Amy McGraw doesn't want us to get the wrong impression of her daughter, Rebecca Leahy. The recent high school graduate in Weston works hard in school, on her dance team and beyond. But after Leahy found a summer job at the mall, she told her new boss she wasn't available to work on Wednesdays.
"It's a different mentality from when I was her age," McGraw said. "She has nothing scheduled on Wednesdays. She wanted time to go to the beach and shopping with her friends. I was wondering if that comes from a whole idea of entitlement."
Yes, researchers would likely tell McGraw her daughter's generation is, in fact, entitled. (But they'd also probably point out that at least her kid has a job.) They're called millennials, and the oldest of them were born in the late 1980s. The age group, which includes the Class of 2014, is marked by two opposing economic characteristics that have caused an eye-opening gap: They're highly materialistic and not necessarily willing to work for the money they need to buy the items they so greatly value, said Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me and a professor of psychology at San Diego State University.
"This is a cultural change," Twenge said. "People hear me and think I'm complaining about young people. I'm not. This is what the young people are saying about themselves."
She's talking about their answers in a national survey of about 50,000 12th-graders called "Monitoring the Future" that has been conducted each spring since 1978. Millennials were more likely to report that making money is very important and that they expected to own more things than their parents had. They highly prioritized specific material goods and would own vacation homes and recreational vehicles.
But they also didn't anticipate work being a central part of their lives. The survey found that they're not particularly willing to work overtime and one of their obstacles to getting a job was that they didn't want to work hard enough.
They're not bad people, Twenge said. Every generation has its strengths: Millennials value equality and are highly tolerant. But their sense of entitlement is a facet of narcissism, and their expectations are out of pace with reality, she said.
"It was a generation that was told they were all special and then enters the workforce to find they're not," she said. "They're not getting jobs, and when they are, they're disappointed that the job isn't as fulfilling or high-paying as they would like."
As parents, it's our fault, said Sylvia Rimm, a psychologist and director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland. We over-empower kids early on by giving them too many choices, asking whether they'd like to take a nap or do their homework. We're also very interested in helping them find their passions.
"By 8 years old, these kids are wondering why their parents are trying to control them," she said. "And later, they're looking for something that's magical and easy and shouldn't have hard work attached."
Instead, young kids should have little freedom, few choices and few responsibilities. As they mature, we should match their freedom with responsibility. And they should work the whole time. By age 2, they should be able to clear their plates, and the chores can progress from there until they can work out of the house and earn money.
That's where they'll develop critical success skills, such as personal accountability, decisionmaking, self-starting capacity, goal achievement and interpersonal skills, said Carl Nielson, creator of Career Coaching for Students in Dallas.
But when it comes to summer jobs, teens too often start looking late in the season. At high-quality companies that could provide career direction, budget decisions are made in advance and positions are filled in January and February. Even retail and food service establishments hire for summer in early spring. Nielson estimates 50 percent of all summer jobs are taken by April 15.
If you're late to the game, consider volunteering, he suggested. "You never know what a summer experience will turn into," he said. "It's short-sighted to turn down a job because it doesn't fit your goals. Many times, the experience brings value."
And if you have a business, it's advantageous tax-wise to hire your own teen, said Howard E. Hammer, a CPA and a principal in the accounting and tax department at Fiske & Co. in Plantation. Parents who are sole proprietors or who partner with a kid's other parent don't have to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes when hiring their kids. The child won't have to pay taxes on less than $6,200 in earned income, assuming she has no interest, dividends or capital gains.