As a baby boomer with two daughters – one a millennial, the other Gen Z – no one has to convince me of certain generational trends. And I have observed earlier ones as well, particularly during my campus ministry career.
Paying attention to generational tendencies is good. However, it is wise not to overgeneralize various generations – as is often done.
I’m always leery of any old person’s comment that begins, “Young people today …”
It reminds me of the quote from the book, “Personality and Adjustment,” “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and … tyrannize their teachers.”
The book was published in 1953, and the quote was attributed by Plato to Socrates (469-399 BCE).
I’m always humored by each older generation’s claim that the younger generation is lazy and irresponsible – as if we don’t know those our own age who fit that bill far better than some younger persons.
My millennial daughter – part of the so-called “entitled” generational cohort – was much more disciplined and responsible in her academic pursuits than was I.
And her hard work and self-care are more balanced than most of us have figured out.
There are things I’m still learning from my 20-something daughters that I wish had been applied to my life earlier on.
While studies showing tendencies and differences within various generations are insightful and helpful, an over-assumption and over-application can be misleading. There is more diversity of thought and values within each generation than often acknowledged.
I used to hear parents who barked about teenage peer pressure chatting with one another in carpool line – and then getting back into their matching SUVs.
Advanced aging does seem to allow for more honesty without concern for the expectations of others.
A reporter was interviewing a 104-year-old woman and asked, “What is the advantage to living to be 104?”
The woman replied, “Well, first, there’s no peer pressure.”
Some of the most open-minded and open-hearted people I know have passed their 80th and even 90th birthdays.
They are always learning and growing and pushing others to embrace truth and love in ways we have failed in the past.
That applies within my boomer generation as well. Yet, I’m astonished at how many of my peers fail miserably at critical thinking and fresh discovery, spending their days passing along “cut and paste” fear-based nonsense on Facebook.
And numerous 20-somethings – peers of my daughters – are engaged in protests against injustice while others are running around spouting red-cap racism and other forms of ignorance.
Growing into adulthood, I assumed, wrongly, each generation becomes more enlightened and open as a result of additional education and broader experiences not afforded the previous generation.
That misunderstanding was based on what has happened in the four generations of my own family.
Clearly, that is not the case more broadly. Rather than birth years, other factors (such as whether Rush Limbaugh and Fox News saturated one’s environment) may strongly influence what one fears and, therefore, how one believes and acts accordingly.
Generational cohorts are defined to some degree by the influence of historic events, such as 9/11 on millennials. And technology’s impact on Gen Xers is notable.
Insights gained from such studies can be constructively applied to congregational life and other social institutions.
However, overgeneralizations can lead to assumptions that are too broad and to programming decisions that misfire.
Churches spend a lot of time and energy – and frustration – on “reaching the next generation.”
Often, the approach is to call a younger minister (talk about pressure) or even put the organ on Craigslist, with the false notion that emerging adults will otherwise fall into traditional patterns of participation.
Melinda Lundquist Denton provides insights in her co-authored book, “Back-Pocket God: Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Emerging Adults.”
“If you hold religion up against Sunday brunch or game night with friends, religion was near the bottom for them,” she told Religion News Service of her finding about young adults. “They prioritized family, friends and having meaningful work all above religion or having a relationship with God.”
This is helpful information. For example, don’t expect guilt or obligation to guide young adults to the church today, or keep them from recreational activities on Sunday that older generations marked as sin.
These trends should be well noted, but not considered to be exhaustive claims.
We should not expect everyone to act in certain ways just because of the year on a birth certificate. In general, overgeneralizing generations misses important nuances.
To know this is true, we simply have to look at the diversity within our own peer groups.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.