Four Myths About Millennials

They're all about money and mobile phones, right? Wrong.

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Millennials are often portrayed as apathetic, disinterested, tuned out and selfish. None of those adjectives describe the Millennials I’ve been privileged to meet and work with.

Fresh from Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) 2013, my father and I just spent the weekend with more than 1,000 college and university students — Millennials — from around the world at Washington University in St. Louis. Every student who attended made what we at CGI U call ‘commitments’ — specific pledges to tackle a specific challenge, whether on their campus or a continent away. Attendees came from more than 300 colleges and universities, all 50 states and over 75 countries and their commitments ranged across equally diverse areas, including education, climate change, gender inequality, poverty alleviation and public health. CGI U left me both exhilarated and exhausted, but above all, inspired. I left St. Louis incredibly optimistic about our future.

(MORE: How Minority Millennials Are Driving Politics)

It’s not that the young people I met aren’t aware of the negative stereotypes of them out there. Some of the critiques against them do contain insight. But Millennials are actually remixing their generation’s vices into virtues that are informing their ambitions, their work and helping make the world a better place. Here’s how:

1. They’re All about the Money

It’s a widely-held belief that Millennials are obsessed with money. And it’s also wildly true. Just don’t mistake it for a fixation with getting rich. After all, a survey of university graduates by consulting firm PwC shows that flexible hours and job development trump cash in their ideal workplace. The young people I met and listened to at CGI U were focused on money in the sense of getting back to real growth in the developed world, ensuring that prosperity is more widely shared in the developed and developing world, and for the United States, fixing our long-term fiscal challenges (there was even a fierce competition to see which students led the best campaigns to raise Millennials’ awareness of the soaring national debt).

Take CGI U participant Derrius Quarles. He grew up in the foster care system on the South Side of Chicago, but managed to graduate from high school with a million dollars in scholarship offers. As a student at Morehouse College, Derrius set up Million Dollar Scholar to connect traditionally marginalized Millennials with funds for college, in addition to making a CGI U commitment to boost financial literacy in young people (meaning people his age and even younger!). Through Million Dollar Scholar, students have received over $950,000 in scholarships and grants to date. Derrius is focused on money because he knows, whether fair or not, it is often necessary to help unlock opportunity.

(MORE: The Millennial Generation Can Lead Us Out of Gridlock)

2. They’re Mobile Maniacs

Millennials regularly draw ire for their cell phone usage. They’re mobile natives, having come of age when landlines were well on their way out and payphones had gone the way of dinosaurs. Because of their native fluency, Millennials recognize mobile phones can do a whole lot more than make calls, enable texting between friends or tweeting.

In fact, three Washington University in St. Louis students are leveraging SMS technology to support survivors of gender-based violence in South Africa. Emily Santos, Krupa Desai and Henry Osman made a commitment at CGI U 2013 to develop the KHE Project, a text-message-based hotline that connects rape and sexual assault survivors with critical resources while preserving their anonymity.

Smart phones can also reconnect and keep track of refugees on a whole different continent. Duke student Patrick Oathout came to CGI U in 2012 and committed to create Uhuru Mobile, a free mobile app that allows users in Jordanian refugee camps to communicate with aid workers and each other in local languages.

(MORE: Millennials: Turns Out the ‘Entitled’ Generation Is Willing to Sacrifice)

3. They’re Social Media-Obsessed

Caricatured as navel-gazers, Millennials are said to live for their ‘likes’ and status updates. But the young people I know often leverage social media in selfless ways.

At CGI U 2012, Moussa Hassoun of Bentley College committed to promote LGBT discourse in the Arab diaspora with the aid of online forums, Twitter and other virtual platforms. At CGI U 2013, Brown University student Drew Heckman committed to expanding the accessibility of his grassroots organization, Queer Nebraska Youth Networks, by creating a website that digitally maps, in a mobile-friendly way, queer-friendly opportunities and events throughout the socially conservative Cornhusker State. These are just two of the Millennials all over the world engaging web 2.0 for society’s benefit rather than self-indulgence.

4. They’re Awfully Impatient

My husband and I frequently reflect on the adage that ‘patience is a virtue but impatience gets things done.’  Sometimes, Millennials get grief for their impatience, for not waiting their turn, not understanding that sometimes progress takes time. That’s true — sometimes progress does take time, but often progress has been too long in coming, from advancing women’s rights around the world to ameliorating the continued high death rates of young children of age-old challenges like diarrhea or malaria. That’s why, in full disclosure, I find the Millennials’ impatience so exciting. It’s urgency not arrogance that drives their impatience, their frustration with the status quo. They understand that these are urgent times, and that access to higher education, gender-based violence, climate change and equal rights for all, regardless of sex or sexual orientation, country of residence or country of origin are all areas of urgent concern. Millennials are eager to get started in addressing global challenges long before they line up to walk across the stage to get their college diploma. While some call that impatient, I call that perfect. The world can’t afford for them to wait.

MORE: Q&A with Chelsea Clinton

88 comments
dave.platypusman
dave.platypusman

Everything you say is in direct contrast to your idea that Millenials are NOT obsessed with this.  Your examples show they are in fact obsessed but perhaps because of that obsession they are in a unique position to leverage their knowledge to do good.  And while the ideas on the surface appear good, they also show a level of disconnection with the real world (I admit that is a little bit of a generalization, but overall still valid).  Take the "Mobile Maniac" item: one student created a mobile app called Uhuru to allow Jordanian refugees in camps to communicate via SMS.  The assumption there is that the refugee needs a smart phone (relatively low penetration outside of highly industrialized nations), is able to access an app store (may be blocked by governmental restrictions), understands there is an app out there (access to social media or an intelligent aid worker who knows about this), the app exists in a form that is relevant and useful (language barrier and designed to be understood by someone not used to mobile apps), and that the app provides something native texting does not.  Those are a lot of barriers to get over.  Sounds to me like more of a first-world thought exercise than a practical application of technology.  

KelseyVasquez
KelseyVasquez

The one thing that truly irritates me about this subject is all the blame is on us when we didn't raise ourselves. Look at our parents. I was lucky enough to have parents that didn't hand me whatever I wanted when I wanted it. I didn't get a fancy smart phone until my second year of college when I could pay for it all on my own. Now 5 year old kids have smart phones. Its disgusting! And none of them got those by themselves. I'm not trying to play the blame game here because I do believe our generation is losing its social skills and so called "normal" ways of communicating, but I do believe that the kids of this generation cannot be 100% blamed for this change in our society. 

brendaroy80s
brendaroy80s

The concern of ideological differences between generations is not a new one. Given the technological advances that have taken place during the time period in which these individuals were brought up, their relationship with technology is vastly different than that of previous generations. As a result, the millennial approach to education, work, and social life may seem foreign, incomprehensible and at times, absurd to older generations. Unfair generalizations about today's youth have resulted in the negative stereotypes associated with millennials. It is important to recognize what millennials can contribute to today’s society instead of perpetrating the myths that millennial youth is lacking drive.

svnagappa
svnagappa

It is sad that people keep generalizing about each generation but not harnessing everyones talent. Let us look at the boomer generation. All that they did was to go to wars in 50s and 60s have gender revolution in 60s and 70s and then had lots of durgs and abortions in the 70s and 80s and used up all global resources without caring for rest of the world never did much of saving and did not have to struggle for money after all that now with their illnesses and not saving for treatments etc are now sucking the future of younger generation. this is the story of the west. Whereas in Asia the same boomers saved and saved to educate their children to go to US and be successful and now these kids are looking after their parents who were unable to save for the old age. Keep on blaming younger generation in the west is becoming a hobby as these parents know that they havent invested in their kids emotionally or physically so expecting things is not an option.

outerwings
outerwings

Actually all these 4 myths might not be myths at all! The first one is true for every generation since 1950.. the last 3 are not necessarily bad. That just means the current generation might have found a faster more efficient way to communicate.. And not all of the kids are necessarily tech savvy! I've seen some of them 'touch type' on iPhones..and you know what that means ;)

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

Millennials do more volunteer work than any other generation.

AKDBBmmC
AKDBBmmC

@TIME @TIMEIdeas Enough with the Clintons. Who gives a hoot about what Chelsea Clinton has to say. Spoiled brat!

CarrieHKelly
CarrieHKelly

@TIME @TIMEIdeas Chelsea has unfortunate distinction of being CLTINON's daughter. She & George S. should NOT be journalists. Ask Ken Starr.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Part 1:

As a former teacher, I must disagree with Ms. Clinton's curious commentary on millenials.

For one thing, millenials are obsessed with their mobile devices (i.e. cell phones). That's no myth. Everywhere they go, they walk with head bowed down, texting, texting, texting. If they're not texting, they're playing games. If they're not playing games, they're on social media sites (another non-myth). Those behaviors have severely deteriorated their socialization skills. When free-time is given in some classrooms, all the students do is text! Forget actual conversation!

Second, as indicated above, millenials are obsessed with social media. A few sites that come to mind are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Buzzfeed, etc.. Status updates and 'likes' have resulted in a heightened state of narcissism and esteem issues that our generation never had (I'm 25 years old).

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Part 2:

Lastly, due to the above, millenials are annoyingly impatient.  If you try to "teach" a group of millenials, the (literally) immediate response is, "Why can't we just GOOGLE this???" or "I have an app for _______________!!!"  To them, the old style of learning is irrelevant.  Teachers are too slow and dimwitted to keep up with their pace.  This produces a vicious cycle of anti-social behavior, and is detrimental (and potentially destructive) to our societal fabric. 

What Ms. Clinton has to realize is that she worked with The Best of the Millenials.  She has not seen the vast majority of the group.  If she did, she would be shocked, and seriously consider revising this article.

HallKyle
HallKyle

Good grief, here it comes, Clinton the 3rd.   We've had stained-dress Bill, stand-by-my-man and stand-by-Obama (even though he beat the pantsuit off of me to the nomination) Hillary, and it seems the liberal media is grooming Camelot Chelsea Clinton as next-in-line for Great Things.

To be fair, the Republican side is doing its best with George H.W. Bush the 1st, followed by Down's Syndrome George W. Bush the 2nd, followed by "I'm not as dumb as my brother so please elect me" Jeb Bush the 3rd.

Americans deserve what they get, decade after decade they keep desperately licking the nether parts of various "families" helping them to create their own bizarre political dynasties.     (Can anyone say ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy?) 

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

The fact is, Chelsea doesn't live in "everyday America".  She is among the elite.  I don't believe that this can be argued with in any rational sense.

She never had to want because her parents couldn't afford it.  She could always go to got he schools of her choice.  Doors that are closed to 99.9% of all Americans stand open to her. She never had to eat ground horse meat because beef was too expensive.  She never had to endure powdered milk mixed half and half with low-fat milk to stretch the food dollar.  She never had to live three to a bedroom because the nice home she used to live in was rented out to help pay the mortgage.  She never had to travel the city bus system across town every day to the better schools because the local schools were gang-infested death traps.

And if you think that's hyperbole, wait for my autobiography.

Along the way, I learned a few things about life, both from the deprived and the privileged and one of them is that EVERYONE thinks they're "normal".  Somehow they delude themselves into thinking that they're just average people when they're not. Yes, there are others who share their views and habits, but that's a result of deliberate association.  OF COURSE people around Chelsea are like her in many ways.  She's not going to hang with people who aren't, and it's very likely that those who aren't like her are more average and representative of the "norm" than those who are like her.

But the worst mistake in logic and critical thinking I've seen is how people take their perspectives and project them onto everyone else as if the individual's perspective is how it is for everyone else.  Just because an individual views things one way doesn't mean it's the right way, the best way or the way anyone else sees them.  Coming from a political family, one would THINK she'd have gotten this message by now.

She's made that classic mistake in critical thinking by believing herself to be representative of the norm when she isn't.  I really can't believe that her unique and privileged point of view is in any way indicative of the average of her generation, and find it rather arrogant of her to assume it is.  She needs to get out a whole lot more.

Amused
Amused

I love how the article actually CONFIRMS the validity all 4 of the so-called "myths" but now we are supposed to view those irritating faults as virtues!  LOL!

wpatrickhughes
wpatrickhughes

Lovely idea that bears little resemblance to my experience.

Vafi1217
Vafi1217

@ChelseaClinton @TIME Great piece about millennials. Love how they are not afraid to think global. A benefit of the internet era?

DearLoveyHart
DearLoveyHart

@TIME @TIMEIdeas Look, I love her parents, but why keep shoving Chelsea down our throats? It's obvs she wants an easy TV job & attention.

Colin Alford
Colin Alford

She left out entitled. As a millennial, yes, I feel entitled. Entitled to a job that provides a living though not luxurious wage to support a family, entitled to having an employer who treats his/her employees with mutual respect, and entitled to dignity as a human being. But I don't think that's so new. Treating others with dignity and respect is a cornerstone of the all the great spiritual teachers from thousands of years ago. I hope our society in the future embraces that, no matter the generation.

nels5098
nels5098

She is taking a biased microcosm and applying it to a entire generation. Her ignorance is amazing. Anyway, the point is you can't spend a weekend with extremely high achievers from "around the world", and apply that interaction to understanding the Millennial generation. The bottom line, I believe, is that our generation is going to have the largest percentage of people ever to be completely reliant on their parents. Take a look at all the people you know in the Millennial generation and ask if you think they will self-sufficient?

Alston2853
Alston2853

Chelsea is lucky to have famous and wealthy parents, to get her a cushy NBC job for which she is unqualified and to place her on boards where she provides nothing of value but gets a nice fee with nice travel perks.