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The Millennials: A Generation of Hope

Rick Chromey

The Millennial Generation. Generation Tech. Generation Next. The Echo Boom. Generation Y.

No matter the label, this generation is making waves. Born since 1982, Millennials are a radically different group of kids. Perhaps it's the societal blessing that's branded them since birth. Or the array of positive and powerful messages in the media -- whether print, music, or film -- that've formed their psyches. Perhaps it's the definitive overprotectiveness that has shielded them. Or simply the kid-friendly environment from which they've gladly suckled.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anna Quindlen quipped in Newsweek, "Meet the Millennials, and rejoice."


The natural question is why? Why are Millennials viewed differently from, say, Gen Xers (born between 1961 and 1981) or Baby Boomers (born between 1943 and 1960)? The reasons are numerous.

The foremost reason is probably the Millennials' historical position, as their parents tend to be late Boomers and early Gen Xers. By the mid-'80s, many Boomers had settled into marriages and mortgages, reminiscent of their Beaver-Cleaver childhoods. Consequently, the Boomers (living large on expanding economic prosperity) showered their children with Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, Beanie Babies toys, Power Rangers action figures, and Pokémon cards. Suburbs exploded as yuppies evolved into "soccer moms and dads."

Gen-X parents also bought into these cultural fads but added another element to parenting: an overprotective nature. Gen Xers grew up in the shadow of divorces, abortions, and latchkey syndrome. While Boomers had heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr., Joe DiMaggio, and John F. Kennedy, Generation X came of age to witness political and social hypocrisy, rock star cocaine addictions, and AIDS. Gen Xers had few true heroes. Consequently, they married later (or not at all) and willingly sacrificed to give their children better childhoods than they had themselves.

Another reason Millennials are different is political climate. From the Reagan Revolution to the kinder, gentler George Bush to the Clinton "consciousness," there's been an ever-increasing focus upon children. The War on Drugs. Education summits. Elián Gonzáles. Laws to keep kids safer.

The children who've defined this generation include Mandy Moore, Tara Lipinski, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, and the McCaughey septuplets. It's a generation wanted, watched, and counted worthy.

A WANTED GENERATION

Remember the "Baby On Board" signs that decorated cars everywhere in the mid-1980s? Those yellow window signs signaled a change in how we thought about kids. Suddenly it was cool to be a parent. Fertility clinics and Lamaze classes proliferated. Babies "R" Us specialty stores expanded. The church nursery was full. Babies were "in," or as best-selling author John Gray announced -- Children Are From Heaven.

Businesses caught on quickly. Chuck E. Cheese's pizzerias ("Where a kid can be a kid") and Discovery Zone play areas debuted. McDonald's and Burger King added toys to their kids' meals while hotels and restaurants reinvented themselves as kid-friendly and offered child menus, in-room video games, and complimentary breakfasts for families.

The movie industry evolved to meet the needs of the family. Disney re-released cartoons on video to aging Boomer parents while new full-length animations hit screens with soaring success. In the 1970s and early '80s, kids were possessed (The Exorcist), perverts (Porky's) or punks (The Bad News Bears). By the late 1980s and into the 1990s, children were worth listening to (Look Who's Talking), worth caring for (Three Men and a Baby), and worth keeping (Angels in the Outfield). In 2001, the quintessential Millennial movie Spy Kids was a smash, featuring super-smart kids as James-Bond, cloak-and-dagger spies. The message is clear: These are the good kids, and we want them around!

Despite a clear trend toward more edgy themes and suggestiveness as a whole, television in the '80s and '90s also gravitated toward family sitcoms such as The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Growing Pains, and Home Improvement. Family dramas also ruled. It was 7th Heaven to finally be Touched by an Angel.

This cultural change seems to have impacted family statistics. Today's fathers, according to a Wall Street Journal article, give their children a half-hour more every day than dads did in 1977. Nearly three out of four fathers admitted they'd sacrifice pay to spend more time with their families.

Attachment parenting is hot. Abortions among teens are dropping. At-home employment also blossomed in the 1990s.

In the church, children's ministry has exploded. From Children's Ministry Magazine to children's ministry workshops to age-specific resources, children's ministry reflects our culture's concentration on children. Ten years ago few churches employed professional children's ministers. Today it's a hot hire. Many churches now define their success through programs to children. Vacation Bible school, once considered a dinosaur, has resurfaced as a summer staple. Kids' choirs and musicals are popular again.

The question for us as ministers to children? How have we communicated to children that we want them in our churches? Is children's ministry an integral part of your church's mission-or an afterthought? Is everything that's done in your ministry done with quality and excellence-or thrown together at the last minute? Does the church leadership understand that your children's ministry provides Christian education and discipleship-or is it seen as a baby-sitting service? If your church doesn't value children, then neither they nor their families will value your church.

A WATCHED GENERATION

Few generations, except perhaps the G.I. Generation born at the early part of the 1900s, have been more protected by their parents. This is Generation Sheltered.

From conception, the Millennials have been watched. Birthing rooms became father-friendly. Baby monitors and fetal phones have become hot sellers.

Similarly, parents have taken over their children's lives. A University of Michigan study reported that free or unsupervised time for children plummeted 37 percent between 1981 and 1997. Child sports have erupted in the Millennial years. Soccer. Baseball. Softball. Basketball. Other extracurricular activities -- from dance to drama -- are popular. For the Millennials, clubs are also in. Today's child is busy with activities.

Parents have also made academics a priority. Homework has increased in the Millennial years, and being smart is no longer as much of a social stigma (as it was for Gen Xers). The importance of graduation exercises and academic laurels is emphasized for kids as young as preschool. In some schools, parents can now log on to school sites and download their children's homework, current grades, and teacher comments. It's estimated that nearly a million children are now educated at home (and many of these home-schooling families feature parents with bachelor's and master's degrees).

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