Being born in 1971, I am a typical “Gen X’r”. Here’s a good definition of us. I fit this definition perfectly. My parents divorced when I was 4, I was a latchkey kid splitting my time between my mum’s house and my dad’s (hence why I wore two keys around my little neck), wildly independent, and left to my own devices for the most part. The Muppets provided company when I got home from school while I ate a snack I made in the kitchen. Like many of my generation whose parents were non-conforming hippies, I felt like we experienced what I like to call “free range parenting”: Our parents were not so concerned about our whereabouts and the intricacies of our lives, because they were busy “finding themselves”, going through tough divorces, focusing on new relationships, and working long hours to pay the bills. And doing what their generation did best- partying- sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Being an only child, I grew up fast with my feet running at a very early age. I managed pretty well under the circumstances however. I was in a “free school” like Summerhill in England, where there were no walls or classrooms, and children were encouraged to ‘follow their bliss’ and focus on what they wanted to do and learn. While the complete lack of structure freaked me right out, the positive is that I got to know who I was and what I excelled at when I was four to eight years old. Also, there were always kind, loving and supportive adults around to cuddle up with and ask for help if I needed it. I got very used to the idea of multiple adults being my guides, rather than my biological parents only. In modern parlance, I was “attached” to many safe adults and felt very cared for by all of them. Also, I was lucky enough to be the only grandchild of both sets of grandparents, and they were a huge part of my community of guides and elders and gave me the grounding, guidance, and structure I so badly craved. They gave me the fundamentals of where I came from and who my people were, and the incredible legacies of previous generations which came before me.
Since moving to Victoria two plus years ago, my growing local client-base is mainly comprised of Millennials and I am thoroughly enjoying working with this unique and fabulously diverse demographic. To kick off, I will offer a definition of Millennials I found on this websiteso we’re clear about who I’m referring to throughout this article:
Millennials, also known as Generation Y or the Net Generation, are the demographic cohort that directly follows Generation X. The term Millennials is usually considered to apply to individuals who reached adulthood around the turn of the 21st century. The precise delineation varies from one source to another, however. Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of the 1991 book Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, are often credited with coining the term. Howe and Strauss define the Millennial cohort as consisting of individuals born between 1982 and 2004.
This fits perfectly with the fact that most of my clients are between the ages of 20 and 32. They often spring into my office in a flurry after they’ve raced to my office from work or the gym, offer me a big friendly smile and a hug, make themselves some tea, use the washroom, and always ask me how I’m doing. This always warms my heart because they truly care about others, including their therapist! I think my generation missed out on that part- we were so busy trying to find our place in the world, along with guidance from elders, that we became pretty self-absorbed and didn’t learn to ask others how they were doing.
Many of these lovely people have dogs and are pleased that I welcome them into the therapy room with us. I must confess- I am totally bummed if they don’t bring their beloved canine with them, as I become quite attached to the person as well as the animal. I joke with my cohorts that Millennials are “pack animals” and move in groups. I am always impressed by the time and attention they put into their friendships and how they go above and beyond for their friends who are having a tough time.
For example, one young woman went through a bad break-up, and a group of her friends; despite having demanding careers, relationships and so many other fires in the oven, dropped everything to help her pack up her belongings and move her into her new home. They also took turns spending time with her and being there emotionally when she was in a very vulnerable state and needed to be held in a loving community.
I find this generation gets a pretty bad rap in the media and in society in general and I’m not sure why. One of my Millennial clients sent me the following article, which while amusing, I think is a bit demeaning to these folks. The author calls them “Rainbow Unicorns” who were basically raised to think that they could do anything they want in life, and have huge aspirations, only to be majorly let down when things don’t go as they’d hoped. Read it for yourself and see what you think:
In my experience being a therapist to Millennials, I have come to some different conclusions which I hope will help you be more compassionate and helpful to this generation (or to feel good about yourself if you, yourself, happen to be a Millennial).
Esther’s Take on Why It’s so Hard to be a Millennial
Social Media and Technology
I find that Millennials are totally addicted to their Smartphones and sessions are constantly interrupted by texts coming in or people phoning them. The most common thing I hear a client say when they apologize profusely and then answer the phone is this: “I’ll call you back. I’m in therapy.” And then they often tell me that the caller says “hi” to me because they are also my client. Side note: I benefit greatly business-wise because if I see a Millennial and they think I’m good, they send all their friends!
When I tell them that I live in a cellphone free household and plan on keeping it that way, their mouths gape open and they say: “I don’t know what I’d do without my cellphone. It’s my lifeline.” To which I answer: “Yes. I believe cellphones can be a blessing but also a curse.”
Then when you add Facebook, FaceTime, Skype, Instagram, etc. to the package they carry around with them all day long, they become glued to the thing and spend way too much time trying to “multitask”- researchers have proven this is impossible to do by the way- and end up feeling scattered and pulled in too many directions. One client complained recently that when she’s at work trying to focus on a big project, she is constantly being bombarded by texts by an unwelcome ex, or a friend having a meltdown wanting her immediate help.
With all of these real-time competing demands, comes stress and the inability to focus on one thing at a time. When I share mindfulness practises with Millennials where we focus on just sitting and breathing and being in the present moment, they often report that they haven’t felt that relaxed or present for a long time.
Also, I see a lot of Millennials getting really down about themselves because they’re constantly comparing themselves to friends on Facebook who present a picture-perfect version of their lives for all to see. This is where I use critical analysis with clients and ask them questions such as:
How do you know for sure that this person doesn’t suffer from depression or anxiety or an eating disorder or something else?
Would anyone guess from your Facebook profile that you struggle with any of these issues? Why? Why not?
What is the benefit of comparing yourself to someone else you know very little about in an intimate, personal way?
I spend entire sessions with Millennials on successfully navigating Facebook to ensure their mental wellness. This often involves conversations about not checking up on who their ex is currently dating, or focusing on what a blast the friend who just dumped them is having. I feel that as a therapist, I help them create healthy boundaries within these tricky touch-of-a-button technologies and teach them that they don’t have to stay connected to people who make them feel bad about themselves.
Too many choices
I also feel that Millennials have way too many demands placed on them and so many choices, that it leads to burnout and exhaustion because they’re trying to fit everything in when it’s literally impossible. A Millennial client of mind told me about this article if you want to learn more about this:
For example, many of my female millennial clients are trying to navigate the whole idea of meeting a partner, getting married, buying a home together and then having children. For us Gen X’r’s, this was just par for the course and many of us just did those things without giving it much thought. In fact, when I’ve discussed this with my cohort, they often say that they wanted the security and stability that was lacking in their own lives growing up with parents divorcing, moving a lot, and basically having to raise themselves.
Millennials are asking some really important questions about these choices such as:
What does it say about me if I’m almost 30 and don’t have a partner, own my own home, or children? Can I accept my life as it is, even though many people feel that I should have all of those things by now?
Do I believe in marriage given the statistics? More than half of marriages end in divorce and do I want to take that chance? Also, that would leave me as a single parent and I really don’t want to end up in that position.
Do I really want children or do I feel pressured to have them because of societal norms? What would my life look like if I decided to not have kids? What would I do with all that extra time and money?
I find that exploring these areas with Millennials instrumental in helping them find their center- defining their core values and what they want in life- gives them a strong foundation to lean upon when they start doubting themselves.
Navigating intimate relationships in a digital age
I am blissfully married and have been with my partner for over 20 years, and often find myself feeling so grateful that I don’t have to deal with the whole online dating situation. Millennials tell me countless stories about different dating sites and apps they play with which make my head spin! Some use Tinder if they just want a ‘booty call’ (their term, not mine, although I find it very amusing). Others use Match.com or similar sites if they’re looking for a serious long-term partnership. They tell me that other than meeting someone via friendship circles, they basically have to go digital to meet someone to date. This is a huge change from when I was looking for a partner. I used the old-fashioned meeting someone via friends or family or through work circles. The dating world has become a lot more complex, and with it, the anxiety of navigating this territory proves trying and often downright disappointing to my Millennial clients.
Another topic Millennials often bring up in therapy is their sexuality. Now that we are more educated on the wide spectrum of sexuality, I sense that this is another area where Millennials are confused because of all of the options presented to them. I love exploring this topic with them, who come in with an open mind, a strong sense of curiosity, and a wide variety of experiences in this area.
Here are some of the questions they ask in therapy:
I’m attracted to men and women. Does that mean I’m bisexual? Or am I just in denial about being gay like my friends say I am?
I’m pretty sure I’m gay. Who should I come out to? Should I tell my colleagues or not? Where do I meet other gay people to date/hang out with?
I’m experimenting with both sexes but am keeping it from my family because they’re homophobic. This causes me to feel shame inside. What can I do to let go of the shame? *Note: I explain that this is what is referred to as ‘internalized homophobia’ and encourage Millennials to externalize homophobia as other people’s issues, and to be clear that they don’t have the same opinion and can be GLBTQ friendly and proud.
Wanting to make a positive difference in the world
Something that touches me deeply about the Millennials I work with is how much they care about others, the planet, and the emphasis they put on making a positive difference in the world. Some do community gardening to keep food organic, local, and something to be shared. Others volunteer their time to help empower homeless folks in their communities. They don’t need to make grand gestures though- some choose simply to be a good co-worker and friend and practise kindness and compassion to everyone they encounter.
Many express their sense of deep despair at the state of our world; especially the corrupt political scene growing across the world. They often emphasize peace over power, and building safe and sustainable communities over amassing wealth and owning material things. I feel sad that this generation will most likely never own their own homes, but when I express this to them, they often say, “I accepted that fact a long time ago.”
I am impressed that they find ways to live as affordably as they can, while also working long hours to pay the bills and to make time for the things they cherish the most: friends, travel, the arts, and being part of the bigger picture in the world they are working so hard to create: A WORLD BASED ON PEACE, COMMUNITY LIVING, BEING HEALTHY IN MIND, BODY, AND SPIRIT, AND LEAVING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE THAN IT WAS WHEN THEY ARRIVED HERE. Knowing this about Millennials, I have great hope for the future of our planet.