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Defining Generation Y

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By Carla R. Herrera


The new Internet Generation a far cry from boomers, who are now acting as helicopter parents

iPods, cell phones and the internet define much of the life of Generation Y. Marketers, media and popular culture are currently trying to pin this generation down to a specific definition and are reporting back with descriptions of over-parented young adults who need to be coached through nearly every aspect of life, lack real-time social skills and are over-medicated due to the rash of the medical establishment’s need to label childhood hyperactivity a sickness.
The labels attached to this generation also include names like Millennials, Cyber Kids, Echo Boomers, The Digital Generation and The Internet Generation and refer to those born as early as 1976 to as late as 2000.
They are the Internet Generation, as much as one could be today, with the tail-end of this group growing up with no history of pre-internet days. Most of their communication is through text and Instant Messenger and their idea of mail is E-mail—no postage required thank you.
For the most part, both of their parents worked and they grew up, or are still growing up in single-parent households. They go or went to daycare, or are latchkey kids and according to some media sources are over-parented by the Baby Boomers who are now helicopter parents—hovering in the background and ready to fix everything.
“You always hear that kids today are over-parented,” said Sue Gautsch, a director of teaching and learning services at the University of Southern California in an interview at the Lansing City Pulse. “These kids have never known a world without seatbelts. They’ve never known a world without bicycle helmets.”
Some media reports state that this new generation is soft in comparison to previous generations. Most don’t appreciate the same work ethic that was instilled in so many Americans prior to the X-Generation. Instead they are immersed in technology, are well educated, media savvy and narcissistic. But the demographics and reality don’t support this.
Though this may be true for some, it doesn’t explain the increasing number of service jobs filled by young people who are not educated or media savvy. If this generation is so well off, why would they still be flipping burgers?
Even though the United States has reached a higher level of educational attainment than ever before, still only 24 percent of the population graduates from a university with a bachelor’s degree. That’s a far cry from the “Whole Generation” theory of an educated, media savvy class of kids.
One ad agency executive interviewed for a segment of 60 Minutes titled, The Millenials are Coming, hosted by Morley Safer, stated that today’s youth “…are living and breathing themselves.” While a conflicting article from USA Today in October of last year reported that, “61 percent of 13- to 25-year-olds feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world, suggests a survey of 1,800 young people to be released today. It says 81 percent have volunteered in the past year…”
Gloria Tillery, a 24-year-old of Siloam Springs says her primary concern is her family.
“I have a family to take care of, plus I have an online store at Ebay,” Tillery said. As a stay-at-home mom, she places her own needs last. “You have to make sacrifices if you want a family.”
When asked about the personalities of her generation portrayed in the media, Tillery said, “I don’t know people like that. Most just work and try to take care of their families.”
At the end of 2007, The National Center for Health Statistics released a new report stating that after more than a decade of falling teen births, the rate was again rising. The increase seems small at a meager 3 percent, but when there are now 41.9 births to teens aged 15-19 per every 1,000, that’s a big increase, up from 40.5 births per 1,000 in 2005.
The good news is, the media does report that Generation Y are better parents, holding family at the top of their list of priorities and spending more time with their children than Boomers ever did.
So what does it all mean?
The media is reporting on only one segment of the Generation Y population and that is the most visible, successful segment. The rest read about who they are supposed to be and tend to feel inadequate for not measuring up to their peers, who appear successful in every aspect of life.
The job growth in the U.S. indicates most job growth is in the service industry and that’s a long walk from corporate America offices. The census numbers prove that little more than 25 percent of the population receives a higher level of education than a high-school diploma and pregnancies are rising among teens.
Twenty-somethings may be technologically savvy, but only because we have moved into the technical age and the social climate is one in which they need to be connected to feel secure. The technology doesn’t move them away from working at McDonald’s or Burger King—it keeps them connected to their friends on Myspace who make them feel positive about working at McDonald’s or Burger King.
And they do need to feel positive. Boomer parents told them they could do and be anything their little hearts desired. Who would have thought they desired to wait tables or become janitors?
“A lot of my friends would like to go to school, but can’t afford it financially or in time. Most are single-parents, so school would just be another distraction from their children,” said Jessica Conway, a 28-year-old from Lowell.
Previous generations saw college as a way to raise social and financial status. Many youth today don’t know if they want to do that. Spending four years at a university is a commitment many are not willing to make, even if it does mean more money.
And according to a brief prepared by the Families and Work Institute in 2002, Generation Y is family-and dual-centric with single working moms spending as much time with their children as married non-working moms did in 1977.
“Gen-X fathers spend significantly more time with their children than Boomer fathers with children of the same age, an average of 3.4 hours per workday…” and Generation Y is following that model with their own children, according to the brief.
So, though the new generation is more educated by numbers of graduating students and those grads are moving into the workforce, the reality is that the greater number struggle as much as previous generations, but are spending more of their time on family rather than career. And according to most reports so far, they are mentally and emotionally healthier than previous generations. That really is a significant shift and one for the better, despite the negative reports.

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