Skinny Revisited

Using the language of anorexia to heal

Why are Millennials Outspoken?

Why are Millennials outspoken? Look at their Boomer parents.

There has been a lot in the news these days about Millennials. Most of it is critical. As a therapist and a Baby Boomer, I would like to shed some light on why I think the Millennials are the way they are-privileged, entitled, outspoken.

The Millennials are the children of the boomers and how they were raised is a reaction formation to how the boomers were raised. In psychoanalytical terms, a reaction formation is a defense mechanism which does an exaggerated version of the opposite thing in response to anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions. Millennials were raised by the generation that rode bicycles without helmets, were told that children should be seen and not heard, played in playgrounds made of cement and steel, were spanked if they misbehaved, walked to school alone when they were really young, and blatantly, knew that boys would grow up to have more rights than girls. In a reaction formation, we go to great lengths to do the opposite of what was so awful for us. For example, I remember that the playground was the place where ambulances were parked because inevitably, some child fell off the steel equipment onto the cement floor and had to be rushed to the hospital. Did we want that for our children? The reaction formation to those playgrounds is mulch and rubber jungle gyms.

And if you grew up a Boomer girl, you remember when men felt completely free to yell inappropriate things at you on the streets or wherever. Did we want that for our daughters? Boomers remember when women always landed the jobs with typewriters and their fingers got all full of ink that took days to wash off. And girls were expected to serve coffee. While in graduate school, I worked for an engineering firm at which my brothers also worked during summers. I was hired as a secretary and they were hired as draftsmen and they earned really good money for many less hours of work than me. The expectation was that I was really supposed to stay home and learn to cook during the same period when I was studying feminism. The reaction formation to that era is the inherent equality of women enforced by sexual harassment laws and politically correct etiquette.

So we, the boomers, in a reaction formation, talk to our children about everything, make sure that girls know that they can do anything that boys can do, encourage our millennial children to work hard, play hard and make sure that they have a great childhood filled with fancy toys. The toys of the boomer era weren't that fun. Remember "Game of States?"

Yes, Millennials, we congratulated you for breathing and gave you positive reinforcement for everything and cared what you had to say when you were really little and yes, we were helicopter parents because nobody hovered over our generation. As a therapist, I wonder if perhaps fewer Millennial therapy hours will be spent complaining about your moms and dads, whom some of you actually like. So, Millennials, they say you are whiny and entitled - good! We boomers protested wars and fought for women's rights. For everything else, we were seen and not heard. So go for it: whine, shout, and scream. Boomers know why.

Maria Baratta, Ph.D.L.C.S.W., is a clinician based in New York. Her book, Skinny Revisited, focuses on the healing of eating disorders.

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