing everything for someone we actually depower them and rob them of the opportunity to learn what their own limits are?
There are more questions and the answers are not straightforward, however there has to be a balance. As parents can we help our millennial generation learn life lessons and still love and care as parents?
Allowing and providing the watchful eye
Sometimes as parents we just don’t want to see our children suffer. The problem is that like us, they are ultimately responsible for their own actions and will only learn if they have to fix it themselves.
Oscar Wilde said: “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes”.
I remember, as a young ship building apprentice, making many mistakes and my journeyman (teacher) telling me that “a sign of a good tradesman is being able to fix your own mistakes”. Along the way he provided a watchful eye as I learned to use machinery and occasionally would intervene to show me a safer way of doing things. All the while he was teaching me to take responsibility for the outcome, he was allowing me to gain experience in how to reach my own personal potential as a tradesman.
“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same mistake a second time.” – Bernard Shaw
A great example comes to mind to demonstrate the benefits of a millennial being allowed to take responsibility for his mistakes.
I have a friend whose millennial teenage son came home after being out overnight fishing with his friends. They had to take a train to get where they had wanted to go and when he arrived home he immediately went to his mother with an anxious face and said “mum I have something to tell you”. Needless to say mums mind went into overdrive wondering what it was all about. Teenage son went on to say that him and his friends had been “ambushed” by the railway police when they had attempted to run across the tracks (highly illegal and dangerous) to catch the train as they were running late. They had been fined $400 each for their trouble!!
Much to the total puzzlement of the teenage son, mum went into fits of laughter. It wasn’t quite the response he had expected. When she got herself together she said “well that is going to put a dent in your bank balance isn’t it!” and gave him a huge hug, thankful that he was alright.
The boy’s face dropped. He had just spent the summer mowing the neighbours’ lawns to save up for a new remote controlled car he had his eye on.
Mum went on to ask “and son, what lesson have you learned?”
“I will NEVER do that again”, he replied.
In due course the fine came to the house in his first personally addressed letter with a window. The son took responsibility for paying it and life went on. Mum didn’t punish him and neither did she bail him out by paying his debt for him.
Sure, let’s be the helping hand and not at the expense of holding millennials back in finding their own personal potential.
To watch the subject interview click here.
My passions are nature, people, and building cultures of cooperation, harmony, sharing and reverence for life. I enjoy working with people to help them understand themselves and others so they can reach their full potential in life.