Enough about the generation gap – we’re all human!

Last night I was scrolling through my news feed when I came across the article “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy“. Of course, being a Gen Y “yuppie” (or Young Urban Professional) myself, my first response went something along the lines of “Here we go. What are they going to insult us with now? What stereotype are they going to cast upon all people born between the ’70s and early ’90s?”

To some extent I may have proved the article correct, just in my response. In other ways I’d like to think it proved me correct (oh the irony!).

Basically, the article presents the hypothetical Gen Y-er, ‘Lucy’. Lucy is a Gen Y Yuppie, or – as the writer likes to label her – a GYPSY (Gen Y Protagonist and Special Yuppie), who is supposed to represent a culture of young people. And she is unhappy because her world is just not meeting her expectations.

Lucy’s parents are of the Baby Boomer Generation, and were taught by their parents – who survived the World Wars and economic depression – to focus on establishing secure careers because they wanted their children to have a better life than they did. Of course, Lucy’s parents made those careers, worked hard, and in an environment of economic prosperity met with more success than they had hoped for. The writer then goes on to explain how in turn the Baby Boomers, full of optimism and prosperity, brought their children up to believe that there were no limits to the possibilities in life. This has led to a more ambitious generation of youth than ever before; one that not only wants a secure career, but a fulfilling one!

I have no qualms with the arguments to this point.

Until the writer claims that Gen Y-ers are delusional, self-centred, taunted by the image shaping of social media, and have a false sense of superiority.

Uh… excuse me?

This may be true for some individuals. But to throw all Gen-Y yuppies in that same category? That smacks of someone from an older generation groaning “Back in my day…”

I know many, many Gen Y-ers who work extremely hard to be in the job they are in. I know many who are happy and fulfilled by their work, others who are not but still work hard because that’s “what you do” until you can find something more fulfilling. They are creative and genuinely want to do well. For those who criticise this generation for their aversion to failure, I ask: “Does ANYONE enjoy failure?” That doesn’t mean we don’t learn valuable lessons from it. The majority of Gen Y-ers I know are also humble. If they do have a false sense of superiority – or any sense of superiority for that matter – they rarely make it publicly known!

I agree somewhat with the writer on the issue of social media, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we are ‘taunted’ by it. Yes, we see other people’s ‘wonderful’ lives playing out in front of us. Yes, social media is about image shaping. But once again I believe the way that is understood comes down to the individual and societal attitudes, rather than being a generational characteristic.

Yet this is also where I hold the biggest concern for my students. The young people I teach now are either on the cusp of being in Generation Z, or are fully-fledged Gen Z-ers. Unlike my peers and I born pre-1990s, these students have never known a world without internet. The idea of picking up the home phone is null and void with instant connection at their fingertips in the form of smartphones, tablets and laptops. They are constantly staring at a screen. At recess and lunchtime, it is not uncommon to see a group of friends sitting in silence, staring at phone screens. What are they doing? Texting each other?

There also seems to be an argument that they have it easy, with all of this technology. I believe it is the exact opposite. It is tough being a late Gen-Yer/Gen Z-er. They are bombarded by information and communication. They have access to each other 24/7, which in itself can be a blessing and a curse. The media is at their fingertips, beeping, flashing and buzzing at them constantly. It is difficult for them to switch off. At a recent guest speaker presentation, our Year 8s and 9s were told that Australian teenagers have an average attention span of 8 seconds. That’s less than Dory in Finding Nemo. Personally I don’t believe it’s that low, but it’s certainly not long.

As an interesting aside, I make my Year 8 English class, who are learners in a 1:1 laptop school, hand-write drafts. At first, they complained as if the world was ending. Now that they’re used to it, no complaints, and it seems that not staring at a screen almost seems to be a relief for them!

But this is the hyper-connected, media-driven world they live in. They are not the only ones glued to their screens – I know many Gen-X, Gen-Y and Baby Boomers, who find it difficult to disconnect – myself included. And if the world had been this way when I was a teenager, I probably would have shown the same characteristics as current teenagers.

Social, economic, cultural, political and technological developments have seen to it that the generations have had very different life experiences. However, we are all human beings and follow a similar developmental pattern, regardless of when we were born. We are shaped by the society we live in, and society does change therefore we experience different pressures and concerns. It is something I’ve realised with my students. Every now and then I catch myself thinking “We weren’t like ‘that’.” Yet the reality is we probably were as teenagers. However, now I am looking at things through a different lens and cannot make a fair comparison about what my generation was like. I’ve grown up, and they are growing up. How I perceive them is probably how my teachers perceived me. Not much has changed in the relationship between the generations!



Image from: http://www.thinkei.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Gen-Y.jpg

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