The Fallible Mind

Emotion, perception, and other tricks of the brain

Why Millennials Can't Anticipate or Fend For Themselves

Helicopter parents prevent children from coping with setbacks and disappointment

 News alert: People in their 20s do not consider themselves adults. Reports abound that Millennials have trouble balancing school, socializing, homework, and laundry. Given that I earned my MD at the age of 24, this picture is hard to understand for cohorts of my generation. Nonetheless, reporters such as Brooke Donatone writing in Salon tell of college students who fall apart if their parents don’t keep track of their schedules.

 In 2002 psychologist Jeffrey Arnett coined the term “emerging adult.” We now see that he was prescient. Both the Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal have reported that Millennials bring their parents to job interviews. Companies such as Linked in and Google host take–your–parents–to–work days. Adulthood, and the responsibilities that normally come with it, has been thoroughly turned upside down.

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The biggest problem for young people apparently is that they cannot anticipate. Instead of scrutinizing the tasks facing them for the week or planning a circuit in which to accomplish their errands in the least amount of time, they are shocked to discover that the car needs gas, dry cleaning needs to be picked up, or that the refrigerator is empty.

Millennials are technologically savvy yet perennially clueless to judge from what my teaching colleagues and employers say. They lack time management skills. They prefer to sit at Starbucks or Teavana chained to their iPads and smartphones rather than give attention to what needs doing. To them, RL, or “Real life,” is an artificial construction. Older adults shake theri heads that Millennials do not understand how to juggle life’s responsibilities that everyone has to think of. Multitasking is not part of their vocabulary. They are instead occupied by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and celebrity dating sites such as Grindr and Tinder. Swipe left if someone’s not sexy, swipe right if they are.

Observe a young family dining out. Often there is no conversation among generations. Instead, the parents have given their offspring iPads to keep them quiet. But the kids inhabit a totally different world.

E-mail neuroman@gwu.edu to reveive my newsletter.  Follow me @Cytowic, on Google+, Facebook, visit Cytowic.net, or read my reviews at The New York Journal of Books

 

Addendum May 6, 2014: This column  has reveived a ton of comments. Writers of negative ones seem not to have read Brooke Danatone's original article, and assume that the portrait applies to all millennials in general. I'll do a follow up in several weeks.

Meanwhile, there is Phillip Reese's column on No job, no house, no kind: Welcome to the Millennials.

Richard E. Cytowic, M.D., is a neurologist best known for bringing synesthesia back to mainstream science. His latest book is Wednesday Is Indigo Blue.

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