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Are Millennials a Socially Awkward Generation?

Are millennials (1980-1998) a socially dysfunctional group of men and women? According to many consultants, employers, professors, pundits and other purveyors of the culture, the answer is yes. From newspapers, magazines and websites, to other forms of media, the dilemmas facing millennials (Generation Y) are frequently front and center news. All one has to do is click a button and you are likely to find an article or several chronicling the plight of these group of young people.

While I am ambivalent about making generalizations about any group of people, some of the more common characteristics attributed to millennials seem to have some merit. That is, they:

· Lack social skills. While this trait can be true of people of any generation, I have to admit that I have seen more than a few young men and women of this age group conduct themselves in situations that are painfully awkward and troubling. They engage in behavior that previous generations would consider weird or outright rude. What older groups of Americans would find odd or outright offensive often appears totally normal to many millennials.

· Are often unable to interact directly with other human beings. HBO host, comedian and cultural critic Bill Maher said it best: “This is a generation who has lived their entire lives through a screen.” I often wonder if texting or communicating with apps became obsolete what would some of these individuals do. As a college professor, I see this inability to converse directly with other human beings. In fact, I have seen students on campus walking next to one another texting as opposed to speaking to one another. When I first encountered this behavior my initial response was, “Wow.” Now I am unfazed by witnessing such a spectacle. Sad to say I have seen this sort of behavior all too often to know that it is not an isolated incident.

· Terrified of directly confronting problems or fears. This is really not all that surprising given the lack of social interaction many of these kids have had. This sort of psychological encapsulation has manifested itself in many ways, as we see the growing number of mass shootings by young men such as Adam Lanza, Elliot Rodger, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and others. We see less brutal forms of this sort of irrational behavior in the sudden and growing demands for trigger warnings by some students on class syllabi who are terrified of being exposed to material or arguments they may deem as being possibly harmful to their psyche and emotional well-being.

· Have been too sheltered. While any reasonable and attentive parent is going to be protective and look out for the best interests of their children, especially when their kids are in their formative years, the plethora of helicopter and snowplow parents of this generation has created a population of young people (not all) who have reached legal age and are often unable to cope with the responsibilities that come with adulthood. College-aged men and women frantically calling their parents and asking them what to eat for dinner. Parents contacting professors about their child’s grade on a paper more than once, etc. Yes, I have been witness to such behavior that is a new phenomenon that was largely absent in previous generations. It is also a form of overprotective paternalism that does not bode well for young adults of this generation. Their decision-making and parenting skills (those that have children) are likely going to leave a lot to be desired.

· Possess an “everyone wins” mentality. From the time they were in kindergarten this has been a generation that has been indoctrinated with the philosophy that they are special. Just making any amount of effort is sufficient. They are entitled to be rewarded for their performance no matter how mediocre or subpar. Trophies and medals are given to everyone. Not winning is a foreign concept. The reality is that many millennials will get a rude awakening that life (at least some aspects of it) is indeed a competition and that, in the real world, not everyone is going to be rewarded for the sake of effort.

While these behaviors do not apply to all millennials or perhaps even the majority, the fact is that some of traits do apply to more than a few members of this group. Yes, there were young people in previous generations who could be faulted for possessing similar complicated attitudes and outlooks. That being said, the level of narcissism, social dysfunction, to some degree, and ineptitude inherent among the 80 million Americans who inhabit this age demographic is alarming.

This is a drastic situation that must change. Otherwise, the nation may begin to encounter a group of men and women that can be referred to as “the lost generation.” Let’s hope that this is not the case.

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