Introducing the Homeland Generation (Part 2 of 2)

October 31, 2014 | By Neil Howe

This editorial originally appeared in Forbes.

Below is the second half of a two-part FAQ discussing how the Homeland Generation (born since 2005) is being raised and how these children may mature into adulthood. Read part one here.

What has changed in the shift from Boomer to Xer parents?

Boomer parents gobbled up “authoritative” childcare guides back in the 1980s. These guides tended to be attitudinal, even counter-cultural, stressing the need for a whole new way of looking at relationships, society, gender roles, and your own life. It was an extension of the Lamaze Movement—very spiritual and full of the power of suggestion. Many Boomers wanted to change society with the way they raised their kids. And they believed all that mattered was the intensity and quality of their relationship with their children and the correctness of the values they taught them. For Boomers, it was more about quality time spent with their children. With Gen X, it is more about the quantity of time.

Xer guides are much more prescriptive: full of dos and don’ts. Many of the Boomer guides looked a bit like the Whole Earth Catalogue, which showed how raising children was part of a holistic worldview. To Xers, child-rearing is just like any other technique or business—there must be a good way and a bad way to get the job done.  Xer parents read books by “supernannies” and cull secrets from animal trainers like “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan. Xer guides are also much more scientific. The authors need to show that there’s empirical evidence favoring one way over another, because skeptical Xers don’t take advice on faith.

Has the definition of “good parenting” changed?

Xers don’t view child-rearing as a way to save the world, make a perfect child, or self-actualize the parent. It’s just a set of tangible practices that will keep their children safe, reasonably happy, well-behaved, and ready to take on life’s challenges. Forget the “supermom” who’s striving to correct her shortcomings.  Now it’s the “good enough mom” who’s humorously self-deprecating about her shortcomings. What else would you expect from someone who’s read The Idiot’s Guide to Parenting? Good parenting for Boomers depended on being, fundamentally, a good person. Now it means knowing a bag of tricks and being there at the right time.

What else is unique about the Gen-X parenting style?

Xer parents are about complete control. They often have an extreme distrust of institutions—really, of anyone and everything outside their inner circle of family and friends. Combine that with the tight bonds they have with their children, and you get parents who demand control, options, transparency and oversight. When volunteering in their kids’ schools, they tend to choose roles that allow them to supervise what’s happening directly, like class chaperoning. They’re open and shameless about advocating for whatever helps their own kids rather than “the good of the community,” because for many of them, a broader community doesn’t exist. Their kids are too precious to gamble on unreliable public processes.

Has there been any backlash to these parenting methods?

Yes, there have been many calls for parents to allow their children more freedom. Known as slow parenting or free-range parenting, these techniques encourage parents to worry about reasonable things, like falling down stairs or getting hit by a car—not tainted Halloween candy or kidnappings, which are highly unlikely. This approach also tells parents to resist the urge to hover so that children will become more resourceful and better prepared for the “real world.” However, it is worth pointing out that both of these parenting styles—the overprotective style and the more lax style—are obsessed with doing it right.

What might Homelanders be like as young adults?

In some ways, they may be like Millennials on steroids. They’re on a path towards becoming well-educated, well-behaved, focused on achievement, and risk-averse, but to an even greater degree than Millennials. Fifteen years from now, it’s likely that Homelanders will push the share of 20-somethings with 4-year college degrees past today’s record high.

However, Homelanders will likely be more micro-oriented—they will focus more on the details, whereas Millennials will look at the bigger picture.  And we expect that Homelanders will be fairly conformist, generally doing what they are told and rarely questioning anything. This is very different from Millennials, who are battling their Boomer parents, as we speak, to establish a new civic order for the country.

If the economic difficulties which our country now faces continue or worsen over the next ten to fifteen years, the crisis will end at about the same time that Homelanders begin moving into young adulthood. In that case, Millennials will have planted the roots of the new civic order and will move into midlife, solidifying their takeover of government and society. Meanwhile, Homelanders will start to manage the new order that has been established. They will be cooperative helpmates, willingly lending their expertise as society calms down after what may be a real period of chaos.

When will the Homelanders take political control? 

They may gain power relatively late, or they may never gain much political power at all.  The last generation that was raised during a long economic downturn was the Silent, who grew up as children during the Great Depression, were raised very protectively, were highly socialized, and became the technocrats running the post-crisis order. The Silent have been a great generation in many ways—they gave us the civil rights movement and even started rock ‘n’ roll. But they’ve never been known as a great generation of leaders. For example, they are the only generation in U.S. history never to have produced a President.

Even so, the Homelanders could turn out to be a great helper generation politically, like the Silent are today. They’re good at keeping the gears greased and keeping everything running smoothly. Above all, I think that Millennials and Homelanders will work very well together in the future. This partnership could enable the nation to do great things.