I often hear people accuse others of being lazy. This is especially true regarding the baby-boomer’s attitude toward millennials who are perceived as self-entitled brats who don’t know the value of hard work and can’t put their phones down. “Kids today…” they say; “…they are not willing to work hard like we did.” Is there an epidemic of laziness among today’s youth? Or is this another case of an older generation in misalignment with values, beliefs, and norms of a younger generation.
I don’t believe there an epidemic of laziness. Today’s youth are not lazy, they are lost. Unlike the baby boomers, millennials can’t rely on a standard life-course involving smooth and predictable transitions between each stage. Baby boomers are right when they say, “the world was simpler then.” Social structures were much more stable, bound by stronger cultural norms regarding gender, sexuality, as well as the meaning of adulthood and family. If you didn’t fit into normal gender ideals, sexual orientations, or take on normal adult responsibilities, you were probably marginalized and considered weird.
Now, everything is becoming weird. Actually, weird is the new cool. Millennials are more free to experiment with the way they present their gender, who they engage with sexually, and how they make their money. This represents a great deal of progress for many sociologists who have been critiquing the hierarchical norms that have marginalized minorities.
Although we’ve seen progress regarding social justice, millennials are now tasked with navigating a highly fluid, highly complex social milieu where there are fewer clear signposts directing them along their life-course. Today’s youth see a multitude of paths but don’t know which way to go. Simply finishing high-school no longer guarantees a long line of employers offering you a position. Even finishing a post-secondary degree can’t guarantee that! Personally, I’ve finished three post-secondary degrees and still wonder if I’ll ever have stable employment.
There has been an explosion of both opportunity and uncertainty. Today’s youth are not lazier than the last generation’s, they are just more lost. Human beings function best with a clear sense of direction and purpose. Remember those essay assignments in school when the teacher told you to just write whoever you want? They were always the hardest. Whenever my assignments are too broad, students are quick to inquire about the assignment, seeking guiding regulations. When the regulations are clear, students thrive. When they are vague, students flounder, put it off, or take much longer to complete the assignment. Loosely structured assignments do not cause students to become lazy; the lack of regulation makes them feel lost. This is why we need to look at how our social environments may be doing the same thing.
Nietzsche tells us that when we have a “why” we can overcome almost any “how”. Rather than berating millennials, calling them lazy and unmotivated, we need to consider whether or not they have something to be motivated to move toward. In a world with so many options, we need to offer forms of institutional support that can provide guidance for our youth who are coming of age in this complicated age. This may come in the form of updated career counseling classes in schools, peer-support groups for young entrepreneurs, or community programs that give young people a chance to apply and build on their unique skills.
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