“Youth, today! They’re lazy and entitled because everyone received participation trophies!” is a quip Millennials (I’ll include Gen Z’rs too) hear so often that it has nearly lost all meaning.
Not to me though. Instead, this joke points to a much larger issue- one that extends beyond Millennials to all of society. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Calling out my generation on its “delicate flower persona” ignores how it emerged in the first place: from older generations and big government.
Most articles I’ve read in defence of Millennials argue one of two things: 1) Our “failure to launch” is because of the unprecedented combination of a bad economy, high housing prices, and skyrocketing student debt or, 2) our generation is not all that different than any previous one and complaining about us is the equivalent of crotchety Grampa Simpson shaking his fist at a cloud. I don’t disagree with either argument, but they are missing the larger point.
The formation of the Millennial generation began long before any of its members were born. As baby-boomers expected more from their government by way of pensions and social programs, the government expanded to keep up with the growing demand. Unsurprisingly, with this growth came overregulation and micromanagement. The population as a whole was viewed as too inept and unprepared to make its own personal decisions -it was better to leave that to the government. Sound familiar, parents? Enter: Millennials, stage left.
Being born into a world of big government, who sees its role as our protector from ourselves, led us to grow up comfortably- if not entitled. No risk might mean no reward…but also no scraped knees! Many of us were bubble-wrapped from failure or injury and were given perks and assistance without having to ask for it.
This has extended into adulthood. Think about when Starbucks adjusted their rewards system, making it slightly more difficult for a customer to receive a free drink. People were outraged. “How dare Starbucks – I’ll never go there again!” Sorry to break it to you, but that free latte wasn’t actually yours in the first place.
One might think that this safety net would lead to more risk- taking but, like corporate welfare helps protect poor business decision-making from failure, it also leads to less calculated risk-taking and innovation. Why change, grow, and learn from ones mistakes when you don’t have to? When the status quo keeps people comfortable, there is little incentive to challenge it. Youth are so isolated today from discomfort (think of the no penalty rule in Ontario high schools for late assignments) that they are under the self-fulfilling illusion that we are simply Too-Special-To-Fail.
The worst part is that when kids do take chances and show ambitious entrepreneurial spirit, it’s shot down. Look no further than 5 and 7-year-old Adela and Eliza Andrews of Ottawa, who ran a lemonade stand before being shut down for not having a permit, or the swing that 11 and 8-year-old Reilly and Gracie McMillan of Calgary built for their neighborhood on a city tree in front of their house that was removed.
These incidents may seem small, but they’re occurring every day across Canada in our homes, schools and within society at large. We must do away with our shield-like culture, both in how we raise children and how we demand the government treat us as adults. Until we realize that our societal shift towards entitlement and governments’ overbearing micromanagement aligns directly with how we criticize our youth, nothing will change.
The Calgary Sun reported that, according to a city official, Reilly and Gracie’s swing was removed because, “If you can imagine you were the tree and you put your arm out and someone put some ropes onto you and started rubbing back and forth on a swing, that would start to chafe you.”
That’s right. Apparently, we have sufficiently bubble-wrapped Millennials and Generation Z from discomfort, now it’s time to protect plants from any uneasiness caused by rope burn.
Looks like Generation Tree won’t make it out of their parents’ basements either.
Lauren Millar is a 2nd year law student at the University of Ottawa and current Institute for Liberal Studies Fellow at the Canadian Constitution Foundation. She is an alumnus of the Ontario Legislature Internship Programme and Trinity College at the University of Toronto.
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