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Generation Q

October 11, 2007

As you know, I work on a college campus.  I see young adults every day.

I was intrigued by this NYTs article by Thomas Friedan about what he is calling Generation Q – the Quiet Generation, whom he characterizes as overly optimistic in the face of the reality of the future they coming at them, and yet, way too quiet and conservative in their political stance. He states:

I am impressed because they are so much more optimistic and idealistic than they should be. I am baffled because they are so much less radical and politically engaged than they need to be.

He is amazed that these students are pouring into global outreach programs to end poverty and traveling the world to do so, and that they are going into Teach America in droves, but nobody is organizing activism to ask our political candidates what do they plan to do about global warming? the social security crisis? the huge budget deficit?

These young adults seem to think inviting people to join your cause online through Facebook Causes (hey – I’m guilty of this one too!) or signing online petitions (ditto in the guilt column) is enough to make change.

He points out that it ISN’T.

Students are not staging demonstrations. They aren’t marching. They aren’t doing enough face to face organizing.

I wonder sometimes, if the draft were suddenly reinstituted, how many college students would sit up and take notice? remain pro-war? remain conservative? (because, as a generation todays college student is startlingly conservative).

I wonder, if the “bad” things were actually touching them, if they’d notice more.

I had long, long phone conversation with the parent of a high school senior yesterday. Single parent. Fairly typical, irresponsible head up the ass kind of 17 yo son. Here’s mom, trying to bail him out of yet another situation created by his lack of follow through – his faith that if it’s important, and he messes up that mom can/will just take care of it.

And here’s mom, making a phone call her son should be making, in reality. He’s the one who missed the deadline. But I’ll cut him some slack, because he is still a “kid” – at least for this last year.

He’s not alone. At the colleges we call them helicopter parents. They demand to attend orientation seesions with their adult children. They refuse to “let go” and allow their child to make choices – even ones so innocuous as picking classes for their first semester. They are APPALLED when we gently remind them that this isn’t high school, they are adults now, and as such, they can make their own choices, and we are going to try to teach them how to do it. Parents are more involved in their late adolescent/early adult child’s lives than ever before.

So, if mom and dad can and do take care of everything, they can count on mom and dad to make sure that the government doesn’t fuck up and leave them a hellacious mess to deal with when they begin raising their families and by the time it’s time for their kids to go to college, right?

As far as I can see, overprotecting our kids isn’t helping them to become adults who can make decisions on their own, or who want to be active agents in their world or their own life. I see it in my advisees when they ask me what they should register for, and I can tell that they haven’t given it one moment of thought before they get to my office. They expect me to have a pat neat package to hand them – they expect that I will provide them with the “right” answers, and they forget that in order for me to do those things, they have to come to me with the “right” questions. If I do it for them, I’ve done them a huge disservice, and I’ve taught them nothing of value. How do we expect young adults to learn to be functioning adults if we don’t teach them that they are the active agent in their lives? The choices are up to them – and it’s up to them to do the THINKING involved in making those choices.

That’s what I see going down with Generation Q. For what it’s worth.

ETA:  I’m not saying parents shouldn’t be involved – I’m saying that the involvement needs to switch focus. They need to move from the role of active agent to the role of consultant. It’s different. Caring doesn’t mean being in total control.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2007 8:18 am

    Sigh. I was one of those in another generation. Mom bailed me out of my mistakes all her life, and I was 50 years old before I realized that we were codependent. I never held a job very long, but I always worked. I had a great life without any of the responsibility that comes with adulthood.

    But, I did demonstrate and I did write letters, and I did realize that my generation had to make a difference in the world.

    Perhaps these kids have something going. Maybe all the outreach they are doing will change the world. That’s certainly one way that we GLBT people have made changes. If you know me personally, then you’ll think differently about branding me with stereotypical names and characteristics.

    Jimmy Carter, when asked how he could go around to the various nations and help them/convince them to make changes when he had no official status, said that he had known most of the world leaders for more than two decades and they were friends.

    Friends listen to friends. I think the kids are making a difference in the world. But, I fear they may be homeless unless we grandparents and parents provide them with the necessary capital to keep doing these things.

    Bless you for the work that you do. May you be able to teach them some responsibility and some independence from parents.

  2. episcopalifem permalink*
    October 11, 2007 11:54 am

    ((((Share)))) It takes some of us longer to grow up – and your mom was used to being the caretaker, because of your dad.

    All you were doing was playing out roles for one another.

    I’ve been someone’s kid, and now I’m someone’s mom. I know how hard it is to balance the holding on to show you care and that you are there, protecting them, and letting go so they can be their own person. It’s frickin’ hard. I fail at it all the time.

    But I try hard to be conscious of their “personhood”.

  3. October 11, 2007 2:30 pm

    For what its worth, there are a lot of us who are marching, writing to congress, and getting highly involved in the legislative process (look at my facebook account and there is evidence of that).

    I think part of the problem from the perspective of student’s my age, is that the system is so corrupt and so self-involved and self-fulfilling that we don’t even want to try to be a part of it. That trying to fight the system will either draw us in or be such an excersize in futility that it isn’t worth it.

    As mentioned, students are traveling abroad and doing service projects in droves — the youth group which I lead is more interested in this than retreats or canoing.

    Yes, parents are far too involved, I was lucky that my parents were good at bakcing off – although I’ll admit they coddle me when I ask them to.

    My generation ending up homeless can be dueto a large number of things – but I would be more likely to blame corporate CEOs for not paying entry level workers a living wage than man parents, although, I’ll admit that most of my friend’s and my parents let us bail ourselves out. STudents aren’t responsible, but I feel as if there are more ways us to get introuble now — usurous loans, crazy credit, etc.

    But for what its worth, many my age might not be at protests, but we are anything but silent.

  4. episcopalifem permalink*
    October 11, 2007 2:50 pm

    Hi Allie! Welcome, and thanks for dropping in to give us the Generation Q perspective.

    It may be that Friedan has an “antiquated” perspective on what activism is, in that, activism today doesn’t look like it did when he was in college – before text messaging and the internet were even a twinkle in the eye of the world.

    The problem with internet activism, I think, is that many politicians may have a similar mindset to Friedan, in that they don’t take it very seriously. This may be a perceptual mistake on the part of politicians.

    Or it may be the truth.

    If all we do is connect with each other through the ether, we may not get the sense of how big “we” is – that is, there may be a tendency to not recognize your own power as a voting block or agent for action. There may be a vast sense of “disconnectedness” or even apathy. I dunno.

    Think of what King was up against in the 1960s. Most white people thought blacks like King were uppity, and didn’t know their place – even in the north.

    People who are younger than 40 don’t remember segregated schools. They don’t remember the odds those kids were up against when they got bussed across town to a “white” school – they were threatened, spit at, harassed.

    They were certainly up against something huge, and while some progress has been made, I wouldn’t say they’ve gotten to the top of the mountain quite yet.

    The students on my campus rarely protest a thing. The closest they’ve come to it yet was rallying around a faculty member who was being removed from a role as moderator for a student organization. But, I’ve never seen a thing about end the war. It’s like a vast sea of apathy.

  5. susan s. permalink
    October 11, 2007 3:00 pm

    I was one of those parents, and my son eventually turned out ok. I think I was that way because I didn’t feel that my mother was paying any attention when I needed her to. When I was almost 10, she started having kids with my stepfather. 4 in 5 years. Guess who got to babysit for 8 years? Yes, I am bitching.
    Of course, I now know that my mother was doing the best she knew how. It might not have been the best that could have been done, but no one does that, do they? And eventually we have to take responsibility for our own lives. Otherwise we haven’t grown up at all.
    I realized it about 15 years ago, when I heard my sister blaming the way her children behaved on all the people in the family, as in, “Well, she’s just like Daddy.” or “She’s just like Mother.” that she was giving them the perfect out for their behaviour and they would never have to take responsibility for their actions if she kept it up.
    Is this off topic? I tend to rattle on sometimes. :-0

  6. October 11, 2007 4:11 pm

    That’s sad that that is all you’ve seen. When I said look at my facebook profile, I meant that I have pictures of numerous demonstrations I have attended and helped sponsor. You didn’t seem to hear what I said — kids are out there helping rebuild New Orleans and working in underdeveloped nations.
    Many of us just want no part of the BS system that was left to us.

  7. episcopalifem permalink*
    October 11, 2007 4:23 pm

    Susan s. – off topic is always ok here. There are no rules! Wheeeee!

    I agree though. I think todays parents are the products of the culmination of masses of parenting books – none of them want to do harm to their kids. NONE of them. Even though, some of them really are.

    It’s hard to let go. And today’s parents are not ready to let go.

  8. October 11, 2007 4:25 pm

    Susan, although to be quite honest, I will also admit that my generation seems in no rush to be let go of anyhow

  9. episcopalifem permalink*
    October 11, 2007 4:37 pm

    Allie –

    I heard what you are saying – and I think it’s admirable that many students/young adults are involved in these very important projects, it’s beyond admirable, actually. Friedan says the same thing in his NYT article, and I said it as well in in my synopsis above. But that isn’t the point of what I am saying or what Friedan is saying.

    If 20 somethings don’t get involved in domestic politics, they will have had NO say in what is left to them when they are in their 50s or 60s. If they don’t collectively begin to make statements about policy, they will have no voice in the policies.

    Who will be responsible for the mess then? What part will they have played in alleviating it? complicating it?

    Saying they don’t want to be “part” of the BS system that is “left” to them is a cop out, quite frankly. A cop out I was guilty of in my 20s as well – so I’m dangerously throwing stones in a glass house here.

    To be honest, doing “nothing” is the same capitulating, ya know what I mean?

    Not that you are doing nothing, but in general, there is an apathy, at least on the campuses I’ve been involved with.

  10. October 11, 2007 11:57 pm

    I hear that its a cop out, but I’ll admit that at 22 its already a struggle not to just give up.

  11. episcopalifem permalink*
    October 12, 2007 12:16 am

    I remember feeling the same way at 22.

    There were a few elections I didn’t vote in.

    When I was 22, The Iraq War, Desert Storm, had just started, and there was a recession, and I had a B.A., and was working as a receptionist in a dentist office.

    I hear where you are coming from, and I remember feeling the same way.

    I remember feeling very small, and insignificant. You vote, your votes go toward the fucked up electoral college, and it feels like you are doing NOTHING. But, if 20 somethings were more organized or solidified, as a voting block, it could be different.

    The changes this country needs in domestic policy are going to come much more slowly than building a house for Habitat for Humanity or bringing medical and foods supplies to El Salvador. While those kinds of projects may still have that shoveling shit against the tide aspect, they have the added benefit of up front, human contact, and many of the projects have immediately achievable goals. So I can see where they are more satisfying and feel more effacacious.

    Just something to think about.

    I’m really glad you joined in on this conversation Allie. You have definitely given me somethings to ponder as an educator.

  12. susan s. permalink
    October 12, 2007 1:36 am

    Lord, Eileen, you are YOUNG! I am so old(not quite as old as Mimi, tho. 😉 , I can’t even remember when Desert Storm(oh how I hated that name) started. In the early 90s?

    Well, I guess that’s why we have Google. If I ever really want to know, I will be able to find out…..

  13. rick allen permalink
    October 12, 2007 7:10 am

    My impression from my college age son and from his friends is that those who care are often very active in things like Habitat for Humanity. Many of them give much more of their time thatnI did, but they aren’t particularly political.

    The lack of a draft makes a huge difference, as shown by the effect of its abolition under Nixon. But I think it is also some reflection of a lack of belief in politics. My son attended protests against Bush as a young teenager, and saw how protesters were forcibly kept invisible miles away. H knows that only money gets an audience with our rulers, and that the difference between Republican and Democrats in that respect is one of degree rather than kind. Is it any wonder that those not jumping on the bandwagon opt for doing what good they can do in their own small way rather than flocking to the political process?

  14. episcopalifem permalink*
    October 12, 2007 10:53 am

    Well…I ain’t that young Susan – I’m 38 this year. I thought that was getting toward the age of actual “take me serious” adulthood.

    Rick – Good to see you! You always give me something ot think about too.

    See what I said to Allie in the post above yours. I understand WHY those other types of activism seem more effacacious than politicking, and certainly they have the added benefit of participating in something that seems to do an immediate “good” in the world. And I totally agree with you re: the draft. If these kids were being drafted, they AND their parents would be doing alot more in terms of in your face activism.

    If the students don’t trust the system, it would be great to see them out there in full force calling Bullshit as they see it. These are the people who at some point will be running our government, and right now that scares me because all I see is alot of conformity and/or apathy, which all adds up to keeping the status quo.

    I know well the trite phrase “Money talks, and shit walks.” However, when shit piles up, it starts to stink and call for attention.

    I know it’s David fighting Goliath. I feel it too.

    (So, do I get the award for using the most hackneyed phrases in a single post? Huh, Do I? Please?)

  15. rick allen permalink
    October 12, 2007 2:33 pm

    As the redoubtable Dylan put it, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”

    I could never vote for John McCain because of his hawkishness on Iraq. But I have always admired his trying to raise and address the issue that politicians, himself included, are beholden to those with the money, every day, and that fundraising has become the end-all and be-all of our politics. (Who’s ahead of who in the primaries? And how can anyone say, since not a single vote’s been cast? It’s all who has the most cash).

    Getting back to “today’s kids”–my son and I saw “Across the Universe.” It’s quite a bit of fun, and I’d recommend it. Anyway, though my son’s a big Beatles fan, he necessarily saw the movie as kind of a nostalgia piece for the folks. Swirling colors, and consequence-free sex and drugs. (Don’t get the wrong idea–I grew up in a small town in East Texas where there was not exactly an abundance of hippies). But what really astonished him was the anti-war protests–how big and vehement they were. How creative they were (OK, this was a movie). How they might have actually made a difference. It was something that really separated our world from his.

    And of course we can’t exaggerate their significance. The Viet Nam war ran on for over a decade, with support as bitter and tenacious as opposition. You can guess my age from the fact that pretty much my entire childhood and adolescence I expected to be drafted and sent to Viet Nam, and that my class was the first that was not.

    Anyway, back to the question, my general impression is that the kids are alright, that they’re a little rootless. Most of them seem to doubt that marriage works because most of them seem to have seen in fail in their particular cases. Politics seems the art of getting ahead in business by other means. I wouldn’t call it cynicism so much as disillusionment. But I’ll admit my exposure has been to a pretty small sample.

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