Navigating the Changing Parent: Gen X vs. Millennial

February 26, 2018 Staff Writer

Parents are indeed changing. Generation X parents are slowly being replaced with Millennial parents, and we need to be aware of the shifts in attitudes and beliefs to respond to our parents’ needs.

By Linda M. Brandts

As an elementary school principal, I have heard many teachers, administrators and educators discuss how parent and student attitudes are changing. Being in education for more than 20 years, it is a fair assumption that change is inevitable. I am sure educators from 50 years ago had similar conversations.

Many of my teachers say, “Parents don’t care” or “Parents are not involved.” I have told my teachers and staff members to be patient and understand that everyone comes from different backgrounds, and we all have our own influences upon which we base our attitudes and beliefs. However, I now have a different perspective on this topic.

While watching the television show “Survivor: Generation X vs. Millennials,” I had an epiphany. The Generation X contestants were constantly making remarks that Millennials were lazy and did not seem worried about shelter and food supplies. The Millennials were having some different conversations, saying they wanted to have a good time and would worry about that kind of stuff later. They said the Gen Xers needed to relax and have fun.

As I watched each episode, I reflected upon some of the comments and situations. Many conversations mirrored what I had heard or encountered with parents or teachers, and it hit me, we are experiencing generational change. Parents are indeed changing. Generation X parents are slowly being replaced with Millennial parents, and we need to be aware of the shifts in attitudes and beliefs to respond to our parents’ needs.

One specific situation really resonated with me. I had a parent of a kindergarten student meet with me to discuss allegations of another student hitting his son in the nose, and “the teacher did nothing.” The parent was very volatile and angry when talking to me. I tried to calm him down and get the full story, explaining that I would investigate the situation.

He did not want to hear this. He wanted the child suspended. I again explained that I needed to investigate, and furthermore, we did not know who the offender was. I also stated that it was not like the teacher to ignore something like this.

I tried questioning the child, and he could not intelligibly retell the story. When questioning the teacher, she said she was never told or ever aware of the situation. I called the parent back to discuss where I was in the investigation, and he became irate, calling the teacher a liar stating that he believed his child over a teacher, who he did not know.

What really struck me in this situation was the shift from believing the teacher first to the child first. The parent also wanted to be part of the investigation, as well as part of the decision process when handing out consequences. This is just one instance of many. I started markedly noticing the differences in attitudes and beliefs in parents of different generations.

When comparing Generation X and Millennial values and beliefs, it becomes clear that we as educators need to understand this new generation of parents and learn how to communicate more effectively. We cannot simply do what we have always done, as this will work to create a parent/school communication gap.

Sharon A. DeVaney wrote the article “Understanding the Millennial Generation” (2015). In it, she describes Millennial attitudes and beliefs, and those of Generation X, as follows:

Millennial: entitled, optimistic, civic minded, close parental involvement, values work-life balance, impatient, multitasking, digital native and team oriented.

Generation X: self-reliant, adaptable, cynical, distrusts authority, resourceful, entrepreneurial, and technologically savvy.

Understanding the Millennial generation is important. Jeff Fromm and Marissa Vidler, authors of “Millennials with Kids,” describe factors that have shaped Millennials and set them apart from other generations (2015). The Millennial generation is the first generation, since the Great Depression of the 1930s to grow up in a world recession that peaked in 2008. This generation has not seen great prosperity, and this has affected how they form their families and raise their children, according to Fromm. Marriages are also delayed. So far only 26 percent of Millennials are married, compared to 36 percent of Gen Xers and 48 percent Baby Boomers at the same age. Of course, as with any generational group, there are differences within in the group.

As Fromm’s research suggests, many parents are not getting married or delaying marriage. I see this often. As an administrator, I have to try to muddle through the student’s data base to figure out who is who. This is not to say Millennial parents are less committed or involved, it’s just not as clearly defined as to who the student lives with or to contact when there are issues or concerns. Many times, I will talk to grandma, dad, mom or a stepdad or boyfriend about one situation in many conversations.

Matthew Henry, author of “The Gen Xers as Middle Children,” compares Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials, or Generation Y (2012). Henry talks about the Millennials’ school experience, a time when students were passed on through school and were given remediation to catch up when needed – the era of the No Child Left Behind Act. He also states that Millennials were taught to question authority, not to trust the system, and are open to try to compromise a situation. Henry states that Millennials must be shown “what is in it for me,” so they can see value in a proposed action.

Henry helps to give perspective to our Millennial parents. I do experience an increased lack of trust, as well as parents trying to compromise consequences for their child’s actions. I have had parents tell me they disagree with consequences and were not going to accept them. There are two ways to go when faced with this type of response. I can explain the rationale and try to get the parent to understand, or I can say, “I am sorry you disagree, but these are the consequences.”

Yes, we are seeing a change in our parents. We need to try to understand the changes and use techniques to have more successful conversations that do not create a communication gap. We can continue to complain and ignore the changes or we can identify what works and what does not work to build a stronger foundation of trust between the school and the community we serve.

Resources

DeVaney, S.A. (November 2015). “Understanding the Millennial Generation.” Journal of financial professionals, 11-14.

Fromm, J., and Vidler, M. (2015). “Millennials with kids.” Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezproxy.snhu.edu.

Henry, M.C. (2012). “Generation Jan : The X’ers As Middle Children.” Untreed Reads Publishing, Kindle edition.

Linda Brandts is principal of Summerwind Elementary in Palmdale School District.

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