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Millennials Rising: The next Great Generationby Neil Howe
Author Q & A
Q: What's behind the Harry Potter phenomenon?
A: The Harry Potter stories press all the right Millennial buttons. Because they appeal to both kids and their parents--most, in fact, are jointly bought and read--they exploit today's new trend toward shared values and tastes between kids and parents. These are big books with big vocabularies that make a kid feel smart and parents proud when a kid masters them. The basic story line--the action-packed exploits of a wholesome kid who stands up to enemies in a world of conniving, spiritually deranged adults--perfectly suits the Millennial self image. As unabashed boy stories, Harry Potter feels doubly refreshing after the steady diet of tales about feelings and healings that extended through most of the Gen X childhood. The incredible volume of Harry Potter sales, including the unprecedented 3.5 million-book first printing of the latest installment, The Goblet of Fire, marks the dawning of two new trends in the kid marketplace: big-brand products, and co-purchases by parents and their children in mutual consultation. Unlike Gen Xers, young Millennials don't mind reading what everyone else is reading--as long as they think it's good, is parentally acceptable, and appeals to their better natures.
Q: What about Pokémon?
A: As a cartoon, Pokémon is composed in a Japanese animé style (never before popular in America) that maximizes the role of complex plot lines and minimizes the role of complex emotions. As a story, courage, duty, teamwork, and friendship--all proven and reproven in the heat of battle--are endlessly reaffirmed. There is nothing alienated or malicious about Ash, Misty, or Brock, who are regular kids of the Harry Potter mold. As a product line, Pokémon is the most global, cross-marketed, media-and technology- and age-bracket saturating kid entertainment product in world history. Pokémon sets a new standard for big-branding in the child marketplace.
Q: How do you explain the popularity, among today's teens, of gross-out movies such as American Pie and Scary Movie?
A: Today's movies and TV shows are the handiwork of Boomers and Gen Xers--not Millennials, who are the first youth generation in living memory to be less violent, less vulgar, and less sexually charged than the pop culture adults are producing for them. In fact, two-thirds of today's teens are either "extremely," "very," or "moderately" offended by sexuality in the media. Youth fare like Me, Myself, and Irene say no more about where Millennials are heading than Beach Blanket Bingo-style films said, in the early '60s, about where Boomers were heading. The grossness, moreover, is often quite superficial--a fact unnoticed by adults who loudly decry these movies but have never seen any of them. Underneath an often coarse veneer, many of the actors on today's made-for-teen movies and TV shows play characters who reveal good-hearted instincts that vindicate friendship and confidence over selfishness and distrust--and who often make good choices in the end.
Q: What do the authors expect the candidates to say about kids in the upcoming presidential election campaign?
A: Since Millennials began being born in the early 1980s, the need to protect and structure the lives of children has been a steadily rising priority in political debates--and in public action. With each election, the Millennials' leading edge has defined the new focus of interest, from tyke issues (child abuse, infant seats) in the mid-'80s to teen issues (curfews, v-chips, school violence) in the mid-'90s. By 1998, over half of all adults said that "getting kids off to the right start" ought to be America's number-one priority. In 2000, Millennial issues will again take center stage--though this time, with this generation's leading-edge having just graduated from high school, the focus will begin shifting toward the college and career issues affecting their future. As key youth indicators (crime, teen pregnancies, test scores) continue to change in a positive direction, and as Millennials start getting old enough to answer back, the politicians' long habit of blaming youth for America's troubles will begin to backfire. In this age of "zero tolerance," most Millennials believe that they are being held to higher standards of personal behavior than adults (even presidents). Unlike in the '80s and '90s, Americans of all ages--especially Millennials and their parents--will prefer to think of the rising generation as full of problem solvers, not trouble makers. Successful politicians will tap into this new sentiment by retooling their youth rhetoric in a more positive direction--for example, by harnessing peer pressure for positive purposes and calling on schools to encourage smart kids to learn even more, rather than by criticizing peer pressure as dangerous or calling on schools to prevent dumb kids from sinking even further.
Q: So what's going on in the classroom? Aren't a lot of kids failing the new state tests and doing worse than kids from other countries?
A: No. The two main national report cards (NAEP, TIMSS) showsteady progress, especially among the lower grades. In most states, scores on the new standard tests are improving. Our own teacher poll shows that the most dramatic gains are occurring at the younger grades, suggesting that Millennials will be a generation of strongly positive academic trends from first cohort to last.
Q: America is awash in individualism, in everything from careers to lifestyles. Aren't these kids growing up the same way?
A: Not at all. With the encouragement of parents, educators, and political leaders--and on their own initiative--Millennials are forging a new youth ethic of teamwork and civic purpose. From the new classroom buzzwords (national standards, team grading, service learning, mainstreaming the gifted and disabled) to the burgeoning school uniform movement, Millennials are becoming a "regular kid" counterpoint to the worst ego-excesses of older generations.
Q: Today's kids have a real edge in technology. How will they use it?
A: The "left-brained" indicators of achievement--for math, science, and technology--are where this generation is making its strongest strides. Our polls show that they expect to make their greatest marks in the realms of politics, economics, and (especially) technology, not so much in culture and religion. And, in a departure from Boomers and Gen Xers, they will apply technology not to empower individuals, but to empower the community.
Q: Kids spend a lot of money. What impact are they having on the economy? How are they changing the marketplace?
A: As the child generation of the rising Dow and unparalleled affluence, Millennials are the biggest youth spenders in history. But not much of this is their own money. Most of the new youth money isn't spent by them, but on them--often in co-purchases with parents. The era of "pushing the edge" and splintery niche-marketing is nearly over. Convention and big brands are poised to come back, pushed by new web technologies and positive peer pressure.
Q: What's going to happen over the next few years, as Millennials flood the nation's campuses?
A: The first Millennials are entering college in September 2000. Starting very soon, parents and politicians will rivet public attention onto college students--just as they did with these same kids in every earlier age bracket, from the Babies-on-Board of the mid-'80s, to the soccer-mommed kids of the early '90s, to the teens of the late '90s. Campuses will experience a new public spotlight on academic standards, student safety, wholesome community, vigorous political action--and national service.
Q: What kind of young workers will they be?
A: They will offer loyalty and expect it in return. They will seek worklife balance and engage in longterm career planning. They will revive unionism and seek more standard pay scales and benefit packages. They will provide the focus for the emergence of a new American middle class.
Q: Are Millennials purely an American generation?
A: No. They're global. But a post-X generation is emerging in North America (in the U.S. and Canada) a few years in advance of youth in Europe and Asia.
Q: So why are Millennials turning out this way?
A: Every generation rebels, in its own way, to reverse what it perceives as the worst excesses of its older parent generations, and to fill the role being vacated by the dying generation.
Q: Why do you call Millennials the "next great generation"?
A: History has tapped them to be the inheritors of the mantle of the upbeat, team-playing, World War II-winning G.I.s . If the rhythms of history continue, Millennials will not be culture creators to the same degree as Boomers, nor entrepreneurs to the extent of Gen Xers. Instead, they will be a generation capable of rebuilding powerful political and economic institutions and re-energizing a sense of community and public purpose. Depending on the course of events, Millennials are poised to define the 21st Century in much the same way as the G.I.s defined the 20th.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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