Bring up the word “millennials,” and you’re likely to hear a collective groan from anyone who’s older. Then, come the complaints: “They’re impatient.” “They think they know it all.” “They’re too entitled.”
Regardless, millennials themselves often cleverly shut down their critics — but that doesn’t mean this generation of young people doesn’t still have its challenges.
When millennial clients seek therapy, several themes come up repeatedly that warrant a closer look. Many adults in this age range (born between 1981 and 1996) have secret fears that are unique to their age group and life experience.
Below are some common fears that millennials often face today. We’ve asked Carrie Kimpton Heald, Ph.D., EdS, a specialist in pediatric and adult psychology, to give us her take on some of these anxieties as well.
If you’re wondering what your millennial family members might be going through at this stage of adulthood, read on. Or, if you’re a millennial yourself, take heart — it’s not just you.
The youngest might still struggle with life skills
Today’s millennials are definitely book smart — in fact, they’re more academically educated than any other generation besides Gen Z — but they learned fewer practical life skills from their parents. Things like how to cook, wash dishes, do laundry, and prepare taxes, for example, have some young people struggling well into their 20s.
Why? Some say it’s because their parents spent more time pushing academics than passing down “common sense” information. These “helicopter” parents (more on that later) also may have done things for their kids rather than teaching them. (Think high school home economics classes could make up for it? Think again — those have declined by nearly 40% as well.)
Lack of life skills can lead to feelings of shame or a sense of failure at being an adult. In fact, it’s been such a concern that “adulting” classes have started popping up to help the youngest millennials and college-age Gen Z learn these things.
To young millennials who need support in this area: You must first decide to reach out. “Ask peers, parents, and [other] trusted adults for advice. Do not be afraid to ask for help,” says Kimpton Heald.
They don’t want to confront their parents
We’ve all heard the stories of helicopter parents who are so involved in their millennial kids’ lives that they tag along to college orientation meetings (or even job interviews). While this could create a short-term sense of security, all millennials are full-fledged adults now — so this dynamic becomes tricky as time goes on.
As adults, some millennials might now be afraid of saying “no” to their Boomer or Gen-X parents who have held the reins over their lives for so long. It gets even more complicated when you consider that 3 in 5 millennials also depend on their parents financially and that 15% still live with them.
So as a millennial, how do you keep your boundaries and confront your parents about important issues when they’re used to being in control — and you’re also dependent on them?
Says Kimpton Heald, you must prepare for these conversations ahead of time. “Map out a plan and practice before approaching parents,” she suggests. “Use an assertive communication style and focus on the topic at hand. Do not get wrapped up in previous disagreements or issues.”
They’re literally overwhelmed with choices
Millennials have grown up almost entirely in the digital age, and so they’ve been flooded with more information than previous generations ever were. However, current research shows that a plethora of choice can lead to paralysis when it comes to decision making.
Making one choice and committing to it long term can become difficult for millennials, who may worry excessively about making the “wrong” choice. “It seems that many millennials become stuck given the multiple (real or perceived) options available to them,” says Kimpton Heald.
To make things worse, Kimpton Heald explains, there is no roadmap to figuring out what’s best for any particular person. “Making decisions about well-being and happiness can be messy. This messiness creates other issues, such as the risk of disappointing others and not living up to what is posted on social media by their peers.”
Because of this, millennials may constantly change direction or not take action at all. However, Kimpton Heald advises that they learn to trust their own inner guidance. “Make choices based on your values and your goals for the future — not on other’s expectations,” she says.
Life has left them feeling disillusioned
Millennials often had parents who overused praise and gave the impression that success was guaranteed if you follow a formula (participate and you get a trophy, study and you’ll get an A, etc.). But when adult life doesn’t work the same way, it’s confusing and disheartening.
“There seems to be a sense of entitlement for doing what is expected,” says Kimpton Heald. “This entitlement may arise from providing these kids with too much positive reinforcement throughout childhood. They expect to be rewarded for simply working hard.”
Unfortunately, this trend may not be stopping anytime soon. Kimpton Heald says she even sees this setup for disillusionment happening with Gen Z as they transition into college.
“Teens approaching graduation have high expectations for gaining acceptance to a college that will provide them with the education to afford them their dream job and comfortable lifestyle,” she says. “There has been no consideration for alternatives if their plan does not work out. [There are] so many kids contending for the top colleges and employers that there is no way that all will live up to their expectations.” Over time, this is apt to lead to increased anxiety, depression, and other behavioral health challenges.
For young millennials who haven’t experienced this entirely, the key to avoiding it is to get good at goal-setting. Says Kimpton Heald, “Set reasonable goals and develop a plan for reaching them. Make sure the plan is feasible.”
Social media makes them feel “not good enough”
Living practically their entire lives with social media has taught millennials to constantly monitor their self-image. But while crafting clever updates and watching for comments and likes can be fun, millennials may judge themselves more than older generations who aren’t as invested in those platforms.
Even worse, the influence of social media “does not leave much room for self-exploration and establishing a stable sense of self,” says Kimpton Heald. To this point, she advises millennials to “check their measuring stick.” At the end of the day, who do you really want to be?
—Written by Ekua Hagan for Orange County Health Psychologists
About Carrie Kimpton Heald, Ph.D., EdS
Carrie Kimpton Heald is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Licensed Health Service Provider in California and Iowa. She works with a variety of ages including children, adolescents, adults and families. Carrie has highly specialized training in psychological and neuropsychological assessment, as well as Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction therapy. She also has experience in working with children, adolescents, and young adults who have chronic medical illnesses.