I belong to the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1943 and 1964). I missed out on the lots of the “movements” of this cohort – the free love of the sixties, Beatle-mania, the social protest movements of post 1968, the Vietnam war and so on. Some were good to miss out on, some I’d like to have been a part of – at least in theory! Baby Boomers are liberal, socially oriented, free spirited, individualistic experimenters. Also, two thirds of Baby Boomers have left the church.
Generation X are those born after 1965 and before 1980. This cohort has come to maturity in the 90’s. They saw the rise of personal computers, MTV, videogames, the Internet – and also Desert Storm and AIDS. This group has been categorized as slackers, drifters and afraid of commitment. They are better educated than their parents, but are considered highly individualistic – the Me Generation. They are ambitious and self promoting.
Generation Y are the children of the Baby Boomers, also known as the Millennial Generation. These are people born between 1980 and 2001. This is a technological generation: 97% own a computer, 94% own a cellular phone, 70% have a Facebook page, typically logging in twice a day!
The people of Gen Y were born into a largely liberal, tolerant, secular and materialistic society. Many have come from one-parent families; they experience constant change and uncertainty in their lives and in society. It has been said that the Y in Gen Y should stand for “yearning”. They yearn for and search for meaning and order in the world.
Those belonging to Gen Y have greater interest in family, religion and community than the previous generation. This is reciprocated by their parents – often called “helicopter parents” for the way they hover over their children, monitoring any physical or moral threat to their children’s progress.
They are more discriminating in following fashions; smoking, drinking and drug use have declined compared with Gen X. Overall teen sexual activity has declined and virginity risen since the late 1990s. They are more active volunteers and participate more in church groups.
Generation Y is entering the workforce now. Those showing interest in Religious Life today belong to this cohort. Inquirers about Marist life and candidates for the seminary are, by and large, from among this group.
Gen Y Catholics have grown up with John Paul II. They flocked to his side at successive World Youth Days, eager to hear his words. Born into a society that allows few moral absolutes they respond to the certainties they perceive Rome teaching. Gen Y stands ready to question the moral relativism they perceive in today’s society and in today’s church. In John Paul II and Benedict they find strong role models and the certainty they crave.
Often the prejudices against them are born of old fights, old animosities and anxieties that the reforms of Vatican II will be rolled back. We can perceive them as “conservative” and traditionalist, even rigid. These are not their issues. They haven’t experienced the forms and customs of the past, and so have a great curiosity about a style and expression of faith that has been largely rejected by their parents.
It may be true that they are somewhat rigid. However seeing everything in black and white terms is characteristic of youth in every age. Life experience will soften and deepen their understanding of the world and humanity.
They are different to us – as we were different to those who went before us – and to those who will follow us. Rather than focus on their perceived difference to us, we need to embrace this generation and enter into dialogue with them.
We can learn from their courage and enthusiasm and share with them our experience. It is Generation Y that will take the Marist charism and shape Marist religious life into the future. They are the future of the Society.