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How Baby Boomer Parents Molded the Millennial Generation

Millennials receive a lot of criticism about their need to be coddled, their reliance on technology and their debt-ridden finances. But why are Millennials the way they are? Children are a product of their upbringing, after all, so what role did their Baby Boomer parents play in the development of who they are today?

One attribute typically associated with Millennials is their lack of income, resulting in their need to be supported by their parents. Yes, this is partially due to college debt and the effects of coming of age during the Great Recession, but Boomer parents were the ones who encouraged Millennials to “follow their passion” and find a job that provides happiness and fulfillment first and a decent income second. Now, that philosophy has come back to haunt Boomers. In fact, Millennial parents report receiving approximately $11,000 annually from their Boomers parents through support such as childcare, bills, debt, vacations and household help. Boomer grandparents supporting their children and grandchildren’s lifestyles is the new normal.

Another stereotypical Millennial trait is the desire for frequent feedback. The parents of most Millennials are either Baby Boomers or, for the younger Millennials, Gen Xers. This need for verbal approval and reinforcement correlates with the way detached parenting was normalized in the 1960s and 70s, when Boomers grew up. As a result of not being babied or supervised themselves as children, as well as cultural shifts in parenting norms through the progression of technology, these generations overcompensated in their involvement with their Millennial children. Thus, “helicopter parents” were created.

A term that exploded into the mainstream in the ‘90s, helicopter parents refer to those who ended up raising their children on the complete other side of the spectrum, resulting in watchful parenting and a “Trophy Generation.” The self-esteem movement, generated by a 1969 paper by Nathaniel Brandon, declared that success stems from a child’s self-worth. This initiated a culture of participation trophies, micro-management and fear of failure. Whether or not there is a physical reward involved, Millennials appreciate encouragement more so than other generations due to the Boomer style of “self-esteem” parenting.

Perhaps the most common theme surrounding the Millennial generation, however, is their use of digital technology. In all facets of their lives, whether work or play, Millennials are documenting their activities and sharing with their networks. While older generations have been known to criticize Millennials for this, they have actually contributed to these behaviors. Consider this: years ago, “Keeping up with the Joneses” was a very real thing. From car model to neighborhood location to dinner parties, Boomers were just as concerned about their appearances and social status – they just didn’t have social networks to utilize. Millennials, on the other hand, clearly do and are making the most of it.

Like all parents (and all people), Boomers had their own quirks. But, through their parenting style, Boomer parents were able to give their children more than what they had — they provided attention, time and pragmatism, which impact Millennial values and lifestyles even as adults. Now, marketers can only wait to see if Millennials with kids will follow their parents’ paths or if they will swing back to a more casual approach reminiscent of their grandparents, the Silent Generation.

For more on Millennials as parents, check out our Millennial Parenthood Brief here.