Millenial disconnect: Kids want money but not hard work

06/20/2014 1:00 PM

06/20/2014 3:59 PM

Amy McGraw doesn’t want us to get the wrong impression of her daughter, Rebecca Leahy. The recent graduate of Cypress Bay High School in Weston works hard – really hard, in school, on her dance team and beyond. But after Leahy found a summer retail job at the mall, she told her new boss she wasn’t available to work on Wednesdays.

“It’s a different mentality from when I was her age,” says McGraw. “She has nothing scheduled on Wednesdays. She wanted time to go to the beach and shopping with her friends. I was wondering if that comes from a whole idea of entitlement.”

Yes, researchers would likely tell McGraw her daughter’s generation is, in fact, entitled. (But they’d also probably point out that at least her kid has a job.) Because the age band that includes the class of 2014 – they’re called Millennials and the oldest of them we’re born in the late 1980s — is marked by two opposing economic characteristics that have caused an eye-opening gap: they’re highly materialistic and not necessarily willing to work for the money they need to buy the items they so greatly value, says Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me and a professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

“This is a cultural change,” says Twinge. “People hear me and think I’m complaining about young people. I’m not. This is what the young people are saying about themselves.”

She’s talking about their answers in a national survey of some 50,000 12th graders that’s been conducted each spring since 1978 called, “Monitoring the Future.” Millennials were more likely to report that making money was very important and that they expected to own more stuff than their parents had. They highly prioritized specific material goods and would of course own vacation homes and recreational vehicles, such as boats.

But – and here’s where the discrepancy arises — they also didn’t anticipate work to be a central part of their lives. They’re not particularly willing to work overtime and found that one of their obstacles to getting a job was that they didn’t want to work hard enough.

They’re not bad people, says Twinge. Every generation has its strengths and Millennials value equality and are highly tolerant. But their sense of entitlement is a facet of narcissism, and their expectations are simply out of pace with reality, she says.

“It was a generation that was told they were all special and then enters the workforce to find they’re not,” she says. “They’re not getting jobs and when they are, they’re disappointed that the job isn’t as fulfilling or high paying as they would like.”

Of course, not all Millennials fall into the syndrome. Many are like Celia Ampel,22, and Chabeli Herrera, 21, two college students interning this summer at the Miami Herald, who said they found this report disturbing. “Even if people with this attitude are a big contingent of our generation, it paints us all with a broad brush,’’ said Ampel.

As parents, it’s our fault, says Sylvia Rimm, a psychologist and director of The Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. For starters, we over-empower kids by early on by giving them too many choices, asking whether they’d like to take a nap or where they’d like to do their homework. We’re also very interested in helping them find their passions.

“By 8 years old, these kids are wondering why their parents are trying to control them,” she says. “And later, they’re looking for something that’s magical and easy and shouldn’t have hard work attached.”

Instead, young kids should have little freedom, little power, few choices and few responsibilities. As they mature, we should match their freedom with responsibility. And they should work the whole time. By age two, they should be able to clear their plates, and the chores can progress from there until they can work out of the house and earn money.

That’s where they’ll develop critical success skills, says Carl Neilson, creator of Career Coaching for Students in Dallas, such as personal accountability, decision making, self-starting capacity, goal achievement, and interpersonal skills.

But when it comes to summer jobs, teens too often start looking late in the season. At high-quality companies that could provide career direction, budget decisions are made in advance and positions are awarded in January and February. Even retail and food service establishments hire for summer in early spring. In fact, Neilson estimates that 50 percent of all summer jobs are taken by April 15.

If you’re late to the game, consider volunteering, he suggests. “You never know what a summer experience will turn into,” he says. “It’s short-sighted to turn down a job because it doesn’t fit your goals. Many times, the experience brings value.”

And if you have a business it’s advantageous —tax-wise — to hire your own teen, says Howard E. Hammer, a CPA and a principal in the accounting and tax department at Fiske & Company in Plantation. For starters, parents who are sole proprietors or who partner with their kid’s other parent don’t have to pay social security or Medicare taxes when hiring their kids. What’s more, the child won’t have to pay taxes on less than $6,200 in earned income, assuming she has no interest, dividends or capital gains.

Just remember, no one can take advantage of the parent being boss.

“There’s a definition of an employee,” says Hammer. “They have to be providing a service.”

This is one of an occasional series of columns by Miamian Brett Graff, a former U.S. government economist who writes about how economic forces are affecting real people.

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