Dear Millennials: Your Parents Lied To You

CJ Westerberg, May 10, 2010 6:50 PM


Dear Millennials:  Your Parents Lied To You

By Bill Sledzik

"You're wonderful, sweetie. Just keep working hard and you can be anything you want to be. Great job!"    (soccer mom, 1992)

I've spent the past 15 years teaching and coaching the kids known as Millennials. Some call them GenY.  I call them the "self esteem generation."  Millennials were raised by parents who showered them with praise and awarded them athletic trophies for just showing up. Their lives were over-programmed, their parents hovering.

Then they went to college.

How's it working out? Pretty well in my classrooms. Millennials, those born between '78 and '95, are bright and inquisitive. And most work their butts off. They respect their parents and listen to Led Zeppelin. What's not to love?

According to a presentation by some PR pros from CRT/Tanaka, the Millennials' lives were defined by tragedies like 9-11 and Colombine and profoundly influenced by the Internet, MTV and those well-intentioned "helicopter parents."

The presentation tells us that Millennials are the largest group entering the workforce today -- and the most impatient. They don't believe in "dues paying," thus the presentation's title, "I'll Take the Corner Office." Many in this group were latch-key kids, so they've had adult responsibilities since their early teens.

They'll feel ready to take on the world.

A few more tidbits from the CRT/Tanaka presentation (see link below):


  • define loyalty by what's challenging and interesting, rather than job security.
  • expect reward and recognition on a regular basis.
  • believe they are all "above average."
  • If you work with or manage Millennials, you're nodding your head about now. I learned back in the late 90s that praise goes a long way with this group. Pointed criticism does not. Millennials can be a sensitive lot. But that's no surprise. All their lives they've been rewarded for effort more so than results.

"But I don't understand how this is a 'C' paper. I worked really, really
hard on it."    (Kent State PR major, 1998-2010)

Tearful moments.

Just last week, three senior PR majors told me they cried after I returned their first assignment a few semesters back. They're all veterans now, accustomed to my semi-gruff coaching style. In a few years, they might actually appreciate it.

But what's most important to me -- and to the PR profession -- is producing students who can do the work and manage the stresses of our business.

My grading style is heavy-handed, and that's not gonna change. I typically spend 30-minutes evaluating a 6-7-page paper, circling every technical error and filling every margin with comments and suggestions. I may bruise a few egos, but students never have to guess what they've done wrong or how they can improve their work.

For some, it's the first time anyone has told them "this isn't good enough." Some rise to the challenge, others fold.

The knock-out punch.

In PR Case Studies, about 30% drop the class or fail it. Why? Mostly because of poor writing quality.
(ed.bold)  Case Studies is the "knock out" class for PR majors at Kent State, and unless you're a real star, you gotta learn to take a punch (figuratively speaking).

Some learn quickly that they're not "above average," at least in terms of writing or critical-thinking skills. But that's why you take the class, isn't it? These skills and aptitudes can be developed.

Those who accept coaching generally make it; those who don't find other communication-related majors that don't require complex writing or problem-solving. And yeah, such majors do exist. Don't get me started!

OK, maybe I'm not the most sensitive person.
 I expect a lot from students, and I don't coddle them. But even the old grizzly bear has made concessions to the Millennial ego. For instance, I no longer use the label "trainwreck" to describe the worst papers. I did with the GenXers, and they responded.

"I don't understand. I got As all my life -- especially in writing. Now you're telling me I don't write well?"  (tearful sophomore Millennial)

What can I tell ya, kid?
Your parents loved you, and they did their best. But they created a false reality. Everyone isn't above average in all they do. And in real life, only the winner gets the trophy.

It's important you understand this before we award that diploma, as there's a good chance your boss will be just like me. Scary thought, huh?


Bill Sledzik, a self-described "husband, father, educator, outdoorsman, and incurable smartass. On the job, I'm associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University where I teach courses in public relations, writing and ethics.  Before KSU, I spent 16 years as a PR professional, most of it with counseling firms."

Link to his blog, Tough Sledding, is here.  You may want to check out his recent interview with The Daily Dog where he talks more about his students' writing skills and reference points.   

Also on this post, Sledzik shares a presentation about the Millennials from the PR firm CRT/Tanaka entitiled  "I'll Take TheCornerOffice" from the PRSA (Public Relations Society Of America) San Diego Conference.  Of special note are slides 27 through 36, which show the best way to communicate to and with Millennials - ages 14-31, whether they are one of your students, co-workers, or teachers.  A comforting note to teachers:  students like face-to-face communication best, so take notice.

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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