Contemporary publications and previous generations have deemed millennials to be lazy and entitled, two stereotypes that define Generation Y. Time Magazine columnist Joel Stein even went as far as to describe millennials as narcissistic.
The exponential rate at which technology has shaped society has also impacted attitudes about the millennial generation — those born between the early 1980s and late 1990s — who grew up completely surrounded by the age of the Internet and personal technological use. This has led to widely held beliefs surrounding the thinking patterns of millennials and the causes of them, which are most often the result of generational tension and misunderstanding.
With the development of search engines that can generate answers in fractions of a second and timed testing designed to make students think and answer quickly, millennials feel entitled to obtain or know answers instantly. Because millennials expect and demand instant information, previous generations have generalized this trait to apply to millennials’ personality traits. Millennials should not be blamed negatively for attributes that arise from the conditions in which they grow up, and it should be acknowledged that they do have the capacity to expand beyond these mindsets.
The perception that millennials, because of their different learning habits, are incapable of sustained, deep and integrative thinking is often rooted in the idea that the digital environment has resulted in their brains being physically wired differently, which implies that educational practice should follow suit. However, in the absence of evidence to support this claim, there is good reason to believe that millennials do have the capacity to learn integrative methods and engage in deeper thinking: It’s a simple matter of practice. Educators should recognize this adaptable nature of the brain and not assume millennial thinking cannot be influenced or expanded. However the responsibility does not fall on educators alone, and millennials should also be charged with a sense of personal willingness to apply themselves to think critically.
The emphasis on standardized testing in primary and secondary schooling has caused millennials to be more skill driven rather than knowledge driven in college. In an October 2014 White House study, millennials were more likely to study social sciences and applied fields, such as communications or criminal justice, which are more career-based, rather than traditional liberal arts or the sciences. Applied fields focus on learning technical skills, such as using different platforms of technology, which millennials prefer because they have grown up through the rapid advancement of technology.
There is no simple answer as to why millennials are perceived as being so much different from previous generations. Millennials have grown up witnessing the newest breakthroughs in technology, thanks to their predecessors who have designed devices like cellphones and tablets for personal use. It is these same predecessors and technology developers who criticize millennials for being lazy and entitled because they are used to having answers at their fingertips. Though the way this generation thinks and behaves is characteristically different, it is not necessarily set in stone, and recognizing this is a valuable step toward reducing generational tension.