The hill my generation has chosen to die on is a pyramid of latte cups with whipped cream and avocado toast on top. Millennials have made it clear time and time again that they will not tolerate anyone—not billionaires, not Boomers, not billionaire Boomers—telling them they can’t have their morning brew and drink it too. So imagine my surprise when I overheard someone close to my age wondering aloud if someone really deserved Starbucks.
The beverage drinker in question was twelve years old. It was a Friday morning before the start of the school day. It is unclear if the tween was drinking coffee, tea, hot cocoa, or some other concoction. Almost certainly, it was one with enough sugar to make your teeth hurt.
But that wasn’t why this individual* quipped that the student probably shouldn’t be enjoying Starbucks. No, the coffee kerfuffle happened for one reason and one reason alone: Poor kids shouldn’t enjoy nice things.
Is your mouth hanging open? Good. It should be.
Collectively, we have hit an all-time low. It’s not just Jason Chaffetz telling adults that if they would give up their iPhones, they could afford health care. It’s not just Tim Ferriss, Mr. $5000 is Pocket Change himself, saying that he never gives spare change to homeless people. It’s adults deciding that because a child or teen qualifies for free-and-reduced lunch or simply seems poor, Starbucks is off limits. Because clearly none of these individuals can be trusted to spend money the right way.
I don’t care if you never drank Starbucks when you were that age. I don’t care that you didn’t have a computer or a cell phone. I don’t care that you walked uphill both ways barefoot in the snow to get to your middle school.
I could care, I suppose. I drank my first Starbucks hot cocoa when I was fourteen, but only because it was a thank-you from my boss. My parents didn’t believe we needed a computer until I was in seventh grade. Instead, I learned to type on a typewriter that didn’t even have correction ribbon in it. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was halfway through high school, sharing 150 minutes with my mom and dad.
Did this develop my character? Did I learn to bootstrap? Did it teach me grit and determination and make me the outstanding human being (#humblebrag) that I am today?
In a word, no.
I mean, I can type remarkably fast and with impeccable accuracy. But aside from that, I can’t say that this taught me much.
I’m also not sure what lesson this child is supposed to learn by not drinking Starbucks. Was he supposed to realize that he didn’t fit in with his Starbucks-cup wielding peers? Did he need someone to point out that his family is different, a fact that is likely so obviously clear to him every day of his life? Maybe he was supposed to learn that it’s important to spend time with your father, but don’t you dare spend time with him in a place where you also have to spend money.
Because therein lies the problem, right? This kid spent money. Perhaps he did. Or maybe he used a gift card. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that maybe it was his family’s money or maybe it was his. To buy that drink, someone spent a good five dollars.
It is absolutely true that for $5, he probably bought himself a whole bunch of empty calories and caffeine that may or may not have come with a dollop of calcium. But we’re not his dentist and we’re not his nutritionist. Of course, we aren’t. If he is struggling as much as that person assumed, he likely has access to neither.
Now let’s talk about what else this $5 bought him. It bought him a chance to have something in common with his peers. It bought him an extra five, ten, or fifteen minutes of his father’s time that morning. It bought him a smile. It bought him dignity.
And who is this millennial, this latte-loving individual from the generation that is likely to be underemployed, saddled with debt, and maybe even still living with family, to take that away?
So Tell Me…Would this encounter have made you cringe?
* It’s worth pointing out that while I knew the student this was said about, I do not know the adult. So I might be a little judgey here. Sue me. I also like to think that had this been a fellow teacher, the conversation would have been totally different.