Parenting Now: The Importance of Bridging the Generational Divide
Bridging The Generational Divide
Over the past few years, we’ve heard the term “millennials” frequently thrown about. Often when we hear it, it’s used by prior generations – Baby Boomers and Generation X – almost as a pejorative. From casual conversation to mainstream news media, Millennials are characterized as the source of many ills in this nation. They have been labeled disruptive, too unconventional, and a bad influence on the generation succeeding them, Generation Z. Ironically, both Baby Boomers and Generation X faced similar criticism from their respective predecessors. James Dean’s 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause depicted a similar generational divide. Dean’s character “Jim” was a Baby Boomer in constant struggle with his parents to express his “true self”. He resisted his father’s efforts to mold him into the man “he should be’ and many cheered him on from the audience.
Today, Millennials and Generation Z have begun to push back. Similarly to Dean’s character, they are speaking out against what they believe is unfair criticism and divisive rhetoric by using historical data to remind their predecessors that this world which everyone is trying to successfully negotiate was in disarray long before they were a gleam in society’s disapproving eyes.
In this atmosphere of discord, where and how do we find a happy medium upon which all generations can create a bridge of understanding as a foundation to structure a better world for all of us today and our successors tomorrow?
I vividly recall being younger and riding in the car with my mother and two brothers. On the radio was a mix of classic R&B music she loved, including Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, James Brown, and a new genre of music sweeping the nation, rap music. My brothers and I learned to love and appreciate my mother’s “old” songs, but she couldn’t yet appreciate this new music speaking for our generation. To her, rap music wasn’t “real” music. She never actually said this to us, but I could tell by the look on her face when a song by Run-D-MC or Public Enemy came on the radio. She didn’t move as free-spiritedly or happily as she did while listening to Smokey Robinson or The Whispers. Still, she never turned the radio off when a rap song came on the radio or spoke negatively of any particular rap song her children were joyfully trying to recite. My mother understood what was more important than convincing her three sons classic R&B music was better than rap music was for her to foster a connection with her sons by supporting our interests.
Connection. How do we connect all these generations orbiting each other?
We start by doing what my mother did: listening as opposed to shutting down. When we listen, we hear the voices of our predecessors, living and transitioned, telling us of the struggle many of them endured to ensure voting rights for Black people, women, and equal rights for our brothers and sisters from the LGBTQ community. When we listen, we hear the voices of Millennials and Generation Z telling us they are afraid for their futures and want solutions that speak to their current situations, much like Baby Boomers worried about and staged anti-nuclear war protest marches during the 25 years+ Cold War with the former Soviet Union.
When we shut down, we lose the opportunity to hear the common chorus of concerns shared by the pioneers of the 1960’s civil rights movement, the courageous women fighting for equal rights in the ’70s, the young people today from the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the environmentalists of old and today fighting against global warming. These shared concerns include ongoing police brutality, housing/employment discrimination, pay disparity for women, America’s complex foreign policies, our not so blind legal system, the COVID-19 crisis, continued racial disparity, and other crucial social justice concerns.
When we shut down, we create generational silos comprised of them versus us.
Silos become more fortified with impenetrable walls reinforced by miscommunication, misunderstanding, resentment, and maliciousness. Following young Greta Thunburg’s 2019 riveting speech on climate change, many older people attempted to minimize the impact of Greta’s admonishing words by belittling her age and unique speaking style. Instead of taking the time to hear and appreciate Greta’s passionate and insightful discourse, these older critics dismissed her words as the ramblings of a misguided juvenile. By shutting Greta down, these critics missed a golden opportunity to hear the concerns of someone from the younger generation and perhaps do something positive to speak directly to her concern and indirectly to millions of other young people that share Greta’s concerns.
When we listen, we are able to work together to marshal a plan inclusive of the successful civil rights strategies employed by our predecessors, coupled with the innovative communication techniques created and mastered by the present generation. Listening to each other allows us to remember we are all influenced by each generation’s music, fashion styles, political ideologies, and spiritual philosophies. We are in fact mere hybrids of each other, all struggling to create and sustain a safe and productive world.
When we listen, we hear and create opportunities to foster an understanding of one another’s likenesses and help to develop an atmosphere of learning where we can grow to appreciate our generational and cultural differences. When we listen, we see the value in our predecessors’ stories of how they overcame their challenges and enjoy the breath of fresh air in our successors’ new strategies designed to address our common enemy: social inequality and injustice.
When we listen, we all thrive.