What “The Breakfast Club” Can Teach Us About Millennials

Watching the classic 1985 John Hughes movie, “The Breakfast Club” with my Millennial-age daughter was her choice and was delighted to see how well it held up over the past 25 years. As we have seen with Glee, the high school experience hasn’t changed all that much in decades and the character types – the criminal, the basket case, the princess, the scholar and the athlete – are still roaming the halls today.  We both laughed out loud and agreed the story was timeless.

What has changed, however, are how teens and young adults relate to their parents.

Although parents are barely seen in the movie, other than dropping kids off for their full day of detention, they are very present throughout the film. Each character eventually confesses something broken about their family life, everything from outright abuse to benign neglect. The recognition that everyone feels the same way about their families is what eventually makes this diverse group a “club”.

Andrew: What do they do to you?
Allison: They ignore me.

Andrew: Yeah… yeah.

Claire: [about her parents] I don’t think either one of them gives a shit about me. It’s like they use me just to get back at each other.
Allison: [her first word of dialogue so far] Ha!
Claire : [long pause] Shut up!

John: You get along with your parents?
Andrew: Well, if I say yes I’m an idiot, right?
John: You’re an idiot anyway. But if you say you get along with your parents, well, you’re a liar too.

Breakfast Club is a classic Gen X movie.  This cohort was shaped by families in transition – skyrocketing divorce rates, women returning to work. The exaltation of childhood didn’t really begin until the late 80’s, with Baby on Board, bicycle helmets and parenting regarded as life’s most important project.  Little wonder Gen X’ers couldn’t wait to leave home.

The key line in the movie is delivered by Andrew, the athlete, in response to Allison’s assertion that her home life is ‘unsatisfying’: “Well, everyone’s home life is unsatisfying, if it wasn’t, people would live with their parents forever“.

Fast forward 25 years, and we now have more generations under one roof than we have in decades. Even young adults who live away stay in close contact via text, e-mail and social media. Why? Millennials actually like their parents. Many consider their mom or dad their ‘best friend’, someone to turn to for advice and financial support.

The good feeling is reciprocated by parents. A Nickelodeon study revealed 76% of parents of 2-21 year-olds say they feel extremely close to their child today, while only 25% of grandparents reported that they felt close to their own child. According to a Charles Schwab survey, 41% of  Boomer parents currently support their grown kids financially.

This massive change in the parent-child relationship underlies much of the Gen X-Gen Y conflict in the workplace. Gen X individualism and discomfort with of authority runs deep.  This has been extensively reported on so I won’t go into it here, but there does seem to be more friction between Millennials and X’ers, who are likely to be their direct supervisors, than with Boomers, who seem more like their parents.

Understanding Millennial attitudes toward parents and family is especially critical for marketers.

Entertainment marketers are clueing into the new family values. The cable channel, ABC Family recognized the change a few years ago and reconfigured it’s programming to reflect ‘a new kind of family’. The strategy has been so successful that its architect, Paul Lee, was promoted to the top job at ABC.   (see earlier post: “ABC Family: A Deft Millennial Makeover”)

Marketers of big ticket items – like investments, automobiles, and college educations – need to be aware of the importance of parents as influencers. Millennials often admit they don’t feel entirely “grown up” and rely on their parents, both as models and advisors. (See earlier post:  “Millennial Marketing: Don’t Forget to Meet the Parents”).

Marketers targeting Millennial Moms need to understand the close connection that these new parents have with their own parents and how influential they can be.  49% of parents today have a parent living within 30 miles.

If you haven’t watched the Breakfast Club recently, I  recommend checking it out as a window into how much things have and haven’t changed.

It’s ironic given Gen X’s complaints of being overlooked in all the attention that is being paid to Millennials that the movie’s opening song is Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. I also loved the interchange between Principal Vernon and Custodian Carl on their future depending on this generation. Some things never change.

Richard Vernon: You think about this: when you get old, these kids – when *I* get old – they’re going to be running the country.
Carl: Yeah.
Richard Vernon: Now this is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night. That when I get older, these kids are going to take care of me.
Carl: I wouldn’t count on it.