How We Broke a Generation: 5 Lessons We Taught the Twenty-Somethings I Wish They Would Just Forget, Already

Much has been written lately about today’s young adults and how they apparently suck. At college, at work, and at life in general. Of course, not every twenty-something falls into this unfortunate category. Maybe even the majority doesn’t. But if even a portion of them do indeed suck (who am I to judge?), I would argue that it may not be their fault. I know, I know, that’s enabling. But just hear me out.

These kids were raised in entirely different conditions than we were (“we” being those with an arbitrary cut-off age of, let’s say, 30). There are a few “truths” in the minds of these kids that they didn’t come up with on their own. We taught them. And I’m not just talking about their parents. We all did it, and it’s time to own up. If we do, maybe we can change things for the next generation.

  1. twitter-292994__180Social Media is Your Friend. There is no place on earth that boasts more judgment and less accountability than the internet. Just look at anyone in the spotlight, how little they have to say to get raked over the coals, and how inflammatory and hateful the resulting comments about said person can get. Today’s college kids grew up in this culture. This is their social norm. So why not expect this twisted habit of expecting-the-world-from-others juxtaposed with having-absolutely-no-personal-accountability to inundate every other aspect of life? We wonder why bullying is such a thing now, despite the fact that we use every chance we can to talk about how terrible it is. We have literally been asking these kids to do as we say, not as we do. And we all know how well that goes over. (At this point, you may be thinking this article’s mere existence is irony at it’s finest, as I’m picking on a group of people and they can’t really fight back. Noted.)

This generation knows the only thing you have to do to get noticed is to “go viral.” And, as I am often reminded by my two-year-old, negative attention is still attention. How much valuable learning and personal development time (read: growing up time) has been wasted on these kids trying to be the Next Big Thing, whatever that is?

  1. The Rules Don’t Apply to Me. Right now, there is an alarming trend in society. The rules don’t get followed, they get changed. If a deadline is missed, if a disciplinary action is invoked, it’s easy to get our way if we go to the media. Proclaim ourselves victims of some deeply unfair and persecutory regulation. Is this the norm? No. Does it seem like it sometimes? Absolutely. And how do we expect kids to know the difference when they interact more online than anywhere else?

As parents, we want our kids to have a better life than we had. It’s practically the definition of parenting. So when things don’t work out for our kids—in school, on the playground, wherever—the best way to fix it is to intervene, right? So. Wrong.

And everyone reading this knows it. So why, then, do parents argue with teachers, coaches, and other authority figures about disciplinary actions, playing time, and grades? Could it be we’ve forgotten one of life’s cruelest but most helpful lessons: That life isn’t fair? Entitled children grow up to become entitled young adults. It was only a matter of time before the “I am the most important person here” mentality seeped font-533232__180into the nation’s colleges. But eventually these kids will receive the rude awakening we’ve so helpfully delayed for them. They will be denied jobs (or lose them) because they lack work ethic. They will lose friends and become unpopular because they always put themselves first. If they seek special treatment, they may succeed temporarily, but they will lose in the long run because they will have alienated everyone around them.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It matters how you treat people. It’s the Golden Rule. But it got lost somewhere along the way amidst all the tweets and facebook statuses. Let’s bring it back. It doesn’t take much. I’ll go first: I will let someone into the lane in front of me today. #GoldenRule.

  1. Teachers are Part of the Service Industry. In a lot of ways, teachers raise our children, and we should respect and thank them for that. School is about preparing kids for life in all it’s facets, not just establishing an acceptable GPA so that they can go on to college to learn about life. As we’ve seen, that mentality doesn’t serve our school-class-401519__180children very well.

Depending on your talents and your aspirations, it is not necessarily imperative to be at the top of your class in school. But if this is your goal, you should know that you must be smart and work hard. Novel concept, I know.

You are not entitled to a good grade just because you spent hours on homework. Imagine yourself saying: “My financial advisor isn’t very bright, is terrible at math, and has lost me a ton of money, but he sure does try hard. I’d hate to hurt his feelings by firing him.” Wouldn’t happen.

You are also not entitled to a good grade because you have the highest IQ in the room. How about this: “My surgeon graduated at the top of his class in med school, but has only done a few of these procedures because he spends so much time on the golf course. I think I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and let him operate on me.” Psssh.

In the real world, we make decisions based on what is best for us and our families. Feelings don’t often enter the equation. Why should we expect oschool-79612__180ur kids’ teachers to shield them from that reality? Why would we want them to? I want my kids to strive for excellence, not mediocrity. I want them to work for what they get, not expect a free ride. Lately, high school seems to be considered fluff. A means to an
end (the end being acceptance into college, which in all actuality is more like the beginning in a lot of ways). Are we surprised that kids are floored when they get there and meet challenges?

  1. Nothing is Permanent. Between Target and Amazon Prime, things are more accessible than ever. But buying these things often feels temporary. You know you can return most them (even if you rarely do), and so the click of the button doesn’t feel like a commitment at all. I remember as a child ordering things from a catalog and waiting weeks to receive them. And you better believe it wasn’t going back once it was delivered. I don’t even know how that would have worked.


Everything is temporary. That picture you send through Snapchat. The major you choose in college. Your relationships. Your wireless plan. Everything can be replaced or changed.

war-469503__180Even death feels temporary with video games being so realistic. You can shoot your
buddy with a semi-automatic weapon and he will be playing again in a few seconds. We adults realize this is far from reality, but do kids? These are kids who are figuring out the water-gun-312826__180world through their experiences, who are adding each of these experiences to their repertoire for reference later. They are literally learning through personal experience that you can shoot someone—whether in anger or just out of boredom—and they will come back.

  1. It’s Enough Just to Try. I realize a three-year old shouldn’t have to worry about being the MVP of her soccer team, but kids are more resilient than we give them credit for. And a little healthy competition teaches them so much about life, more than words ever could. In my opinion, being legitimately good at something does wonders for the human psyche. What’s wrong with a kid knowing they suck at soccer and are good at drawing?

football-461340__180If your not-at-all athletic son never realizes he’s not athletic, won’t he waste a lot of time when he could be figuring out what his true talents are? Sure, if he enjoys playing football, by all means, let him. But it’s not really fair to let him put all his eggs in the football basket and not realize until high school that he doesn’t have a chance at starting.

Learning your strengths and weaknesses is part of growing up. It’s part of choosing your way in life. It’s part of finding fulfillment in your job instead of just a paycheck.


Plus, the real world isn’t going to care how many participation trophies you have on your shelf.