Many people over a certain age have the opinion that Millennials think they know it all/have overly inflated self-esteem/etc because they were given participation trophies when they were young. Do you think this opinion has any basis in fact?
One, of course, an older generation being angry at the Millennials for the participation trophies they handed out to them is both ironic and stupid. Two, I’m of the opinion that participation trophies and ribbons are generally more important to parents than to kids, because everyone wants to believe their child is special (i.e., that they’re not fucking up as parents), and they want some concrete manifestation of this.
Three, participation trophies and ribbons are neither new — I got a few when I was a kid, and I’ll note that no one really gave a crap about them then — nor are they given solely to Those Damn Kids™: Go to any running event you care to attend and you’ll see that everyone who runs gets a medal, pretty much for registering for the event. Congratulations! You can fill out a form! And why not? Everyone likes swag, and that’s basically all these things are. It could have been a t-shirt, but I guess runners like medals more. Or maybe they get both! Honestly, I don’t run unless I have to. I don’t know.
Four, it’s just the Millennials’ time in the tube, which is to say that every generation of younger people gets shit on by the olds, and right now it’s the Millennials. I remember being in my early 20s and watching everyone throw up their hands at Gen-X; they called us “slackers” and wondered if we were ever going to get real jobs or just sit around in flannel listening to those damn grungy bands or whatever. Prior to that, of course, the Baby Boomers were all hippies, with their damn free love and marijuana, and before them were those beatniks, blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda Jesus Christ it’s all so predictable you could set a clock, or at least a few Time magazine covers, by it.
I think it’s pretty stupid, and in the particular case of the Millennials, I have a fair amount of sympathy for them as a generational cohort. For the last few decades we’ve been making it more difficult for people to get ahead economically — the choices are to go to college, and get saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of non-dischargable debt right out of the gate, or not go to college, and then mostly never have a job that makes more than $30k a year. When you pull shit like that, of course Millennials are generally going to be broke and not, say, buying houses or squirting out kids at the same point in life as earlier generations.
Add on to that the general New Gilded Age we live in, in which the vast majority of income growth in the last couple of decades has gone to the top few percent while at the same time life costs have spiraled up (try to rent in NYC or SF or LA or other places where jobs that pay well actually are these days), and yeah. Stop shitting on the Millennials for the awful hand they’ve been dealt, which they (largely) had no part in dealing. If I were in the business of assigning blame to generational cohorts, I’d be pointing fingers at the Boomers rather more than the Millennials; they’ve been the ones with the cards for a while now.
Beyond this, I know my fair share of Millennials, and utterly unsurprisingly, as individuals they are all over the board. Some are slackers. Some are hugely industrious. Some are fuck-ups and some are not. Some are people who I care for and love, and others are people I would be happy never to see again. In my experience they have roughly the same proportions of varieties of the human experience as any other generational cohort, because people are people, and the Millennials are people.
So, basically, all this backhanding the Millennials is bullshit. They’re generally doing the best they can with what they’ve got, and participation trophies don’t have much to do with it one way or the other. Or if they do, it’s because of this: Because an earlier generation decided to give them participation trophies, but keep all the other prizes for themselves.
But thanks for playing, Millennials! And don’t worry: society will be dumping on the kids who come after you soon enough.
(There is still time to ask a question for Reader Request Week. Go here for all the details, and to ask your question.)