• Thu, Aug 19 2010

What’s The Matter With Kids Today?

The New York Times wants to know why you kids today can’t be the way they were. They were perfect in every way. Why won’t 20-somethings grow up? Why won’t you get jobs and get married, doggonit? And why do you keep moving back in with your parents? Kill yourselves. Just kill yourselves, you wretched, filthy leech children.

Perhaps I carried that a little far. I’m sorry, in my mind, all New York Times articles are narrated by a 159 year old man who is 74 million dollars in debt. I don’t know where I got those numbers from. In any event, the article states:

A cover of The New Yorker last spring picked up on the zeitgeist: a young man hangs up his new Ph.D. in his boyhood bedroom, the cardboard box at his feet signaling his plans to move back home now that he’s officially overqualified for a job. In the doorway stand his parents, their expressions a mix of resignation, worry, annoyance and perplexity: how exactly did this happen?

It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall…  The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

Huh, old dude who writes for the NYT. Huh.

I’m not sure why that is. It could be because we’re uniquely misunderstood snowflakes, just like everyone else. It could be because mom folds our underwear really nicely when she does the laundry. Or it could be because we came of age at a time where we couldn’t find any jobs. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it isn’t anyone’s plan to graduate and move back in with their parents (I adore my parents, but if I spent more than about 10 days living with them now, I’d go stir crazy).

Of course we don’t want to move back in with our parents and remain perpetual adolescents. We were a generation that was told that we were all the best and brightest. Some sort of weird societal fears about harming children’s sense of self worth meant that we all got to be winners at something (I still have my “most improved” soccer trophy, and I often sat under the goal reading comic books for the entire game). We all took extracurriculars and won prizes in useless things like viola playing. We took SAT classes. We were all told we were expected to go to college, so we all went to college. We had a great self esteem, because we were going to take over the world! Then we graduated in the middle of a recession. And no one wanted to hire us.

As I recall, when I was freelancing for the New York Post, Pulitzer Prize winners were getting laid off. I don’t know what it’s like trying to get hired when there’s not a 10% unemployment rate, but I do know that the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where the main character rolls in with some laminated articles from her college newspaper and gets hired at a major fashion magazine makes 20-somethings laugh so hard that cheerwine spews out of their noses. And it’s extra frustrating, because, since we’re all winners who must never, ever settle, we thought we’d have a job we sort of liked. We didn’t know that we’d be competing to be a barista at Starbucks for the health benefits. It’s enough to make  anyone want to curl up in a fetal position and move back home where someone will take care of you.

However, that really doesn’t make for the best dating prospects. And who wants to date when their own life doesn’t seem the least bit under control yet? For that matter, who wants to date when you have to sleep over at his parent’s house?

You want us to grow up, Olds? Stop trying to recruit us into stupid unpaid internships. Give us actual jobs. With health benefits. I think you’ll find that after being stuck three years out of college still working horrendous part-time jobs, 20-somethings will be more grateful for that job than you can imagine (every morning, I resist the temptation to sing a song glorifying B5media. For serious). We’re not trying to forstall adult life. We’d love to start adult life. Just try us. We’ll be over here in the corner, playing Wii. But not because we want to.

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  • Leah

    Thank you for articulating this! A friend of mine FB posted the original article and I couldn’t come up with something clever enough to write back to him, so I just posted this article on his wall. Take that!

  • eEv

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! Ugh, I am so sick of those “kids today” news stories– I hear a lot of it listening to NPR– and you articulated it perfectly. We’d love to be working in our fields! And as for “avoiding commitments…” Well, last I heard traveling was a good way to expand your horizons, make yourself a more interesting and educated person, and avoid having regrets of a wasted adventureless youth later on. And getting married? I happen to be engaged, because I’m with someone whom I love and who is an excellent partner. Several of my friends who are my age are engaged or married, for the same reasons. Many of my friends are not. And I’m not sure how being married or not being married is anyone else’s business, since, as far as I can tell it doesn’t really benefit society at large. I would sure hate to think my fiance is marrying me just because he thinks it’s the responsible, grown-up thing to do.

  • Drew

    Really? This seems a little bit self-indulgent to me.

    Perhaps that is because I am a 30-something year old, who didn’t graduate during a recession, and yet has managed survive several recessions, be relatively debt-free, serve in the Armed Forces, and not have to move back in with my parents.

    I know, firsthand, that when the 20-somethings you so accurately portray above apply for an opening at my company, said resumes are inevitably followed with “i am best 4 this job b/c i am fun so gimme already”. This, needless to say, does not make me want to hire them.

    MBA’s, PHD’s, and all the rest mean nothing if you are afraid of actual hard work, delayed rewards, and a dedication to the cause. In other words, learn to settle, accept the fact that you are not all the “Entitled Ones Worthy of Worship”, and accept your place as a cog in the Machine.

    Seriously, grow up. Mature. And learn that not everything is going to be handed to you on a silver plate the way it has been for the first part of your lives.

    And… get the hell off my lawn, you darned kids.

    • SamHain Press

      That’s making a hell of a lot of generalizations about 20-somethings. And it’s kind of insulting, frankly.

      Most of my friends (and I) were raised in working-class households where the value of a strong work ethic was proven, day in and day out, by our parents, both of whom *had* to work to support the family. Many of us had to get jobs in high school or college to earn the higher education that was deemed mandatory for a ‘better life.’ Now many of us are stuck with loan debt, unpaid internships or sporadic temp jobs that barely pay our bills, and the looming weight of our parents’ debt and advanced-age care.

      We don’t expect silver plates – hell, we hocked the aluminum takeout trays months ago – we expect a little bit of respect for the accomplishments we’ve already achieved, and a fair chance to prove our worth. The expectation that we behave like media-emphasized stereotypes also implies that some people won’t give us the time of day because of erroneous assumptions.

  • alex

    Seriously if living with mom and dad is that bad and you don’t want it, then get out, go fill out an application at the local grocery store or wherever, apply for full time and jump on it and move out.
    If you were really THAT miserable living with mom and dad, your lazy ass would do something about it.
    Woop de doo, a college degree. You apply yourself to the workforce, the workforce won’t apply itself to you.
    I don’t know why having a college degree puts your head so far in the clouds, but for someone “smart” they sure lack common sense. Getting wealthy isn’t an overnight thing, people with degrees (some, not all…personally I have a Kinesiology degree too but I know it’s bad still with the economy) need to realize you start on the bottom and work your way up, college isn’t an express lane trip to CEO, nor does it guarantee anything. you have to…oh no, the dreaded word….WORK.

    • SamHain Press

      See my reply below, and Leah’s above.

      We are not expecting anything but the baseline level of respect and the opportunity to prove ourselves. Many who have had to move back in with their parents have exhausted *every* other possibility including (but not limited to) “the local grocery store or wherever.” One friend of mine took a thankless job at a UPS distribution center where the work destroyed his knee for any other menial-labor jobs (often the *only* ones available locally)… he’s 27, intelligent, articulate, and now permanently deemed ‘worthless’ by the local job market, despite his work ethic (and superfluous degree). He can’t even get a part-time, minimum-wage job in this area. It has **nothing** to do with “laziness.”

      And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories like his. Assumptions about any of us because of our age is as offensive as those about our race, religion, sexuality, or other superficiality.

  • Leah

    I can’t figure out where all these negative comments about 20somethings are coming from. Sure, I bet there are plenty of jerks in our generation who believe they should have things handed to them (or write in text-speak on resumes), but I’m sure those exist in every generation. I know the “not me and mine” theory applies to everyone, but no one I know would do that. We want jobs. We want to appear professional. We want to get paid, so badly in fact that the market for bottom-rung shit jobs and unpaid internships is unbelievably fierce.

    I figure the people who have these perceptions about our generation’s work ethic got it from either 1) the one or two 20somethings they know like that or 2) reading some over-generalized NY Times article about us or 3) youth jealousy. Get over it.

  • Carolyn

    I can wait for “delayed rewards” as patiently as the next person, but unfortunately Sallie Mae doesn’t take i.o.u.’s that say “owe you money as soon as I get my delayed reward of a full time job.”

  • Eileen

    Not being able to get a job may be due in part to the economy, but putting off marrying and having children is part of a long-term trend, I think. Take me, for example. I’m 21. I’m in college, and getting married and having children is something I’d like to do, but not for at least another five or ten years. My mother is 51. When she was my age, most of her friends went to college, but not all, and most of them were married by 23. My grandmother is 74. When she was my age, very few of her friends went to college, and she was already married with two children. A bachelor’s degree is expected now, so “real life” has to be put off until it’s finished. As people live longer and the “standard” of what we have to have done to get a stable career rises, “growing up” takes longer and longer. I agree that it’s hard to get a full-time job – even in the service industry – these days, but I think that pushing off adulthood is not a new development but the continuation of something that’s been going on a long time.

    But hey, this guy works at the NYT, which still seems to think that the day will come when it makes money off of paper copies of print media, so maybe he just hasn’t noticed modernity yet.

    • Leah

      *ZING*
      Love it!

  • reading along

    http://www.robinhenig.com/
    The author is a woman, I see references to “this guy” in reference to the author, that’s her website above.

  • Don

    My 45 yrs old stepson has been living with us for well over 4 years. He is divorced. Momma never wanted him to grow up so he hasn’t. I think both he and my wife have serious mental conditions. I will probably have to eventually just move out myself. Thank God most kids are not like him. At 45 he has to have his Cap’n Crunch and watches cartoons when he is home. He does work. The same job for over 26 years. NEVER has any money though. He gives us $100.00 per month, but that only started ayear ago at my insitence. My wife also gave him MY car. TWICE. So when I leave this relationship I will be the “bad guy” for leaving. Oh well, I have to leave before I go insane!

  • Chris

    I am 25. I am married with my first child on the way. Me and my wife do NOT live at home with mom and dad. We live on our own in a decent sized house. And it’s all possible because I’ve worked my ass off since I got out of high school. I haven’t attended a single day of college, yet I’ve been able to find not just 1, but 4 different full-time jobs (all with better benefits packages and pay rates than the last) since I graduated high school.

    I make a decent living for my family now. No, I’m not rich but I also don’t expect to be. One of the major things I’ve learned from all of the jobs I’ve had is that NOTHING is handed to you, not even “respect for your accomplishments” or “a fair chance to prove yourself”. There are 50 other people trying to prove themselves, and they all have the same list of “accomplishments” you have. You have to be better than them from the start.

    I don’t 100% agree with the attitude people have about my age group, but I do agree that a lot of 20-somethings have a horrible, undeserved sense of entitlement. And what’s worse, most of them don’t know how to accept responsibility for their situations.

    Marital status aside, being jobless and living with your parents are both situations that can be rectified with good, old-fashioned hard work and determination. So what if you can’t get your dream job. There is ALWAYS someone hiring with or without a recession.

    So in short, I respectfully disagree with your entire post. There’s always another option, and unfortunately most people are too lazy to explore all of them.

    • Stumbled upon

      This guy apparently, not having attended a day of college, has never had to experience hearing the words, “I’m sorry, you’re overqualified.”

      I did attend a day of college. I attended many days of college. I graduated with 2 practical, non-liberal arts degrees. In a recession. In case you missed the past few years, sir, no one has been hiring. In fact, people have been getting laid off. So I go out in search of a job, any job, with my two degrees in hand. I’m not qualified for the jobs that I want because I don’t have the requisite experience, and I’m not qualified for the jobs that I don’t want because I’m “overqualified. So to get requisite experience, I am expected to work for free in unpaid internships – thereby requiring me to either find another source of income, or move in with my parents. So, yeah, someone might be hiring, but they’re not paying enough to live on, which means I’ll still be at home. Tell me how “that can be rectified with good, old-fashined hard work and determination.”

      I decided to spend another $100k and go spend a few days at law school. If, when the next recession hits, you and your wife get ousted from your jobs with your benefits as part of a downsize effort, let me know if you need a job. You can put in some “good, old-fashioned hard work” washing the windows of my law firm.