July 29, 2010 - here come the Homelanders
One of the talks I most enjoy giving is about Strauss and Howe's generational theory of American history. Their work ("Generations: the history of America's future," and "the Fourth Turning") details the interactions of four distinct generational types. These types follow each other repeatedly, making a predictable cycle of historical moods.
When I started giving the talk, I focused on the four generations then in the work place: the Silents (born 1925-1942) occupying senior management positions, Boomers (born 1943-1964) beginning to move into those positions, Gen-Xers (born 1964-1981) on the front lines, and a sprinkle of Millennials (born 1982-2001), just starting.
I gave the talk last week, and guess what? The Silents, at least in that room, were gone - all retired. Boomers and Gen-Xers were in charge, and the Millennials had arrived in force.
I have been giving this talk for a long time, it seems.
But what about the next generation?
Strauss and Howe have given them a name: the "Homelanders." This is the generation raised in the shadow of 9/11, much as the Silent generation was raised in the shadow of World War II.
My audience found the name sobering.
Generations are forged as the result of two factors. One of them is world events. Every generation has unique memories of shared experiences: the death of JFK, the moon walk, VietNam, the Challenger explosion, the Berlin Wall coming down, Columbine, etc.
But the second factor is the pendulum swing of parenting styles. Moms and dads loosen oversight of their offspring to the point of near abandonment, and their children grow up to tighten the oversight of their children to the point of suffocation.
The Silent and Homelander generations, history suggests, fall at the suffocation end of the cycle.
I think the clearest example happened back in April of 2008. As Lenore Skenazy wrote in an editorial, "Why I let my 9-year-old ride the subway alone" for the New York Sun, she left her son in downtown New York's Bloomingdales because he wanted to see if he could get home, all by himself, by subway and bus. He did, too. It took about twenty minutes. But he was "ecstatic with independence," said his mom.
But that's not the end of the story. Skenazy wrote, "Half the the people I've told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids."
I heard Skenazy speak on talk radio shortly after the story. And there were two threads. One of them was sharply accusatory. How would she have felt if something had happened to her son? Terrible, she said, but the crime statistics around Bloomingdales were roughly comparable to Boise, Idaho, and nobody seems to think Boise children need to be carted around in Hummers.
The second thread was interesting. People called in to report their first moment of real independence: riding a bus somewhere. A bike trip across a busy street. The first camp or road trip.
Those were the moments that began to define a sense of self, that celebrated the birth of autonomy. It was important. It meant something.
Parents communicate to their children a vision of the world. Sometimes, that vision is colored by confidence; sometimes, by fear.
But we can be sure of one thing. The next generation will conclude what every generation concludes: they weren't raised right.
LaRue's Views are his own.