Millennial parents are worried about the unhappiness of their kids. Even the kids we might think have it all just waiting for them, are suffering in increasing numbers. And this is not new.

Rob was about to graduate from college, had gotten accepted to both Harvard and Yale Law School, and was paralyzed with indecision. I was in training when I began to work with him years ago, and when I reported on him to my supervisor and fellow students, people started putting their fingers down their throats, doing the gag thing, like really, poor guy, who cares.

I cared…not only because Rob was in so much pain right before my very eyes, but also because I knew that people like Rob would very likely be laying hands on many others — hands that would either carry a wise and kind humanity of their own — or not.

In other words, what it’s like to be around the Robs of the world matters to everyone in their wake, at work and at home or wherever they may roam. And there are a lot of Robs.

In fact, Millennials, whom Pew Research defined as 23-38 in 2019, are the largest living adult generation — and they are lonely, burned out, and depressed. Just like Rob.

Causes of Millennial Angst

So what was the cause of the trouble with Rob?

Parenting? Well, for one thing, Rob was not exactly in the habit of calling the shots in his own life. Heck, his mother was still calling him first thing in the morning to get him out of bed to class on time.

Helicopter parents. You’ve heard of them, and there are many opinions on how this trend in overinvolved parenting came to be. Surely, the parents mean well, for the most part.

Okay fine, for some boomers who were divorcing more than ever before, some of the overparenting could be to look good in court for custody and child support. It could also be guilt induced; after all, divorces, no matter whose idea, certainly not the kids idea, were still pulling their families apart.

Other causation theories point to economic (increased disposable income) and social (child safety) shifts. And then, there are all the many parents who could see on facebook how all the other parents are trying to protect their kids from failure and pave the way to success. So naturally, they want to keep up.

But it’s not right and not fair to put this all on the parents because no matter what kind of parenting there was, there are just a ton of really big decisions to make in this phase of life.

Normal Developmental Phase of Life. The twenties and beyond are a time of major life choices: Relationships, home, career… An overwhelming number of choices and possibilities.

Alvin Toffler, in his 1970 book Future Shock, called it “overchoice,” a cognitive impairment, an inability to make any decision at all when there are more choices (or more equivalent choices?) than the human system can manage well.

Emma Koenig, in her book  F*CK! I’m in My Twentiescalls the paralytic indecision “WTF-ness.” So great, and I can’t wait to tell all people I know in the throes of this about this way to frame it.

Most of all, I want them to know:

  • This is normal. This is not an illness — unless the sleeplessness, depression, confusion or whatever it may be goes on for too long unaddressed. Then it could develop a life of its own, and become more of a problem than it needed to be. So, if this is you (or your child), please do find someone fit to help the growing and moving on track. A stitch in time…
  • New experiences bring new risks and rewards. So, for example, the millennial may fall in love for the first time, or apply for a coveted job for the first time. Truth is there are a lot of terrific people trying for the same people and things, so chances are the millennial could get knocked down for the first time, without ever having had to develop the skills to get back up. Right then and there is the moment to begin developing those skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
  • Fear of making a mistake is a big part of the pain. Every time we walk through one door it may feel like we closed another. So I always like to say that It is not the choices we make but what we make of the choices once we have made them that makes the difference in our life satisfaction and success. Life is long and there is lots of room for tweaking and stacking our experiences along the way. Enjoy.
  • Questions over Answers. The best way for involved elders to help is to resist advice giving and rather ask the kinds of questions that put the young people directly in touch with him or herself. Too many people go along to get along until they hit their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond, and finally say enough…enough of living a life they don’t even feel they ever chose.

Wouldn’t it be so much better if our young people (and their parents) took the pain of overchoicing as an invitation to learn how to consciously and deliberately craft a life of their own.

One perk I’ve noticed, by the way, is that what people like me call “separation and individuation” as a phase of development, gone well actually generates even more love and warmth between parents and their grown-up kids. Wanted to make sure you knew that too.

Warm wishes,


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