In high school, a boy with a crush on me grew surly when I rejected his advances – if you could call them advances. He had made the mistake of attempting to woo me with a self-made mixed CD of songs by The Smashing Pumpkins, and, unbeknownst to him, Billy Corgan’s voice made me want to throw my Walkman out the window.
At home that night, I couldn’t even get through the first song before giving up on it. My would-be wooer asked me about the CD the next day, and I told him it wasn’t my thing. I hadn’t listened to enough of it to realize they were all love songs.
Later, in English class, I raised my hand to answer a question about one among the myriad of dystopian novels they made us read that year (seriously, why did they all have to be read in ONE year?). “Oh look,” he said loudly, “the virgin queen has something to say.”
Virgin queen? I looked questioningly at my peers. Should this upset me, who was, in fact, a 16-year-old virgin who had only been kissed twice and who had no intention of having sex until she was darn well ready?
It dawned on me that this would-be Lothario was trying to make me look bad because I didn’t like him. It was the inverse of slut shaming, which apparently was meant to deal just as hurtful a blow. Luckily, I had a strong enough sense of self not to care.
Why am I reliving this incredibly tame tale of high school rejection for you, Millennial Pulse readers? Well, while I personally reflect upon this as a silly incident, it does remind me of a wider trend among our generation that, in its extreme form, has engendered some tragic, violent incidents.
I am talking about entitlement. But not the kind you think.
Millennials are often labeled entitled when it comes to finances or career expectations. Whenever I hear that, my knee-jerk response is to tell whoever’s talking to go take a hike and reflect upon the recession they caused. You know, the one that ultimately resulted in our stalled financial independence and made us the butt of basement jokes for years to come?
But there is another form of entitlement I’ve noticed among my fellow Millennials, and even, at times, myself.
I’m talking about emotional entitlement.
When I was growing up – both in Catholic school and later, public school – our teachers were very perceptive of the emotional kid stuff we were all going through. They encouraged us to talk out our feelings and, in the event of a co-kid dispute, to relent to whoever was more upset. They were so attuned to these instances, and took such care to call attention to them, that now as an adult I wonder if by doing so they might have bred some unrealistic expectations about the value and validity of our emotions.
I am not faulting teachers, don’t get me wrong. I’d argue that the issue is rooted in a trend that occurred in child rearing when Millennials were growing up. More so than previous generations, Baby Boomers took a more sensitive approach to parenting and child rearing, perhaps as a reaction to the detached style of parenting they experienced as kids (picture the Drapers in “Mad Men,” if you don’t get the gist).
We were the generation subjected to helicopter parenting, and – as has been observed by publications such as Time, Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Forbes, and on and on – we were coddled more than prior generations. Our feelings were of paramount importance. Obviously, I don’t mean that every single Millennial experienced this, but more of us did than children raised in prior decades.
But here’s the thing about feelings. Sometimes they’re not valid. Sometimes they don’t make sense. Sometimes they are hormone-fueled, or immature, or exaggerated and complicated by mental illness. Most of us who are adults now know this. But when we were going through the growing pains of our teenage years, maybe not so much.
When you tell a whole generation they’re entitled to their feelings, and that, essentially, so is everyone else, you’re not preparing them for reality. And when you give kids a mythical perception of the validity and power of their own emotions, guess what happens when those emotions are rejected? Entitlement rears its head.
This can come in the form of something as innocuous as a kid publicly insulting another kid for not liking him, as Mr. Smashing Pumpkins did to me my junior year. But when you throw in complicating factors – say that person is bullied him/herself, or has an untreated mental illness – more dangerous reactions can occur. And they are occurring, it would seem, increasingly.
If we think about school shooters, the thing they typically have in common (other than being white and male) is that they feel they have been victimized and are misunderstood. And they want revenge. A 2002 study by the U.S. Secret Service found that about 70% of school shooters perceived themselves in some way as victims, either because they have been slighted, persecuted or bullied in some way.
In addition to a host of complicating factors, one of the things these incidents have in common is that they were fueled in varying degrees by emotional entitlement.
The problem continues today with older members of Generation Z. In May, a teenager murdered 10 people at a Texas high school. The mother of 16-year-old victim Shana Fisher told several media outlets that her daughter had rejected the shooter’s advances, which persisted over the course of months and became increasingly aggressive after each rejection. Why was he so angry? Why did he feel entitled to her affection, and to respond so violently when spurned?
A young woman in Iowa was recently murdered by a 24-year-old man after she demanded he stop following her while she jogged. Some politicians argue that it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t immigrated illegally. But is where he came from the problem? Or is the root of the issue that he felt entitled to follow her and, likely, entitled to her body? Isn’t the issue that this young man was so enraged by her rejection that he responded by murdering her? Isn’t the issue that this is not the first such incident we’ve heard of, but one among an unending stream?
Emotional entitlement isn’t the only reason for violence among young people. It is one of many complicating factors. But it is an important one, and one, I’d wager, that deserves serious contemplation. How can we better teach future generations to deal with their emotions, and the emotions of others? How can we teach them to recognize when emotions are unhealthy, unwarranted, and entitled? How can we recognize and put a stop to unhealthy emotional entitlement patterns before they get out of hand?