Empty Nest? If Only!

Gen Y and the Failure to Launch

by Damona Sain, PhD

No Impetus for Independence
What is it with so many of the 20-somethings (often referred to as ”Gen Y” or the “Millennial Generation”)? They don’t seem to want to be as independent as we Baby Boomers did at their age. I was itching to get out of my parents’ house after I finished college, although it took a somewhat demanding peer to convince me that I could. Not so with my kid.

My son is 23 and lives with his dad. I won’t have him with me—not because I don’t love him, but because he’s a slob. He doesn’t hang up his clothes, despite the two beautiful closets in his spacious room. The floor, the bed, and any other furniture in his room have become his closet. He never cleans the room and seldom helps out with chores. While he was away in Japan this summer via a student-abroad program offered by Temple University, his dad filled several large trash cans with empty 1.5-liter water bottles found in his room and carted them off to be recycled. I heard that he also found mouse droppings in there! My worst fear is that he will end up a hoarder like the ones featured in the television series by the same name—only he won’t be one of the ones on the show, receptive to getting help for his addiction.

A senior in college, my son is very bright, but he is totally unmotivated except when it comes to his own interests: playing computer video games and strategic European board games. Well, that’s not completely fair. He’s motivated to use his brain—albeit only a tiny fraction of its power—to do his college work, but he usually pushes assignments right up to the deadline, or even later.

His powers to negotiate and convince are awesome. I wonder if he realizes that I often marvel at his ability to persuade a professor with a PhD to alter the syllabus just for him. That’s probably why he has a 3.5 GPA: His powers of persuasion match his skills in learning the subject matter. Once his mind latches onto an airtight logical argument for what he wants, I don’t stand a chance (and never did), and I also have a PhD. I think only simple people can see through his ruse and call him on his arguments. They aren’t dazzled by his logic. They just see him as a lazy kid.

Generation Y
Because of my son, I’ve done a lot of reading about the Gen Y group. These kids have grown up in a technological, 24/7 world. They are “digital natives,” whereas we are “digital immigrants.” They often don’t want to be constrained to a 9-to-5 workday, since there are many work tasks that can be done out of the office at any time via technological connections. With smartphones, online research capabilities, and the like, they know they can work at 3:00 a.m. rather than during regular office hours. They need to collaborate with their peers to be happy, and they do this through Facebook and other online social media websites.

Before I left my role as a counselor in higher education, I felt that this generation had no work ethic. They wanted maximum results with minimal effort. They didn't play by the established rules, and faculty complained bitterly about their poor attendance, inability to read and write at basic college level, and disregard for deadlines. As I read more and more about this generation, however, I began to see what was right about them. I developed new respect for their strengths and their idealistic view of the world, and I envied the ease with which they used technology.

The Role of Gen Y Parents
Most Baby Boomers couldn’t wait to leave home, but Gen Y parents can’t seem to get their kids to leave. These 20-somethings are closer to their families, recognizing their financial and psychological dependence on them. After all, as they grew up, their parents hovered over them, protecting them from harsh realities, “helicoptering” and bulldozing a path for them. Why leave the nest when they can have it all right from home? The terrible economy also contributes to their desire to stick around.

I hadn’t thought about my own part in fostering a child—now a young adult—who doesn’t seem drawn to make his way in the world under his own steam. I made it too easy for him to be dependent by shielding him from the normal ups and downs of life. Granted, today’s global economic crisis means fewer opportunities for good jobs with salaries that are high enough to pay the rent and also pay for all of those technological necessities, like broadband cable. But how did I snuff out his developmental desire to move on, date, and establish close relationships outside his family so he could take those adult steps to create a new family system? It appears that many in this generation marry later, and some choose not to marry at all.

Of course, I’m not pushing for my son to start a family, but I’d at least like to see him be more ambitious about “procreating” a career path. As a career counselor, I know that he needs to explore various opportunities while in college, such as internships, mentorships, and part-time work that would expose him to career areas that interest him.

Moving On
I satisfy my frustration by knowing that Gen Y’s mature late in many areas, including their career and personal lives, and that much of this can also be a result of a bad economy and fears engendered by news media that portray the world as a dangerous place. My son is a digital native who can teach his older eventual bosses how to take advantage of technology in ways they never imagined. His sharp mind, strategic thinking, and keen intellect can contribute to collaborative efforts at problem solving. These are just the skills that will eventually move him to solve his dependency problem. Now I just have to get out of his way!

Bloomsberg BusinessWeek: Generation Y Generation Y
Entrepreneur: Gen Y Myths Debunked
The Oberlin Review: Understanding Generation Y
Managing Generation Y
What Generation Y Really Wants
Myths About Millennials

Print Resources
Ron Alsop, The Trophy Kids Grow Up
Bruce Tulgan, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy
Don Tapscott, Grown Up Digital

Damona Sain, PhD, is a career counselor and principal at New Career Horizons. She has one son, whom she loves dearly, but would very much like to launch. You can learn more about Damona at her website.

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