Millennials are “special,” as their Boomer or Gen X parents will likely tell you at any opportunity.
If you think about it, it would be hard to argue against Millennials being the most sheltered generation in American history. It was easy to come to this realization while listening to the keynote presentation by economist, demographer and author Neil Howe at the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) 2013 Annual Conference in New Orleans, Oct. 27-29.
Howe, speaking about the different generations and what’s ahead for how we live, work, save and retire, drove the point home about Millennials being sheltered and what it means for America’s future.
Classified as those born between 1982 and 2004 (or so — definitions vary), Millennials have grown up in a remarkably safe environment compared to generations before them. Howe noted that the entire child protection industry came along for Millennials.
This really resonated with me. I’m a card-carrying Gen Xer, and when I grew up, I didn’t sit in a booster seat in the car and often didn’t wear a seat belt when I was in the back seat. And I was actually allowed to ride in the front seat before I was 9. I didn’t wear a helmet to bike or ski. My dad used to smoke in the car and in the house. I walked to and from elementary school without adult supervision. My mom and dad never heard of “Helicopter Parenting.”
Today, car seats and boosters are the law, and you rarely see a kid riding a bike, skiing, snowboarding or skateboarding without a helmet on. Adults don’t generally smoke near children. Kids get walked to or (more likely) dropped off at elementary school. We have Amber Alerts when a child goes missing.
While kids today do have to worry a lot more about school shootings than generations before them as well as the relatively recent element of cyberbullying, Howe said in his remarks that there has actually been a dramatic decline in youth violence since its peak in the 1990s. Alcohol and cigarette use among youths has also gone down significantly.
You certainly now have some Helicopter Parents out there shepherding their kids through every activity, but these extremists are undoubtedly a minority. What you do have today is a generation of parents of children under 18 who are very involved in their kids’ lives. Howe noted that Gen X parents tend to spend a lot more time with their kids than their parents spent with them. This definitely has some benefits, the biggest being that Millennials get along better with their parents than any generation since World War II, according to Howe.
Think about that for a minute, and how that could impact the future. It’s not a stretch to think Boomers and Gen Xers would like to see our leaders of tomorrow be mindful and caring when it comes to looking after the elderly, many of whom will outlive their savings.
Certainly, there may be some resentment down the road when younger generations have to deal with the enormous burdens facing them as a result of the government continually kicking the debt can down the road. There's also the inevitable strain that the cost of taking care of aging boomers will no doubt put on the country.
See also: How Gen X is winning retirement
We may be great parents when it comes to the actual raising of our children, but the shine comes off our spotlight when you think about what kind of stewards we have been in looking out for our country’s financial future. There’s plenty of uncertainty with health care, Social Security and how the United States will handle elderly Boomers and Gen Xers outliving their savings. Millennials, having their own savings challenges, will also be dealing with living longer on average than any generation before them.
Millennials have a lot on their plate. It will be interesting to see how their sheltered upbringing impacts their own parenting, their own commitment to retirement planning and health care, and what kind of stewards they will be for successive generations.