The Formation of the Millennials (aka iGens)
Scott McKnight recently published an article in the Leadership Journal (or their online blog; I’m not perfectly certain which) where he talks about the struggle of ministering to what he refers to as “iGens”, more commonly known as Gen-Y or, more often, millennials, that generation of folks born in the 1980’s or later. His conclusions could have some credence; while I’m a high school teacher, my primary job isn’t ministry to them, and so I don’t have quite the laboratory he does. His evaluation of the millennial mindset and heart has some merit to it as well. It does have some resonance with what I have to deal with in my classrooms. However, I must admit that this blog post is pretty much me having a bone to pick with his depiction of how the millennials got to where they are psychologically and spiritually, which I think is, in part, just off.
I don’t think that McKnight wrote the byline for his article, though I don’t know that for sure. If he did, I give him props there, for his description of this generation being steeped in self-esteem and “impervious to guilt” isn’t a bad place to start. He later describes them as having a “self in a castle”, that is, being protected from external attacks on their person. I don’t entirely understand what he’s getting at, but I’ll go with it. I have students that seem immune to the fact that they’re failing my class, so that seems to jive.
But how did they get there, he asks. And his answer is essentially three-fold: Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, and the self-esteem gospel.
Hold on there. Back up the soul train.
Mr. Rogers? Mr. Rogers has been on television since the 1960’s. If Fred Rogers, who happened to be a Presbyterian minister and a man who baffled Hollywood by being EXACTLY who he said he was, had so damaged the psyches of American children, why did it take twenty years until the effect hit? The argument is that Mr. Roger’s repeated mantra of “I’m okay” was a major force in the self-esteem movement that has resulted in these children being unmoved by guilt. Now, he’s probably (hopefully) using Rogers as a symbol for the overall self-esteem movement, but it doesn’t work unless Gen-X and the tail of the baby-boomers had the same issue, and McKnight seems to imply that they don’t by their absence in his article and the time-frame he sets.
Part of a parent’s job, particularly the nurturing figure who is generally the mother, is to instill in a child the sense that the child is loved regardless of good or bad. That’s unconditional love that, when internalized, results in self worth (different from self-esteem, which is based on ability and does not necessarily reflect reality). This is part of the gospel message. Now, if Fred Rogers had assured these children on international television that it was not bad and that they did okay when they shaved the cat or scribbled on the new wallpaper, that would be a different story. It’s just not what he did. And not when he did it.
On to Sesame Street, which also was introduced in the 60’s, and thus its effect, too, should not be limited to the millennials despite McKnight’s implication that it does. His issue is that the show affirmed the uniqueness of every person “regardless of their color, beliefs, or personalities”. This to me seems to be a generally good thing, but he argues that it instilled a sense that everyone is okay (as opposed to Mr. Roger’s message of the individual being okay). Again, is this not a version of unconditional love? Is this not part of a parent’s job but to get children to love one another?
His real issue is with the self-esteem movement, and I will wholeheartedly join him in decrying the very wrong understanding of the self-esteem movement despite its good intentions. The self-esteem movement, as he notes, has resulted in kids who are narcissistic due to always being focused on how good they are (or having an external source point out to them) and hedonistic for similar reasons. No argument. But I have more to add on this point. Another major fault that arises from the self-esteem movement is irresponsibility and a strangely active laziness that goes with it. Because these iGens are “good” regardless of what they do or how they do it, then what’s the point of doing anything, particularly anything they don’t want to do? What matters most is that they feel good, so the don’t do things that don’t give them an immediate sense of pleasure or enjoyment. Thus, responsibilities tend to get thrown out the door and replaced by a constant search for the next source of pleasure. What that source or even the pleasure itself looks like varies quite a bit, admittedly, but the search results in responsibilities left unfulfilled.
I have more to say, but more in another post soon.