Generation Trends: Gen X As Parents
What Comes Around Goes Around
As we watch our children grow, it’s common to ponder what sort of people they will be and what sort of world they will live in. How will it be different from our own life experience?
The kind of unique individual a person becomes is due in large part to genetics and upbringing. But the culture in which people mature and the mood of the nation they inhabit play a large role in shaping the personality of each individual and determining the characteristics of entire generations. In a nutshell, the personality of one child is largely up to heredity and parenting, while the personality of that child’s generation is all but predetermined by the behavior of the generations that preceded it and the major social events that occur during that 20 or so years that make up a generational era.
Just as history repeats itself, so do generations. According to generational historians and authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, each generation lasts about 20 to 25 years, and these generation trends repeat approximately every 80 to 100 years—the average length of a human life. These experts studied the last 500 years of generations and discovered a pattern; there are four types of generations that have consistency recycled approximately every century. That means that babies born after 1998 will most likely resemble the traits of the so called Silent Generation, folks now in their 60s and 70s, while their children, your grandchildren, will behave much like the Baby Boomers.
Who Are You?
The Who asked this question in the 1960s, but their Boomer generation is still searching for the answer. The soul searching, self-actualizing hippies that characterize our parents’ generation (1943-1960) are called Prophets by Strauss and Howe, “because they are remembered best for their coming-of-age passion and principled elder stewardship.”
But clean-cut behavior can be a good thing. The last Artist generation experienced the lowest levels of suicide, teen pregnancy, crime, and drug abuse in history. They also scored higher on standardized tests than any generation before or after.
Next came Generation X (1961-1981), which Strauss and Howe describe as Nomads. “We remember Nomads best for their rising-adult years of hell-raising and for their midlife years of hands-on, get-it-done leadership,” say the authors. Gen X has now given birth to the Homeland Generation. (Gen X was the only generation whose alphabetical letter stuck. Today’s teens, once known as Gen Y, rejected that label and voted online to change it to “The Millennial Generation.” The Homeland babies could easily change their name as they come to define themselves in later years, but that’s the only nickname floating around generational circles at the present time.)
In predictable generational reincarnation, the Homelanders will be Artists like all generations that follow Nomads. Other Artist generations include the log-cabin settlers of the early 1800s and the new suburbanites of the 1960s. Famous Artists include John Quincy Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Colin Powell, and Sandra Day O’Connor. Strauss and Howe assert that, “they rank as the most expert and credentialed of American political leaders.” Caring and open-minded, Artist generations are known for being sentimental, pluralistic and expressive … that’s why they’re called Artists.
Earlier Artist generations included the first women’s libbers and the earliest civil rights activists. Artists see problems and use song, art, novels, speeches, and other forms of artistic expression to raise social consciousness to bring about change—think of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Martin Luther King Jr.
On the flip side, Artists are also known for being passive and obedient. Famous Artist children include Shirley Temple, Debbie Reynolds, and The Little Rascals. They’re the adorable little boys and girls seen in Norman Rockwell paintings. Why are they so clean cut?
Strauss and Howe say that, “Artists enter childhood surrounded by no-nonsense adults who fiercely protect, even envelop them at a time when mighty events are deciding the fate of nations.” Former American President John Quincy Adams “held his mother’s hand as he watched the Battle of Bunker Hill from safety.” If this sounds familiar to children and parents experiencing the events of September 11, 2001, it should. Because these children grow up in an overprotective environment, they tend to listen to their elders and follow rules while yearning for greater freedoms. That’s why they grow up to be so expressive about social change; as adults they become like birds moving out from under their parents’ protective wings and suddenly bursting into song.
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