Kids these days! The “Generation Y” panic, privilege, and erasure

Recently, I read this odd article, penned by Judith Warner, in the New York Times–one in a stream of many that detail how excessively awful the current generation of young people (read: young workers) is at putting its collective nose to the grindstone, sucking it up, and generally not acting like a bunch of brats, or something.

Many of us have heard about, or come into contact with, some of these bright young things. They are heralded — or, more commonly, blasted — as naive, entitled, too optimistic, and over-confident. In many of these articles, their numerous faults are listed: They don’t know how to dress professionally! They expect to march into the workplace of their choice and immediately start making a six figure-salary! They think they are perfect! They want praise all of the time! (Does no one who writes these sorts of articles stop to consider that many human beings want praise when they complete a task to the best of their abilities?) They have tattoos, dyed hair, and iPods! EVERYBODY PANIC, because the American workplace is apparently going to be dragged down by Generation Y’s entitlement, narcissism and laziness! This narrative, however, seems to apply mostly to a very specific subset of the population (and even the picture that accompanies the NYT article reinforces this): young, able-bodied, middle to upper-middle class, college-educated white people.

This erases, or conveniently ignores, a hell of a lot of folks who are not young, abled, middle/upper-middle class, and white. It erases young workers who may not have had the “expected” educational opportunities (such as college), or who had to take more than the expected four years to finish their degree, or who did not finish school. It erases people whose parents or family members may not have been quite so “involved” in their education, or in their lives at all. Of course, it also erases young people with disabilities — both those who cannot work, and those who want to work but who may be bumping up against various narratives such as that of the “entitled” Generation Y kid. Some of us have psychological issues or disabilities that put us completely at odds with the “overly-confident” and “entitled” stereotype that apparently befits the current generation — because we cannot stop worrying despite the fact that we are supposed to be totally optimistic and confident all of the time, always thinking that the roads leading to our perfect job will be lined with rainbows, fluffy bunnies, and gold.

Some of us have physical disabilities, chronic pain, or chronic illnesses that prevent us from working 40-hour weeks (or more); asking for accommodations or disclosing our condition(s), we fear, may make us look “entitled,” or like we do not want to put in the time necessary to work our way up — even if this is not the case. The fact is that many people, and many young people, with disabilities are already at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to the labor market and making a living. Not only are many people with disabilities, at least in the U.S., more likely to face lengthy stretches of unemployment and/or live in poverty regardless of age, but many face additional hostility, discrimination, and unreasonable demands, both in the workplace and from society at large because of their disabilities.

While I am not saying that these over-entitled Generation Y-ers don’t exist (I’ve had run-ins with quite a few of them, myself), I am struck by the fact that the narrative surrounding them is so dependent upon erasing or ignoring certain people whose bodies and experiences do not fit the “expected” attitudes about labor that have been traditionally upheld by American culture. Many of these attitudes, furthermore, rely heavily on binaries that reinforce who “counts” and who does not: You either work full-time, or you’re lazy. You’re willing to be mistreated in the workplace and do whatever it takes “for the job,” or you’re a wimp. Suck it up, or go home. If you’re not making enough money to live on or are poor, you just aren’t working hard enough. If you ask for “accommodations,” you’re asking for too much — just do your job! You have to work hard to “make it,” and if you don’t work hard enough, it’s your fault. If you don’t like your job or face daily mistreatment, you can always quit and find another one, right? But if you can’t, it’s your fault, and why did you quit that job, anyway? These attitudes surrounding work affect people with disabilities in a wide variety of age groups and generational cohorts, and this is a crucial part of why they are so important to critically question and examine.

The message for Generation Y, in general, may be “Get over yourself,” but the message for those who do not fit the characteristics of the “average” Generation Y worker is more severe — and ultimately more dire.

[Cross-posted at ham blog]

About Annaham

Annaham (they/them) is a feminist with several disabilities who occasionally updates their personal blog. They currently live in the San Francisco Bay Area with their partner, and an extremely spoiled Yorkie/Pom mix named Sushi. You can reach them by emailing hamdotblog AT gmail dot com.

20 thoughts on “Kids these days! The “Generation Y” panic, privilege, and erasure

  1. Something I’ve pointed out to people my parents’ age who go off about “Kids today” and how we’re ruining the world: Who raised us? We didn’t, allegedly, raise ourselves. And when people go on about the state of the world today – I don’t see many 23 year old presidents/prime ministers. I don’t even see that many 23 year old politicians, or anything else that influences the way things are run. The majority of them are old enough to be my parents. My parents’ generation are the ones who made the laws that govern us, ran the banks in ways that screwed the economy, and taught us how to live.

    But yeah – as a teenager I had a lot of “Well you’re just pig ignorant, kids today don’t listen to adults, when I was your age I paid attention.” No, actually, I’m hard of hearing, and you’re jumping to conclusions. Same as I still get people grumbling about how I’m rude (usually in much stronger words) because I’m sat in the disabled seat, and how all people my age are rude and lazy – usually because my cane is between my knees and can’t be seen for my bag. I’ve turned into that mean cripple, who will ask them what they’re glaring at. Because I’m sick of it. Mind you, I’ve also started asking women exactly what disability their handbag has, given there’s a few who catch my bus who like to sit in the disabled seats (I don’t know if they are disabled or not) and put their bags on the seat next to them. And ignore you standing right there waiting for them to move it.

    The way I figure it – they’re going to think I’m rude just because I dare to exist under 30. So I’m disinclined to prove them wrong – after all, what’s in it for me?

  2. Those sorts of articles make me so, so mad. Your response to them is perfectly on point. (The “cannot stop worrying” part? Yeah. And it’s no picnic being in the job market right now, let me tell you internets, especially when dealing with depression.)

    And Jack:

    I don’t see many 23 year old presidents/prime ministers. I don’t even see that many 23 year old politicians, or anything else that influences the way things are run. The majority of them are old enough to be my parents. My parents’ generation are the ones who made the laws that govern us, ran the banks in ways that screwed the economy, and taught us how to live.

    Seriously. But, you know, we’re all selfish and entitled for buying into what they were telling us our entire lives.

  3. I totally agree with this- An older person the other day asked me, why I used my computer in class, was I just too lazy to take notes the old fashioned way? I pointed out that, with my LDs, computers were a godsend and that they enabled me to go to college and take my own notes. I find that, to a certain segment of the population, you are lazy if you use technology for any reason. As PWD often need technological-assistance devices more than people without disabilities, this makes us a larger target for that crowd.

    There is also the attitude surrounding the taking of medication. I have heard people, mostly older, say that taking medication is the ‘easy way’ out of mental illness and that young people just need to learn ‘to deal with it.’ They fail to realize how helpful meds are in allowing people with mental illness to be part of the community or don’t want us part of the community at all. (Not that there is anything wrong with choosing not to take meds, but it is great to have the choice to use them) It is like many people resent the fact that PWD can be more present in society due to the rise in technology and pharmaceuticals.

    Plus, arguments that rely of ‘kids these days’ are just annoying.

  4. Naomie – “But, you know, we’re all selfish and entitled for buying into what they were telling us our entire lives.”

    Exactly. I went to a selective school, so everyone was expected to go on to uni – we were the “smart kids” (do not get me started on the phrase “gifted”). And we were told, day in day out, that we would go on to be lawyers, surgeons, politicians, whatever. It was implied that you might have to start in something a little lower, but you’d work your way up quick enough.

    It was never even hinted “Oh, by the way, the economy might tank and you won’t be able to get a job flipping burgers because applications are 50-to-1”. I was lucky – came from a working class family, I knew damn well that jobs weren’t automatic. But the majority of students came from the upper-middle-class catchement area, and they’d had it drummed into them that they would follow this certain career path.

    So yes. How stupid of us, how entitled… to believe what the grown ups taught us.

  5. Some of us have psychological issues or disabilities that put us completely at odds with the “overly-confident” and “entitled” stereotype that apparently befits the current generation

    This, word for word, is something I worry about every day. I’m 26, middle-class, and well-educated, so I’m right in this stereotyped demographic. Sleep disorder looks like laziness, whether or not I disclose. (IME, I’m actually more likely to be penalized for honesty about why I’m late every day, but get little to no pushback when I just say I want ‘flexible hours’ and roll in when I can every day. Sometimes people act “entitled” because there are rational reasons for doing so – namely, that it projects a white-and-male-coded type of confidence that is likely to be culturally rewarded.) My mood problems look like hostility or inattention no matter how hard I’m trying to keep a lid on them – especially when I have to do so in order to work. So I really, really appreciate this post.

    It’s terrible in the academy. I can’t remember where I saw this post, but it was just the snottiest story from a professor about a student who handed things in a few hours late in a non-preferred method. BECAUSE HE WAS AN ENTITLED BRAT, OH MY GOD, END OF THE WORLD!!!! Which I did all the time in school, not because I didn’t take stuff seriously or “work hard,” but because sometimes I was too fucking miserable to get something done on time no matter how hard I tried. Knowing that’s what a professor thought of me for doing the best I could wouldn’t have exactly inspired me to be forthcoming with my reasons (had I known them throughout my school experience, which I didn’t). Sure. That one apocryphal kid may or may not have been a spoiled brat, but spinning that into “kids these days” is a way of openly punishing young people with invisible disabilities who sometimes act in a non-preferred fashion. Expecting everyone with a disability to (a) know they have a disability (and are not just “lazy” or whatever) and (b) have the opportunity to have an actual diagnosis is such a huge function of class privilege. And the cultural and personal decision that it’s more important to lecture, shame, and punish the currently-abled than to support and respect the contributions of disabled folks is a staggering amount of privilege and erasure at work.

    Blergh. I’m just going to go recover from having to play Non-Optimal Med Roulette last night be lazy and entitled for a while.

  6. Thank you for this. I can definitely relate. I could feel my shoulders relaxing just reading this (and the excellent comments), knowing that other people understand.

  7. @KJ

    Personally, I am definitely far too lazy these days to not use my laptop when taking notes (not that I am taking any classes right now that require note-taking). I would just have to type them up on my computer anyway (in order to turn the handwriting after a couple of hours of note-taking into something legible, and to make searching for one particular piece of information much easier (search functions are great)), so why NOT cut out one step?

    Especially when cutting out that one step means that I have enough energy in the day to do something as well as study.

    It might be lazy, but it’s also efficient and effective use of my time. And good time-management 😀

    The only thing I have had difficulty with in the past is creating diagrams in a timely manner – and that’s been mostly unfamiliarity with that portion of whatever software I happen to be using (and fussiness). I’m looking at the soon-to-be-released Eee Tablet thingy, which looks to be able to provide drawing capability on the touchscreen at a price comparable to my current laptop’s original price (one of the older models of Eee).

  8. This article and these comments have just made my day. Seriously.

    The thing about “kids these days” that pisses me off the most is that, while you may get penalized for being one of them, you get penalized even more for not living up to it. Because while people may grumble about those so-called overconfident brats (who are, as several commentors have pointed out) acting exactly the way they’ve been raised to act, the second you are unable to live up to that stereotype? You get complained about even more. Because while your classmates may be considered entitled, at least they’re not lazy. Or even, worse, so entitled that they think they deserve accomodations! They may think they deserve high marks for assignments that are clearly not as well done as they used to be twenty years ago, but at least they don’t approach the teacher to ask for clarification when the assignment is worded in a way they can’t understand! At least they don’t claim to have a disability and expect the teacher to actually believe them, when they’re clearly just not trying hard enough! Those disabled kids, they’re even worse than the rest of the kids these days.

  9. @KJ – that attitude towards medication would have made my life much worse if my parents had stayed together.

    My dad most likely has the same/similar psychological problems I do, but will he talk about it or see someone? No.

    He also had to be dragged to the doctor’s office during the worst of the hyperthyroidism, when I couldn’t get off the couch to be told I wasn’t faking or lazy.

    And yes, I was raised with the believe that “you’re smart, you can do anything” – well maybe I can’t – because of external and internal forces.

    The use of laptops in class for notes reminds me of a Crankshaft comic from last September or so – the daughter’s going off to college, and the tour leader/prof/whatever says “all notes are online, etc etc” and we get a flashback to the father trying as fast as he can to write it all down before the end of class – ha ha, kids have it so easy today! I wish all my profs put the ppts online, but even then, they’re often bare bones and you don’t get the meat of the lecture… especially if you missed a month.

    I HATE generational things – we didn’t raise ourselves! So that e-mail my mom forwards praising her generation and insulting mine, hello, you won’t let me do the same things you did as a child. She’ll wax on about not having cell phones all the time, but she definitely wants us to check in on her – and who got rid of the landline? Plus, when our parents were growing up (whoever generation Y is), their parents were kvetching about them, and the same before, “kids these days” have always been the worse – I remember seeing one comic where the teenaged child reads a passage decrying “today’s youth” and the dad is like “see?” and the kid says it’s from ancient Greece.

    Question – am I “entitled” or “lazy” because I don’t want to drive?

  10. Re: the use of laptops for taking notes – I am a law student and virtually everyone in my classes takes notes on a laptop. Our classrooms are mostly all equipped with one plug per student underneath the desks/tables, and the whole law school is wireless-networked. I’ve never even heard anyone call it lazy; it’s just considered the norm, and efficient use of resources. We’re also permitted to take essay exams on a computer, with the use of special software that locks you out of the rest of your computer while it’s in use.

  11. Just to clarify, I don’t think it is lazy to use a laptop to take notes, but for some PWD, laptops aren’t just a convenience thing or a way to be effective, it is necessary so we can function in school. So when people attack laptop use, it hits closer to home for me because they are attacking a accommodation that allows me do well in school.

    And Kaitlyn- YES! on the driving thing. I didn’t learn to drive until a year ago and before then I was constantly told that I was lazy for not learning how to drive, never mind my anxiety level spiking constantly every time I thought about getting behind the wheel.. But oh no, I was just plain lazy for not driving! /sarcasm.

    When I did learn to drive, it wasn’t because I was suddenly ‘motivated’ and not lazy it was because my anxiety levels were under better control and I was in a small town where driving is much easier than it is in a large city with horrid traffic and rude drivers.

  12. @KJ Oh definitely with the driving! I got my Ps about 18 months ago (will get full license in six months). I became eligible to get my Learner’s Permit fourteen years and several road rules and licensing system changes ago.

    But there’s no point learning to drive when you go into information overload with the stress and the sheer volume of data you are supposed to be processing – especially when your supervising driver is getting on your case about all the little things one should be paying attention to instead of letting you get the big things first and then add little things to it! Or if your supervising driver is the kind of person who will yell at you to try to get you to get up to speed when you’re practicing on a quiet side street – and then yell at you when you freeze with overload. Or put the handbrake on instead of saying calmly “brake”. Or is the kind of person who is distractingly stressed themselves and goes into overload.

    People don’t get how anxiety levels screw with your judgment – like fatigue or alcohol, it makes you less safe to drive.

    And fatigue! If your medical issues make it so that you are too fatigued when you get out of bed to navigate a doorway safely, you cannot drive in that state!

  13. @KJ Yes yes yes yes on the driving! The worst part about it, for me, is that not only do I get called a lazy brat by the “those kids” folks, people my age are real jerks about it, too. There’s no reason I actually need a driver’s licence – I live in a big city with a transit system I’m familiar and comfortable with, many of my friends and family members live near me and are supportive about giving me rides when I’m too fatigued for the bus, and I have other forms of government-issued photo ID – but the second someone finds out I don’t have one, it’s time for a lecture. Oh, joy.

  14. I think this has been listed as one of the many faults of my generation (born in ’88) – we’re not independent enough. Because we begged our parents to care for us. (Just like people with “weird” names said “Mom, name me something weird, I’m going to be picked on for it, not you, so call me Penguin!” straight out of the womb. :P)

    Anyways, my mom has told me I need to be more independent (see: driving) and that I’m an adult and whatever I want to do. Well I don’t know, I’m only 21, why are we expected to know how to navigate the world (especially the world of doctors) as soon as we turn 18?!

    My mom didn’t know everything at 18 – she learned it by joining the military. College has taught me a lot about getting around – very few things are set in stone, TALK TO PEOPLE.

    But again and again, you need to be more independent. paraphrase (b/c the pain and meds have messed with my memory) – “You shouldn’t NOT drive just because of your medications.”

    How many of you generation Y kids have heard “be more independent”? “Yes, we acknowledge your depression (nowadays), but get a damn job!”

    And aside from the disabilities and illnesses, I never felt part of any generation – I started school on a base in Iceland! So no, I didn’t “grow up” with XYZ, like everyone else did. And because of the illnesses, I missed most of high school and thus the trends that “made” my generation.

    Generational things are so weird – technically, my mom’s a baby boomer (1962), but she definitely doesn’t remember the ’60s as a party time – her sex drugs rock and roll (Loverboy) came in the ’80s. So what is she? Too old for generation X, too young for Baby Boomers.

    In 10 years you’ll have a similar post about whatever we call the next generation and how they grew up hearing the economy was terrible and now they’re hard-working even though jobs are handed to them on platters. (One can dream.)

  15. Re: conversation above – I’ve been terrified to learn to drive, and am actually finding myself quite glad other people are in a similar position! Everyone around me (not least my family) seems to think it’s a ridiculous fear to have because ~everyone can drive~ and all that. I’ll probably have to at some point, not least because I’ll probably end up living in the US for some part of my life, but for now I can get by with cycling and public transit. Luckily everyone’s too busy being awed that I cycle nearly everywhere to get on my case about not knowing how to drive… except for my family, blah. But I just think about getting behind the wheel of a car and freeze up, and am also not looking forward to trying to find a driving instructor who’ll be considerate of that sort of thing.

    Re: kids today – I lost all respect for this kind of attitude when I read some of those texts from the seventeeth century, ancient Greece, etc. complaining about kids in their day! It really *is* something every generation seems to go through, so I don’t believe any of the grumbling for a moment. And, yeah, I also got told growing up “you’re smart, you can do anything!” One of the hardest things to come to terms with re: disability was that actually, intelligence does not conquer everything. And it’s something a lot of the people around me don’t seem to have learned (remembering a discussion I had with my friends where they just could not understand my suggestion that a certain brilliant mathematician might not have been able to hold a job – “but he’s brilliant, of course people will hire him!” well no, they won’t if he can’t manage to keep working hours, come in for an interview, arrange his own housing, manage the paperwork of getting hired, etc. it doesn’t matter *how* brilliant he is.)

  16. All “kids” are derided by those who precede them. It’s nothing new, unfortunately, it’s part of the human process. It’s just a shame that each generation tends to forget how annoying/dispiriting/uninspirational it is to the “kids” they lecture…”Why, when I was your age….”. I don’t think it’s intentional, in fact, it’s as if a gene implanted at birth magically kicks in at a certain time of life, rather like male pattern baldness or when the body succumbs to the demonic forces of gravity.

  17. The driving thing is just weird in my case.

    My parents understand it perfectly well; in fact, my mom is perfectly OK with me not driving because she only learned to drive in her 30s. It’s my peers who shame me for it. There’s a bit of personal guilt, too, because it is incredibly frustrating living in a town with subpar public transportation and only having one bus per hour go to the grocery store.

    But I’ve tried learning to drive. Repeatedly. And in a small town with barely any transit, no less. It’s not gone well any of those times.

    I just cannot process things that quickly— especially spatial stuff, like judging where other cars are relative to me. Busy in-town streets are overloading enough; freeways are just plain nightmarish. I have enough trouble crossing the street as a pedestrian, but at least I’ve been making some progress there (and there are still some places I just refuse to cross).

    I seriously wonder whether my only option is to move to a town with decent transit.

  18. The whole “kids these days” has always bothered me, but I have never been able to put a finger on WHY. This article lays it out very eloquently. Thank you!

    (And the whole “everyone’s on medication/using laptops/cell phones, etc” thing is just ridiculous. It’s called “technology and the advancement of medicine!” If they think it’s an “easy fix”, then what are they doing using regular phones, driving cars, and taking antibiotics? Those were, I’m sure, leveled with the same accusations at some point. Big ugh!)

  19. Just landed on this recently, and bravo.

    The thing that jumps out at me is the demands for feedback. (Not “praise”, feedback.) I mean, yeah, I’ve got some minor learning disabilities and major mental health issues, I’m in that “can’t stop worrying” cohort so when I start a job or take on a new task I want feedback to know I’m not messing things up. And this is read as entitlement, rather than anxiety and conscientiousness, because…I was born in the ’80s?

    I wish I’d taken in the economic good times that we’ve had in the past 20 years, because I grew up to a drumbeat of “recession, recession, recession, you’re f*cked.”

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