Why Today's Generation Gap Might Be a Good Thing
We have more in common with our kids than we did with our parents — plus we're open to how much Millennials can teach us
Lisa Endlich is the author of Be the Change and the New York Times business best-seller Goldman Sachs: The Culture of Success. She is the co-founder, with Mary Dell Harrington, of Grown and Flown: Parenting From the Empty Nest.
The generation gap isn’t what it used to be. The divide that separated me from my parents was wide and well defined by our divergent views on music, sex, hemlines, the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon’s presidency. I fought with them over students’ inalienable right to protest authority. My primary goal in shopping was to buy things they would hate.
It’s a very different chasm between my children and me: We like the same music, have similar politics and shop for clothes in the same stores. The issues that separate us are of an entirely different nature.
What happened to the generation gap? Once demarcated by political splits and cultural touchstones, the separation between the generations is now far subtler, defined by disparities in outlook, attitude and specific behaviors rather than core values and beliefs.
(MORE: Our Relationship With Other People's Kids)
12 Differences Between My Kids and Me
- My sons think nothing of leaving the house and venturing out in public in their PJ bottoms. Doing that has been a recurring nightmare of mine since 1971.
- I use cash. They use debit cards for any purchase over 24 cents.
- When I travel, I pack in suitcases. They grab the first vessel they can lay their hands on: gym bag, backpack, plastic bag, pillowcase ... whatever.
- I worry about losing my wallet. They worry about losing their phone. (OK, I worry about that too, but not to the degree they do. Their phones are their lifelines.)
- They believe the car when the gauge says you've got 20 miles before the gas tank is empty. I never even see a number that low.
- If I am meeting friends, we will send emails, confirm the location and, if dinner is involved, make a reservation. My kids will text their friends from the driveway and change the location at least twice before making a final decision. And they don’t usually have just one destination; for them, “plans” are a moving target throughout the night.
- I think established credibility and fierce individualism — in journalism, academia, business — are important. Their generation believes market and crowd consensus are what matter most.
- I download apps and software that I need. They download apps and software to find out what will prove useful — or fun.
- I still believe good news can come out of the mailbox. They think only junk resides there and never (as in never) actually open it.
- I often feel like I have seen the movie when, in reality, I have read the book. They think they read the book when, in reality, they watched a clip of the movie on YouTube.
- They think you cannot turn off a video game until it is over. I have no idea why (although I have a tough time putting a great book down).
- Because of social media, they still “know” everyone they have ever known. I look back and wish I could revisit moments with friends I lost track of decades ago.
Vive la Différence
It’s become something of a sport for boomers to write Millennials off as self-absorbed, lazy, narcissistic or, as Time labeled them, “The Me, Me, Me Generation.” But really, isn’t this just the tide turning? Our parents’ “greatest generation” must have recoiled in horror at the thought of ceding the world to the rebellious, shaggy-haired, profligate, never-experienced-hardship boomers who sought to reject every aspect of the social order while playing our rock ’n’ roll at an eardrum-splitting level.
The leading edge of Millennials is now passing 30. If I look past the superficial differences, I see a generation that is highly accepting of differences, comfortable with change at warp speed, values human relationships above all, despite being weaned on technology, and is innovative in the extreme. No one likes the idea of eventually passing the torch of power. But when we do, I think we'll be in good hands.