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No room for good girls: How millennial culture promotes negative attention

Millennials playing beer pong
Millennials playing beer pong
Photo by Christopher Polk

Every generation celebrates and promotes the rebels, troublemakers, attention-seekers, and those who are too provocative for their own time. These rabble-rousers rise to notoriety by being unique and uncontainable. Nothing is new when it comes to Millennials, they have their fair share of risk-seeking idols who attain popularity by exemplifying poor behavior. There is nothing inherently wrong with these fame mongers, they have always existed and always will. What is troublesome is when there is a lack of good role models for young people to emulate to counteract these negative impressions. Mainstream, middle class America has far too few model citizens in positions of notoriety.

There are inevitably a number of young people destined for greatness from every cohort. Often how they channel their talents and shape their attention-seeking behaviors will be dictated by the culture they live in. What have Millennials been conditioned to expend energy on?

From the time they were enrolled in elementary school, they learned that there was little fruit in expending great effort. In the participation trophy generation, where everyone receives a gold star, good behavior is marginalized. Why go through the added strain when you get a trophy regardless of the effort you put forward?

Millennials have been taught that hard work is fruitless in their own experiences and this was only reinforced by what they witnessed in the economic downturn. Their parents were the workaholic generation, who devoted their lives to callous corporations, who then arbitrarily laid them off like yesterday’s news. Furthermore, hard work meant promotions, which meant becoming bosses, which meant making money, and led to being labeled as rich, stuck-up, and soon thereafter resulted in being ostracized. Not only does hard work provide no reward, furthermore, it has been associated with a punitive effect.
Millennials have grown up in the digital age where the need for attention is satiated in an immediate way. They can post a picture on Facebook or Twitter and get instant feedback. Do friends tend to “like”, “favorite”, “retweet” their peers’ successes or foolishness?

Furthermore, there is a constant stream of input. Just as much information is coming in, as is going out. What type of information is being fed into young impressionable psyches? All too often the message is sexualized, promotes drinking, and living a carefree life in the moment. If these are the keys to happiness, what do we expect young people to desire?

The problem is that young adults have relatively too few choices to look up to when it comes to positive role models and furthermore we are conditioning them into a cycle of bad behavior. So what is the solution? Its not censorship. In fact, we should hardly worry about the bad influences at all. They will always be present. What we do need is the addition of more positive, successful people who are held up in a favorable light in the media and more affirmative encouragement for good behavior. When students excel in their educational endeavors, they need to be recognized for their accomplishments. If a student’s work is mediocre, they should aspire to do better, rather than see the value in settling. We need to stop sending the message that was solidified through the Occupy Movement, that people who attain riches and success are bad people, if we want to avoid a cycle of impoverishment and twenty year olds who are overly dependent on their parents for survival.

Finally we need to ensure that more hard working, driven, and kind people are promoted in the media. If all young people ever see on televisions and magazines are those who are on the wrong path, its too easy to fall victim to normalized bad behavior. Let us create a more vibrant dialogue of success stories and let young Americans know that the American dream is still attainable. Let us send the message that doing the right thing, rather than heading down the wrong path, leads to attention. Let us stop labeling hard workers as prudes and nerds. And finally, let us prize morality, education, and compassion over beer pong, video games, and selfies.