The New "Lost Generation"

The original "Lost Generation," looking fabulous.

The original "Lost Generation," looking fabulous.

"The 'Lost Generation,' a term thought to be coined by Gertrude Stein, was the generation that came of age during WWI, and referred to young people whose prospects in life looked dim. The term was also used to refer to the generation of unemployed youth in the Great Depression If that term can be applicable to today’s Generation Y, it’s in reference to their high aspirations yet what some would say are their dismal economic prospects." ~"Is Gen Y Becoming the New "Lost Generation" by Ray Williams.

As a member of Gen Y, I am constantly bombarded with negative stereotypes applied to my age group. We are known as the "entitled" or "spoiled" generation, and certainly the laziest. Although I do agree that my peers and I have it easier than previous generations, there are reasons for this beyond our control. Today I read two fabulous articles in Psychology Today: Is Gen Y Becoming the New "Lost Generation" and Trashing Teens. Both are accurately well written (I feel), though I'd like to place more emphasis on the latter. The former, however, is an excellent introduction to the topic.

As the quote above describes, my generation has become lost (and entitled, and spoiled, and lazy) because of our "dismal economic prospects". Allow us to take a look at nine decades previous: The Roaring Twenties. A time of prosperity, alcohol prohibition, and flappers. A care-free age where you could buy now, pay later. This lead to a massive depression leaving many hopeless and jobless, but certainly not debtless. Now. A time of technology, drug prohibition, and risque pop culture. A care-free age where you can go to a $40,000 a year school and pay for it later. Similarities? Absolutely. My generation currently in college is just like the Lost Generation as they were in the twenties; both of us enjoy a facade of prosperity and consume without a care. Just like teens of the 20's, however, these loans will have to be repaid. And when they are called for re-payment, we are most likely in an unemployed state. If these are the characteristics that earned the 1920's generation their label, I think they are applicable to Generation Y today.

Being lost has lead to our negative connotations. However, it is not an excuse for our labels of "lazy" and "irresponsible. "Trashing Teens" reveals that we are treating our young people as adolescents longer than ever before. After all, full responsibility doesn't come until the age of 25. The article claims that this treatment causes teenagers to feel angry or depressed, which I would agree with as I have felt- and still do- both of these emotions. We are "subjected to more than 10 times as many restrictions as main stream adults", despite being as competent.

But we don't appear competent, do we? Ponder this: "What teens do is a small fraction of what they are capable of doing. If you mistreat or restrict them, performance suffers and is extremely misleading." Think of those growing up in the traditional generation. My grandfather is one such example. As a fourteen year-old in foster care, he was treated like an adult and he acted like one too. He had to. He worked to support himself and his siblings, possessing maturity beyond his years. And despite these set-backs, he still graduated high school. This goes to show that age is not an identifier of capacity. If our grandparents and other previous generations could exhibit such responsibility, we can too.

The difference is, we're not given the opportunity. What the article suggests is competency based testing. The driver's license is used as an example. How many teenagers do you see with a license? Why do you think that is? Teens are more likely to try hard if they are rewarded with that kind of responsibility, an adult responsibility. I remember students studying Driver's Ed more so than math (though I do believe most of our high school math curriculum is unnecessary). They are more motivated, and likely to succeed. This psychologist referenced in the article states, "I believe that young people should have more options—the option to work, marry, own property, sign contracts, start businesses, make decisions about health care and abortions, live on their own—every right, privilege, or responsibility an adult has. I advocate a competency-based system that focuses on the abilities of the individual. For some it will mean more time in school combined with work, for others it will mean that at age 13 or 15 they can set up an Internet business. Others will enter the workforce and become some sort of apprentice.

"Certainly a stretch, but I do believe in many of these ideas. (Honestly, you have to read the entire article to understand this quote without passing as much judgment.) But does this not make sense? Certain students spending more time in school because of their personal need? Responsibility based on the individual? Some people are ready to live on their own at 16 (women did so in the Middle Ages- well yes, they were married but still! they were capable of parenthood because that was the expectation), while others will be living on their parents' couch until 25 (I know my fair share of individuals like this). If we drive responsibility by competency, teenagers are more likely to work hard and achieve. To summarize, "With a competency-based system in place, our focus will start to change. We'll become more conscious of the remarkable things teens can do rather than on culture-driven misbehavior. With luck, we might even be able to abolish adolescence." Until then, Generation Y is merely lost.