The results of our Millennial Survey are in, and it appears millennial folks did get a bit more praise growing up than crotchety Olds. Also, everyone thinks kids today suck — including kids.
First, a few caveats — our survey population of about 10,000 respondents wasn't a random sample, so it's not representative of the US population as a whole. It could also be vulnerable to response bias — people who answered the survey might've been more likely to have certain memories of their childhoods than those who chose not to answer. And a snafu with the first question (entirely my fault as a first-time survey-writer) may have left some respondents confused about what age to enter. However, the results were interesting enough to discuss, bearing in mind that more rigorous research would be necessary to confirm the findings.
In some ways, our results confirmed stereotypes about millennials. Respondents over 33 (those solidly out of the millennial generation) were most likely to say that parents had been "not at all" concerned with their self-esteem — 35% chose this answer, while 32% said their moms and dads were "somewhat" concerned. The picture was similar for teachers — 45% said their teachers were not at all concerned with their self-esteem, while 30% said they were "only a little" concerned. General expressions of specialness were a bit more common — 45% of over-33s said adults "sometimes" made them feel special. When it came to criticism, results were mixed — respondents over 33 were most likely to say parents and teachers "sometimes" criticized them, but a full 31% said they "rarely" felt criticized by teachers. And just 36% said they'd ever received a participation award — an oft-cited hallmark of millennial entitledness — as children.
By contrast, a full 79% of 19-23-year-olds had received a participation award at some point. They weren't quite the self-esteem junkies they're sometimes painted as — while 20% said their parents were "very" concerned with their self-esteem, the most common answer was "somewhat" for both parents (44%) and teachers (45%). Twelve percent said parents were "not at all" concerned with their self-esteem; 15% said the same of teachers. That's a pretty big difference between these early-twentysomethings and their older counterparts, but it's interesting to note that there are still plenty of youngsters for whom self-esteem seems not to play a big role in upbringing. And their responses in other areas weren't all that different from those of older folks — 41% said adults frequently made them feel special, while 40% said they sometimes did so. Rates of parental criticism were pretty comparable, though rates of teacher criticism were lower — 49% said teachers rarely criticized them.
Probably the clearest result of the survey was the ascendance of the participation award — over-33s were much less likely to report getting one than 19-23-year-olds, and likelihood went up as age went down (for instance, 66% of 29-33-year-olds had been rewarded for participation at some point). Parent and teacher concern with self-esteem also rose pretty sharply in those younger than 33 (though there didn't seem to be big differences among the younger age groups), and criticism by teachers fell. Feelings of specialness and parental criticism, however, didn't change as much. What the survey suggests (keeping in mind the limitations above) is that while millennials may have experienced some large-scale cultural changes, individual family dynamics may have changed less.
The idea of self-esteem as an important part of a healthy upbringing arose sometime in the seventies or eighties, and parents and teachers appear to have internalized it. This is likely also the source of the rise of participation award. It also may have given rise to pedagogical models that eschewed criticism. However, parents don't seem to have stopped criticizing their kids, and even though some claim every millennial thinks she's a "special snowflake," adult assurances of specialness haven't risen precipitously either.
So our findings were somewhat mixed — but one undeniable truth stood out above all. In every age group we surveyed, an overwhelming majority answered "yes" to the question, "Do you think people younger than you are more entitled and self-absorbed than you?" Eighty-five percent of over-33s said so — and so did 74% of those under 18. It's kind of hilarious to imagine a grizzled sixteen-year-old telling those tweens to get off her lawn, but this question actually revealed something pretty interesting: no matter how young you are, you think people younger than you are way worse.
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