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I asked college professors their favorite millennial stories and got two very different answers.
Story number one: “I was in a meeting, myself and two new employees,” said Patrick Callahan at the St. Lawrence Center at the University of Kansas. “Mid-conversation, a young man stops to take a selfie and text it. He then asked why I stopped talking.”
That is hilarious, and true to the entitled, work-averse traits statistics point to in millennials.
The second story I got was very different. It was about a student who was married and expecting her first child. “Not only was she the best student in my class, but she came to class every single day until her due date,” said Anthony Crifasi at Benedictine College. “When students bring up family or medical issues as excuses for absences or bad grades, I always tell them about her.”
What was the difference between the two students? One difference was that the girl in the second story was home-schooled.
Did home-schooling make the decisive difference? I don’t think so. But it points to what did.
I asked friends via email and Facebook about a phenomenon I have noticed at several workplaces — a restaurant, a convenience store, and a lawn care operation, among others. At each, millennials who had been home-schooled were thriving with a reputation for hard work while other millennials were not.
So, I asked: Do home-schooled millennials have a stronger work ethic than their peers? Several respondents convinced me that they do not.
“There are lots of people who have stronger work ethics than mine who were not home-schooled and lots of home-schoolers I know who have worse work ethics than mine,” said Benjamin Rioux, a millennial husband and father who was home-schooled through high school. My oldest daughter, a wife and mother, said the same thing.
Bill Erwin II, a Christendom College graduate, said he has worked with many millennials, homeschooled and not, and that in his experience home-schooling is not the decisive factor in work ethic.
So what is? “I think it depends more on the family life they grew up with,” Erwin said.
Exactly. Young people with committed parents who pushed them to get better and volunteered to be a part of their daily activities often outperform those whose parents didn’t — home-schooled or not.
Psychologist Jean M. Tweenge used to tell her students at San Diego State University that there was no evidence that millennials have a lesser work ethic than previous generations. She doesn’t say that anymore.
As she explains in Psychology Today, she has reassessed the evidence. In fact, fewer high-school and college aged millennials choose to work compared to previous generations, and while some studies show that millennials are working longer hours than older workers, this is most likely due to the different stages they have reached in their careers.
Meanwhile, Tweenge points out, millennial high school seniors are more likely to say they don’t want to work hard than previous generations were as high school seniors. “Yet at the same time Millennials are still more likely to say money is very important and that they want to buy expensive things,” she said, citing a paper she co-authored. “This is entitlement.”
How did this happen? Most likely, the authority figures in their lives made it happen.
Tweenge has said elsewhere that “overindulgence” is the worst thing parents can do for their children’s character: Giving them everything they want, being too quick to praise and too slow to criticize, excusing their failures rather than encouraging them to meet life’s challenges.
“The main difference I’ve seen is that home-schoolers — judging from class discussion participation — tend to do assigned readings regardless of incentives,” said Dr. Crifasi at Benedictine, “and they do the readings more carefully.”
The difference he is noticing has less to do with home vs. classroom than it has to do with the attitude of the teacher and the parent toward the student.
When millennials have been expected to earn what they get — including praise, and grades — they tend to perform at a higher level. When rewards are given to them regardless of effort, they learn to expect them as their right.
“In every job I’ve had, no matter how small, employers are always impressed by the fact that I do what they tell me to do,” one millennial told me.
In the age of millennials, parents who expect obedience — and promote self-reliance — produce children who astound the world.
Photo: Flickr, Daniel Foster
This story first appeared at Aleteia.