Jay Mechling has faith in our generation.
“You’re really going to like this talk, because it’s about you,” Mechling told the audience, explaining that his lecture would focus on the Millennials, the current generation of youth born between 1982 and 2000.
Mechling, a longtime American Studies professor at UC Davis, spoke to a crowd of about 60 people Tuesday night in the Memorial Union’s Griffin Lounge as part of the ASUCD Academic Affairs Commission’s Last Lecture Series.
Part of Mechling’s talk focused on the generation gap.
“Conflict between generations is an old story in American history,” he said. “‘You’re not the boss of me‘ is an American anthem.“
He cited various “moral panics” throughout history, when older generations fear for the ethical future of society. In the 1950s it was comic books and rock ‘n‘ roll music, in the 1980s and ’90s, it was “stranger danger,“ an irrational fear of kidnapping.
And there are just as many generation-specific complaints about the Millennials.
“There are folk theories people throw around about what’s wrong with you young people today,” Mechling said.
Some of these theories, he said, include over-protective helicopter parents, and the widespread influence of the media in such forms as instant messaging, video games and television. He said some think the media has “mesmerized” today’s youth, dumbing them down and making them unable to be creative or think for themselves.
Mechling dismissed these ideas.
“I don’t have much patience for these complaints,” he said. “Everyone has opinions about young people … but no one ever bothers to see the world through the kids‘ eyes.“
While many parents and policy makers tend to focus on trivial topics that might threaten children, they don’t pay attention to what is of real consequence: many kids don’t have health care, or many go to school without proper meals, he said.
Mechling then transitioned to an extensive characterization of the Millennials.
Millenials are optimistic and believe in progress, a result of growing up in a booming, expanding economy, he said.
“One of the questions that’s hanging, as we look at it in 2008, is ‘is that optimism going to be sustainable for the Millennials?'” Mechling said.
Millenials also tend to be very cooperative.
“There’s kind of a communitarian spirit among Millennials … a philosophy saying, ‘we really have to balance individual rights against community interests and the common good.‘“
Millennials tend to get along with their parents and remain strongly attached to them even through adolescence and young adulthood – something that may be baffling to the Baby Boomer and Generation X.
“You’re the most protected and sheltered generation in many, many decades,” he said. “You trust your parents,” he said. “You like your parents, you call [them] six times a day.”
Mechling cited an example that kids go off to college and call their parents for help with their homework.
“I’m amazed, but you don’t seem so amazed by it,” Mechling told a laughing audience.
Mechling concluded that despite the current economic crisis, he remains optimistic about the Millennials.
“If you’re really the spoiled brats everyone says you are, things are going to go poorly,” he said. “But I don’t think so.“
Marcus Tang, chair of the Academic Affairs Commission said he thought the lecture went very well.
“I loved it,” he said. “I’m glad people who haven’t taken a class with [Professor Mechling] got an opportunity to see him.“
Audience members were enthusiastic after Mechling’s lecture.
“I really enjoyed it. I had a class with him freshman year, so it was a unique [opportunity] to hear him speak again,” said Katharine Simmons, senior political science and anthropology double major.
Simmons said that some aspects of Mechling’s lecture let her see her generation from a different perspective.
“Some [characteristics of our generation] are kind of hard to see … we don’t really realize it,” she said, citing the general characteristic of optimism as an example.
ASUCD vice president Molly Fluet said she was able to relate to Mechling’s lecture, expressing similar sentiments as Simmons.
“The discussion about Millennial’s was pertinent to his audience,” she said in an electronic message after the event. “Many of us do not talk about our generation and its relationship to other generations but the talk made you think about it. Mechling’s points about Millennials, hit home for me, because I could see how it relates with my own family“
ALYSOUN BONDE contributed. She and ANNA OPALKA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.