Millenials have a bad reputation among other generations, specifically the Baby Boomer generation. We are known as snowflakes, fragile and entitled. Every generation has its stereotypes. Are there Karen’s in the boomer generation? Absolutely. But, is every white woman in that generation a Karen? Of course not. Although there are definitely entitled members of the millennial generation, I’m here to provide a different perspective. Millennials, specifically Xennials (those of us born between the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s), are incredibly tough, resilient and compassionate.
Our collective trauma as a generation has created a unique perspective unlike generations before us. Our continual tragic experiences have allowed us to become resilient, compassionate and emotionally intelligent. When these qualities butt up against the boomer “suck it up” generation, there is inevitably conflict. These characteristics, however, do not indicate fragility, but instead have created a unique mental awareness and toughness.
The Challenger exploded on live television when I was three years old. I do not know if I actually remember this event, or if it has been ingrained in my memory by seeing it replayed throughout history on tv. Either way, it definitely had an impact on me. I do distinctly remember sitting with my Kindergarten class in 1989 watching another space mission. I was nervous watching the rocket launch into space. I imagine now that somehow the tragedy that occurred with the Challenger had made its way into my subconscious, and was the first traumatic event that began to define my generation’s experience.
The next few years provided a typical white Elementary School experience. I had a relatively safe experience in Elementary School, and little concern in the world. This started to change as I entered pre-adolescence. On April 19th, 1995 Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City. This rocked my world. I was on Spring Break at the time, and had parents and grandparents who were avid news watchers. Being old enough to understand what happened, but too young to understand why, was terrifying. Was somebody going to bomb my school? My parents reassured me that my small town school was not a target, but the anxiety stayed. An anxiety that foreshadowed future events, and began to mold my existence in our society.
On April 20th, 1999 I was a sophomore in High School. On this day Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed many of their fellow Columbine High School students. Now it was painfully clear that my parent’s argument of “that can’t happen here” was no longer valid. There were not that many differences between my High School and Columbine High School. If it could happen in Columbine it could happen in my school. It was terrifying. For the first time in my school career, I did not feel inherently safe.
The reaction of our school, along with many schools across the nation, was to increase safety measures . Of course that was their reaction, but as High School students we knew exactly why this was happening. Dreams would haunt me about streaming out of my High School with my arms up, just as I had seen Columbine students had done. High School students around the world had experienced a collective trauma. Though clearly not as traumatic as those attending Columbine, we did not have the resources to properly deal with this trauma. Our parents and teachers did not have a great understanding of trauma, and therefore did not have great resources for supporting us. This became another event, in a long line of events, that would create feelings of anxiety, insecurity and fear within our generation. Going to school was genuinely fear inducing.
Life goes on, and in 2001 I graduated from High School. I went to a local community college and on September 11, 2001 I was watching the Today Show while getting ready for class. A report came on that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. I yelled downstairs to my mom, thinking this must be some crazy accident. Very shortly after it was clear that this was not an accident. Sitting there watching the television as a second plane crashed into the second tower, I was numb. It was clear that this was an intentional act.
I got ready, and listened to the radio on my way to class. My Anatomy and Physiology professor very clearly did not understand the gravity of the moment, and held class as usual. He let us know that it probably was not as serious as it seemed, and it was important that we get our material for the day done. For the first time in my life, I had a trauma response to an event. My brain was foggy, I could not concentrate, and had a lot of anger towards my professor at that point. Shortly after this class ended, the college shut down classes for the day. I remember feeling the need to “do something” and immediately donated blood.
September 11th changed our society as a whole that day, but for my generation it was another event in a long line of events that taught us of the insecurity of the world around us. We continued to experience significant traumatic events, without living in a society that knew how to support us through these events. Many of us pushedr emotions down, “sucking it up” and moved forward. Looking back, as a generation we were developing anxiety at an alarming rate, but as young adults did not yet know how to support ourselves.
Throughout my 4.5 years of undergraduate school it felt as though tragedy and violence in our society continued to grow. More school shootings, other violent events, and Hurricane Katrina. I entered graduate school knowing much more about staying safe than I thought I would, but much less than I do today.
As I entered graduate school I, naively, felt as though college campuses were an exception to the rule. We were inherently safe, and why would we be a target anyway? Despite the traumatic events my generation had lived through up until this point, I had developed a sense that I was still in a safe space. That all changed on April 6, 2007.
On April 6, 2007, students and staff at Virginia Tech were injured and killed in another mass shooting. Yet again, my world was shaken. Just as with Columbine, I now understood that my perceived safe haven was not that. As a graduate student at a major US University, I was keenly aware that I could have been a Virginia Tech student. I was paying close attention to my classrooms, coming up with escape plans, and strategizing how I would stay alive in the event of a mass shooting.
Between the shooting at Virginia Tech and 2012 mass shootings and other violent events became more and more the norm. As an adult in my twenties I this was extremely traumatizing, but I was also feeling a bit of invincibility common to young adults. These events were scary and traumatizing, but surely they wouldn’t happen to me.
That mindset changed significantly with three major events for me. The Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 was significant given that it involved Elementary School students, and I was a High School Counselor. When the Aurora Movie theatre shooting happened, it proved to be incredibly anxiety provoking. Movie theaters were an important part of my social life, and I was scared.
I made the transition from my twenties to my thirties, and violent mass shootings were becoming normal. School shootings, such as the one at Stoneman Douglas High School were happening regularly, and I knew my vulnerability while working in a public school. The shooting at the Pulse NightClub in Orlando, FL, and the shooting at a Music Festival in Las Vegas secured in my mindset that literally no location was safe. As a new mom, I was now incredibly aware of my surroundings, and consistently aware of escape routes in places like Wal-Mart (especially after the shooting there in 2016).
Looking back, my childhood and early adulthood were marked by national tragedies. My twenties and early thirties were marked by these tragedies becoming common place. We have grown into adults and parents in a world marred by insecurity and trauma, without the resources to support us. This led to significant rates of anxiety, but it also created a unique perspective on the importance of mental health support and compassion.
Many of my peers are now parents to young children. Just as our childhood and young adulthood had been marked by unprecedented tragedy, so has our journey into parenthood. At the time of this writing, I’m a mom of a six year old and three year old,. I am now parenting in the midst of a pandemic, incredible racial tensions and political tensions like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. This past year has been exhausting, traumatic and overwhelming. As a mom, it is my job to keep my children safe. The pressure of keeping them mentally and physical safe during this pandemic is incredibly anxiety provoking. Working from home, keeping afloat financially and educating our children from home sometimes puts us over the edge.
As a Millenial (and Xennial) every developmental stage has shown us tragedy and/or violence. It is naive to thinks this does not have an impact. These tragedies molded who we are, and are part of our collective existence. They have set the foundation for anxiety, which some see as fragility. Being aware of how these have shaped us, and the anxiety they have created, however, is not fragility. It is the epitome of strength.
Two days ago I watched a breach and attack on our Capitol Building. I watched this event occur live, and I was more than aware of the fact that I was yet again living through a national tragedy and a terrible historical moment. Fortunately, I have yet to become numb to these events, and am saddened and outraged each and every time a terrible event happens. Unfortunately, for a generation raised in national trauma, it is another contributor to our collective anxiety.
All of these events have led to a unique identity for our generation. To others, we may appear fragile, but in reality we are incredibly strong. We are a generation raised through tragedy and trauma. Yes, this has created challenges, but it has also created compassion, leadership, and a priority on mental health. You may see us as snowflakes, but it’s actually self-advocacy. Maybe you think we are entitled, but many of us are keenly aware of the needs of others. All others. This means recognizing the impact our own trauma has had on us, and taking that information to support others in trauma.
I sincerely hope that as a generation we have an opportunity to live in a world free of trauma and tragedy. I have a lot of faith in my peers, and have seen incredible activism, compassion and support as we approach our 40’s. I’ve seen us break stigmas, talk about mental health, stand up against the status quo and work on our own personal growth. For those reasons, I challenge you to take a good long hard look at how you perceive us. We are the next generation of “old people”, and we are prepared to take our collective experience and use it to continue to challenge the status quo. We have the opportunity to change our story, and are more than prepared to do so.