Seventy years ago, there was “the greatest generation.” Later, Generation X became known as the slacker generation. Today, millennials are turning out to be the anxious generation.
Numerous recent studies have shown that millennials suffer from anxiety at a much higher rate than generations that preceded them. What’s wrong with kids these days?
A lot, actually. They’re the first generation raised with Internet. The first generation to experience “helicopter” parenting. They’re at once constantly exposed on social media but also permanently sheltered by overbearing parents. They’re not the first generation to experience a rough economy, but they certainly act as if they were.
Much has been written about how millennials are tender and delicate. They’re sometimes absurd, like when they don’t eat cereal because there is, apparently, too much clean-up involved — what with the bowl and the spoon. They draw headlines like “Do Millennials Stand a Chance in the Real World?”
But the spike in anxiety is a real issue, one that shouldn’t be lumped with their “omg! lol! I can’t even” social ineptitude.
In New York magazine last week, Jean Twenge, a social psychologist at San Diego State University, offered an explanation for why anxiety among young people is at an 80-year high. She cites all the change and upheaval young people today have seen. As marriages happen later or not at all, the family structure is changing dramatically.
But the real change comes in the freedom of movement that has made it easy for people to leave families far behind. Studies have shown that having limited family in close proximity can lead to anxiety and depression.
It makes sense. In 2015, the American Psychological Association’s annual “Stress in America” survey found that people who have close family or friends to turn to in times of crises experienced less stress. Today we instill independence in our kids and tell them to forge their own paths. But we’ve stopped telling them that doing so might be easier if they stay geographically closer to us.
When I tell people I’ll encourage my kids not to move away from our family in adulthood, I’m told I’ll be “stifling” them. In reality, providing a solid family structure through geographical closeness would go a long way toward minimizing the kind of anxiety 20-somethings are now experiencing.
It’s not a crazy idea that if you live near people who love you the most, you’re more likely to be more comfortable and confident, all other things being equal.
The endless choices millennials face have also proven paralyzing. They’re the constantly-swiping-right generation. It’s always on to the next thing. And this is played out in the way they see their geographical options.
Carol Beaton, in Psychology Today, says an abundance of choices is stressing young people out: “Paradoxically, our stress befalls the generation with the most optionality yet,” she says. “This blessing could also be our curse.”
One recent survey found that about half of millennials live away from their hometown. That’s a significant number. A different study found 85 percent of adults 45 and older think it’s very important to live near their kids or grandkids. Boomers have figured out the happiness that comes with living near family.
It’s also worth noting that for a long time the story about millennials was how they were still living with their parents. That might contribute to their decisions to move way out when they do eventually leave the nest. Millennials are also much more likely to rent their homes than buy them, even when owning might be significantly cheaper — another sign of their lack of permanent rooting.
It’s not that having options of where to live is bad, it’s that we underestimate the benefit of a nearby support network when we weigh these options. It’s not a coincidence that a safe, stable life has often included remaining geographically close to family.
That’s what I’ll tell my kids: It’s good to have the choice of living far from home — but it doesn’t mean it’s the right choice.
SOURCE: Karol Markowicz, New York Post