Dead Week, Millennials, and the changing expectations of students

Every year at about this time, my mom asks me, “Oh, is it Dead Week? You should do something fun with all this free time you have!” To which I reply, “It’s supposed to be Dead Week, but I have three projects and four essays due before Friday, and next week I still have five finals.”

My mom attended a university very similar to mine and majored in essentially the same subject. And yet, thirty years of shifting expectations of students has resulted in very different college experiences for us.

She, as a member of the Baby Boomer Generation, had an average amount of school-related responsibilities. The conventional wisdom was that an average work ethic would receive an average grade. (Disclaimer, just in case she reads this: she had an above average work ethic.)

However, Millennials were raised in an environment comprised of our parents hovering helicopter-style and making sure we received straight-A’s. While teachers complain about these kinds of parents, very few people consider what it’s like to be the child of one of these parents and learn the hard way from a very early age that getting a B on a test is not acceptable.

With this constant pressure from parents to give out the highest of grades, teachers began to require more from their students in order to differentiate the A students from the B students from the C students and so on.

Once Millennials reach college and have successfully internalized that they must get top grades, teachers’ expectations of their students have likewise been increased to include not one paper or final exam but both a final, an essay that has a subsequent multi-media presentation, as well as lectures right up to the day of the final.

All of these factors — the learned compulsion to achieve certain scores as well as the incessant attention from parents and teachers — have caused changes in the collective and individual psyche of the Millennal generation.

While this secret life of the modern American student remains relatively unknown to our predecessors, the emotional and mental effects of this shift have not gone unnoticed.

Many an article has been written and many a study done addressing the narcissism and anxiety plaguing the Millennial generation. In his article featured in TIME Magazine, Joel Stein sites a National Institute of Health statistic, saying, “The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older.”

In Caroline Beaton’s article in Forbes, she says, “The APA reports that 12% of millennials have a diagnosed anxiety disorder — almost twice the percentage of Boomers.”

These two statistics considered together conjure an image of a 23 year old posting selfies of having a panic attack.

What Stein, Beaton, and others fail to question is the reasons behind this dramatic shift from the older generations to the Millennials. By examining how helicopter parenting and over-investment in your child’s achievements effects them later in life, we can start to understand the mentality of the Millennial generation in hopes of coming to a greater understanding of the modern world.