Cusp

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The Younger Generation Is Always Right

What I should have said on the Katie show

My daughter Samantha and I did another bit of publicity for our book Twentysomething yesterday: a taping of an upcoming episode of Katie Couric's new afternoon talk show, "Katie." The subject of the segment was what Katie delicately called "over-parenting," with conversation about the degree to which Baby Boomer parents might have ruined their Millennial children by protecting them too zealously from life's inevitable disappointments. (It's not airing for a while, probably not until April.)

Samantha and I followed a segment feauring Katherine Schwarzenegger, the daughter of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, who was introduced as the show's "Twentysomething Correspondent." Katherine is 23, already the author of a book about female body image whose next book has the working title "Now What?" She introduced a video featuring a bunch of her fellow twentysomethings talking about  their lives.

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And then it was Sam's and my turn to sit on the pretty white armchairs and talk to Katie about what it means to be in your twenties today, and how that might be different from what it was like in the Baby Boomers' day.

Our seven minutes of fame went by quickly, and the questions were unsurprising. But later in the evening, walking alone in my Manhattan neighborhood, it occurred to me that I missed my chance to answer Katie's final question in a better way. (Who hasn't had that "I should have said" moment hours after the chance to say it has passed? Though the moment brings a special pang of remorse when it's something you "should have said" to a national TV audience.)

Katie had asked me what I think about Millennials in general, and I blathered on about how they're so great, so creative, so energetic, so ambitious, and blah blah -- anything, really, to counter the stereotype of kids today as lazy and entitled that had seeped into the earlier part of the show. Which was a fine answer, I guess, but kind of vapid. 

Here's what I should have said.

I should have mentioned a little anecdote that Sam and I included in Twentysomething, a story I first heard from my brother-in-law Peter, a musicology professor. Peter told us about the night that Gustav Mahler attended a concert of a new work by Arnold Schoenberg, when he was asked what he thought of the younger composer's modern, atonal music. It doesn't matter what I think of it, Mahler reportedly said. It doesn't matter because "the younger generation is always right."

That's what I should have said to Katie, too. It's fine to ask a fiftysomething like me what I think of twentysomethings, but the truth is, it doesn't matter what I think. They're the younger generation, and they're always right. Because in not very long, these amazing Millennials will be the folks in charge.  

Robin Marantz Henig is a science journalist and co-author, with her daughter Samantha Henig, of Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?

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