The Millennials

Why is knowing about The Millennials important?  After all, the children in school today are digital natives, right?  They’re the next generation, and that’s who we’re educating.

Almost right.

If you look into any of the research regarding the generations, you’ll see a comparison of traits, and the traits of generations are similar across all the analyses.  The differences, however, are in the statistics that are usually glanced over – the date ranges of the generations.

Here’s a chart defining the differences between Generation X (The “Me” Generation) and The Millennials:

Generation X Traits
Accept diversity
Reject rules
Killer life
Mistrust institutions
Personal computer
Use technology
Latch-key kids
Friend-not family
Millennial Traits
Celebrate diversity
Rewrite the rules
Killer lifestyle
Irrelevance of institutions
Assume technology
Multitask fast
Friends = family
Workplace Management
· Casual, friendly work
· Involvement
· Flexibility and freedom
· A place to learn
Workplace Management
· Structured, supportive work
· Personalized work
· Interactive relationship
· Be prepared for demands, high

The differences are quite interesting, but the source article of this chart (The Learning Café and American Demographics enterprisingmuseum 2003) was authored in 2003, and contained in “Generation X and The Millennials: What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations” published by Diane Thielfoldt and Devon Scheef in August of 2004 (  In the chart, Generation X is listed as those born in 1965 through 1976, while the Millennials are born in 1977 through 1998.

Not only have other demographers found different start and end points (some say Millennials go through 1999, for example, and the Digital Natives, or Generation Z, or the iGeneration, starts at 2000 through today), but generational differences are best viewed through the lens of time, with beginning and ending points based on historical occurrences.  Therefore, there is not a hard stop on December 31, and a hard start on January 1.  Archaeologists also categorize generations as lasting 20 years, and as you can see from the above dates, Generation X did not last 20 years, while the Millennials have lasted longer than 20 years.  Using archaeological modeling, 1965 is a great starting point for Generation X, especially since the Baby Boomer generation started in 1945 with the end of World War II.  That would mean The Millennials started in 1985, and the Digital Natives/iGeneration starts at 2005.  That’s actually a great starting point, since the iPhone debuted in 2007, ushering in a new generation of connectivity in society.

In 2021, therefore, here are the effects of the above date ranges on today’s society:

Baby Boomers (1945-1964) – 57-76 years old
Generation X (1965-1984) – 37-56 years old
The Millennials (1985-2004) – 17-36 years old (next year, these will be all college students and older, including young parents)
Digital Natives (2005-today) – birth to 16 years old (next year, these will be all students from birth to seniors in high school)

Compare this age chart to the traits of the generational differences above, and see if the comparison about parents in your school rings true.

If it does, here are the effects on education today:

  • Parents of high schoolers and middle schoolers are Generation X – and that means that the traditional 9-12 high school experience will be in for some serious disruption when it comes to their traditional methods of marketing and enrollment for their schools.
  • Parents of children enrolling their children in school for the first time and who are at the start of the elementary school experience are Millennials.

Yet, we treat all parents of the school community pretty much the same.  While we can see that there’s a difference in primary, intermediate and secondary school students, and create educational environments specific to their educational needs, parents are all given the same email message or alert warning and we expect them to react similarly.

Let’s reveal a couple of other findings from the data, and see if the reasons for difficulties today become a little clearer.  The majority of legislators who make the laws about education are either members of Generation X or Baby Boomers, and Baby Boomers have significantly different traits relative to their generational grouping.  In fact, it’s safe to say that a major concern of most Baby Boomers (which, until recently, was the most populous generation) is retirement, or their impending retirement.  It’s a major mindset shift from the generation who wanted to change the world as influenced by the music of The Beatles and the atrocities of the Vietnam War.  The technology a Baby Boomer used in the classroom was a pen, an overhead project and a filmstrip with a record or a cassette.  Classroom materials were duplicated on a “ditto” machine rather than a “copier.”  If the Boomer was really lucky, he or she had the opportunity to make videos or slideshows in high school to demonstrate their learning.  Kids today laugh at that as being “ancient.”  Yes, “ancient” today is 40 years ago.

The other revelation relates to the mindset of the generations when it comes to institutions, and the brick and mortar school is certainly an institution (note how brick and mortar retail outlets go bankrupt and disappear today).  Generation X, as indicated above, has a mistrust of institutions, while the Millennials consider institutions to be irrelevant.  This explains why more and more of today’s parents are choosing home schooling for their children.  They have the college degrees that they’re now paying for with student loan payments that are, in some cases, more than triple, and sometimes, quadruple, what the typical Baby Boomer paid for their first mortgage when they were first starting out after graduation and starting their family.

A couple of other Millennial traits come from consultant Jodi Dean (, as well as our new pandemic reality:

  • The rising cost of childcare has many Baby Boomers packing up their items, and moving to a new home to help their Millennial children raise the third generation.
  • Young adults are more socially connected than ever before, but most don’t have any real friendships. They are struggling to maintain relationships with real people who share their same interests.
  • If you upset one parent, they’ll tell their friends, who will band together to either work for change, or create change.  I know of some educational leaders that cannot figure out why so many parents are disenrolling their children from faith-based schools, while others can’t figure out how their enrollment is growing significantly.   Leaders in both of these categories of schools have failed to realize this trait about the Millennial generation.

What to do?  Since inclusion is important in the classroom today, then extend inclusion to the parents.  Consider inviting them to be involved in everything!  Then they can see first hand how their students act in school, as well as build those personal relationships.  More importantly, parents who want their children to learn can see what their children have to deal with on a daily basis, and why some parents may be of the mindset of allowing the school to take care of their little ones simply to give them some “me” time.  That’s not being mean – that’s an explanation of the mindset of the archetypal member of Generation X, which can be in direct opposition to that of the Millennial, especially when the Millennial generation are still in high school, and we’ll be feeling those effects on the marketing for a the next few decades.