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Archive for Friday, February 23, 2001

Millennials’ lead their generation into 21st century

February 23, 2001

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Time for a test on today's kids. Are the following statements true or false?

Teen sex, suicide and drug use are up, as are youth crime, school violence, classroom cheating and the number of kid couch potatoes. Teen happiness and test scores are down, as are the number and length of school days, homework, college ambition, youth pride and patriotism.

All those statements are false. America's youngest generation may be pampered, pressured and protected, but most of the kids are OK.

William Strauss has seen the future, and he says it's full of promise for a generation he calls the millennials, 76 million kids born between 1982 and the present.

"The public has been accustomed to nonstop media chatter about bad kids from mass murderers, hate criminals and binge drinkers to test failers, test cheaters, drug users and just all-around spoiled brats," Strauss and co-author Neil Howe write in "Millennials Rising: The Next Generation."

The leading edge of America's newest generation, college freshmen now, may be stressed-out, sleep-deprived and on the brink of burnout, but Strauss says they're getting a bum rap as an aimless group of sex-crazed, violence-prone, foul-mouthed slackers.

If that's true, what about the nasty, edgy, gross-behaving teens you see so often in movies and on TV? That view of youth pop culture is the work of the two generations that came before the millennials the baby boomers and the Gen Xers.

"This is the first generation in living memory to be less vulgar, less violent and less sexually charged than the pop culture the older generations are creating for them," Strauss, 53, said in a telephone interview from his home in McLean, Va.

The millennials' impact on American society, Strauss said, may turn out to be comparable to the GI generation that fought and won World War II. "Our bottom line is, these kids are different than what people think they are," Strauss said. "Surveys show them to be happier, less cynical and more optimistic than teens used to be."

Strauss and Howe base their conclusions on surveys of school teachers, parents and more than 600 students, bolstered by studies showing that rates of teen pregnancy, youth violence and drug abuse are falling.

The millennials are the most numerous, affluent, ethnically diverse, high-tech generation in American history.

Strauss and Howe see the millennials as a "corrective generation" bent on fixing the worst excesses of the baby boomers and Gen Xers, rebelling by behaving not worse, but better than their parents.

"Don't tell us how bad we are. Look at yourself," a 14-year-old girl says in "Millennials Rising."

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