July 8, 2018

Baby on Board: Blame Boomer Parents for Millennial Entitlement

Don't get me wrong: I like nearly all of the Millennials I've met, but I do think they exhibit a lot of the same self-absorbed behavior as the other massive demographic cohort which preceded their Gen X predecessors: specifically the Baby Boomers.  They can't help it; there are so damn many of them, it's easy to forget the world has perspectives beyond theirs.

Having lived with both groups through various life stages, I have first-hand experience of the commonalities both generations share.  Without even recognizing it, both demographic groups display episodes of outright narcissism, sociopathy and even occasional stupidity (all generations have, Gen Xers, too), all while telling the world how great they are and how no group before or after them will ever share their unique perspective.  Indeed, I generally like Millennials more than I like most Baby Boomers, perhaps because Gen Xers share more in common with them than we do with Boomers (not all, but SOME things).

For me, my Millennial irritation began decades ago when the Millennial generation was still tiny babies.  In 1984, a man named Michael Lerner founded Safety 1st for the purpose of manufacturing signs to be hung in the back windows of cars that looked much like a "caution" street sign you might find on a street someplace, only it read: "Baby on Board".  At the time, the roads of North America had become the showcase for what had then become America's latest pet rock (another Baby Boomer fad; don't ask), the "Baby on Board" sign.  The five-inch, black-on-yellow diamond-shaped signs had become an overnight sensation and were placed in corners of vehicles' rear windshields with suction cups.
Michael Lerner sold his company, Safety 1st, to Canadian company Dorel Industries in 2000 in a deal reportedly worth about $195 million.  Anyway, I turned 16 the year after the signs were introduced, and got my driver's license, and I felt that was overkill.  Not only did I, as a brand new driver, have to contend with processing all the genuine street signs, but now @$$#0l3 parents felt it was acceptable to remind the world that their precious Millennial babies were somehow 'special' and worthy of more automotive caution than usual.  In fact, all drivers must be careful, so the fact that a Millennial baby was on board was completely irrelevant and not deserving of any special attention.

From my perspective, it was fortunate that Mr. Lerner's vision was pretty quickly corrupted.  (see HERE for a 1986 New York Times article on the topic).  Within months after "Baby on Board" sign emerged, dozens of parodies emerged with messages as ''Nobody on Board!'' ''Baby Driving!'' and ''Baby Carries No Cash'' and others soon outsold the original by a factor of millions, and legislative efforts to try and ban the parodies largely failed.

Some of my feelings on the matter stem from the contempt that so many Baby Boomers had a decade earlier had for their children, as if they were a huge nuisance on their own personal vision quests.  The data backs me up.  Many researchers consider members of Gen X to have been among the least-nurtured children in American history with half coming from split families, and more than 40% raised as latchkey kids — literally, left home alone.  Baby Boomer parents divorced in unprecedented numbers when Xers were still children, and mothers (by virtue of economic necessity) entered the workforce en masse, leaving Gen Xers as un-nurtured latch-key kids.

I certainly did not give a $#!t about the baby in the car ahead of me any more or less than the other drivers and car passengers on the road.  But that was the environment that Millennials grew up in -- being coddled and pampered while Xers got the shaft.  Heck, when we were the same age, car seats were still optional, and my siblings and I routinely fought over who got to "ride shotgun" in the seat right next to the driver of a vehicle, and certainly without wearing a seatbelt, and it was all perfectly legal.  Today, that would be considered criminal.  My parents also had an original 1973 VW Beetle and my baby brother regularly rode in the cubby hole behind the back seat, which I think would be pretty deadly if we were ever rear-ended, but that was the lack of child safety environment of the era Gen Xers were raised.  Kids were an afterthought.

A bit more than decade after the introduction of the annoying "Baby on Board" window sign, as a young executive, I then saw dozens of news stories about young pre-teens and teenagers camping out in front of Apple Stores to buy the latest, overpriced iPhone model.  Again, I felt that Millennial ridiculousness had reached new heights.  In reality, it wasn't all that newsworthy except for the fact that Steve Jobs had managed to resurrect a moribund company known as Apple Computer which was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy a decade earlier.  But the fact that there are so many Millennials made it newsworthy for no other reason than there were so many people doing the exact same thing nationwide.

So whether its "Baby on Board" signs, lines for new iPhones or anything else, I feel more indifference to the vicissitudes of Millennial (or Baby Boomer) fads.  iPhones are not fads, but they also aren't a technology that truly changed the world (catch my previous post at https://goo.gl/uq7Fdn for more) since everything they do already existed.  They are an addiction among a demographic  more comfortable texting than having a conversation on the telephone.

I think Millennials have matured a great deal since their parents coddled them as kids, whereas Gen Xers' parents treated them as an interruption on their own personal vision quests and therefore Gen Xers had to grow up as children largely in the absence of parents.  But the real test of Millennial maturity will be whether they finally bury the "Baby on Board" window signs when they have children of their own.




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