Millennials: Growing Up in the 21st Century

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Millennials: Growing Up in the 21st Century TV Poster Image
Thought-provoking docu follows coming-of-age struggles.

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Positive Messages

The series touches on some pretty heavy issues, including depression, self-harm, suicide, drug abuse, divorce, and peer pressure. Every story is different, but they all follow subjects from tween years through early adulthood as they cope with the fallout from stressful events in their teen years. In many cases, they lead to mental illness and addiction, and the subjects discuss in detail their feelings and their sense of despair. Each story follows up with the participants later in life as they reflect on their struggles and subsequent successes. Perseverance is a major theme. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

A mixed bag. The subjects admit turning to alcohol, drugs, and other harmful influences to counter the effects of depression, and in some cases it brings them close to the breaking point. However, later visits with them usually show them in a better place in their adulthood, getting their lives on track with school, careers, and families. Ultimately the series celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the determination these subjects have shown when faced with obstacles.


The subjects talk about violent acts such as cutting themselves, being molested, and planning suicide.



Lots of discussion about teen sexuality, sometimes related to consensual relationships and other times in regard to molestation and/or rape. Details are scarce, and the subjects gloss over the nitty-gritty ("He forced me to do things," one teen says), but the implications are obvious. Homosexuality is mentioned, and unplanned pregnancy as a byproduct of casual or unprotected sex comes up from time to time.


Occasionally "s--t" and "hell," plus name-calling such as "fag," "loser," and "slut."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Nothing is shown, but the subjects talk about drug and alcohol use that ranges from casual to addictive. Some of it comes with consequence (a woman mentions going to jail for DUIs and possession charges, for instance), other times not. Getting high to temporarily forget one's troubles is a strong impulse, but these subjects confirm that it's not a solution.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Millennials: Growing Up in the 21st Century is a docuseries that compiles interviews with 22 subjects through their tween, teen, and young adult years to follow the ups and downs of that coming-of-age process. Sensitive topics such as sexuality, addiction, family troubles, and mental illness play roles in many of their stories, with emotional responses. Expect to hear teens talk about contemplating suicide, struggling to come to terms with their homosexuality, and suffering from low self-esteem and social seclusion but also happier themes of success, health, and self-acceptance in later years. This series would be most effective when watched by teens and their parents so they can discuss these and other issues.

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What's the story?

MILLENNIALS: GROWING UP IN THE 21ST CENTURY follows 22 people from their tween years through early adulthood. Through interviews conducted by the project's creator, Rick Stevenson, over the course of 15 years, the series chronicles subjects' struggles and eventual triumphs through tumultuous teen years, relationships with family, troubles in school, and personal dilemmas.  

Is it any good?

This docuseries isn't easy to watch, but it’s an eye-opening resource for parents and possibly teens who themselves are coming of age. The subjects' experiences run the gamut from emotionally wrenching to victorious and self-affirming, and Millennials: Growing Up in the 21st Century sheds light on issues with which many viewers (especially adults) may not have any personal knowledge. These teens/young adults are forthcoming with details of addiction, sexual violence, and mental illness, among other experiences, and while the stories are difficult to hear, the eventual healing and maturing process does inspire.

Being only a six-part series means that the 22 subjects' stories told through extensive interviews are condensed to mere minutes apiece, so there's a lot that's left unsaid to viewers. Even so, these slices of life are excellent ways to start conversations with your own teens about what's going on in their lives and what struggles they might be having, not to mention a great reminder that today's reality doesn't have to be tomorrow's.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the subjects' experiences in Millennials: Growing Up in the 21st Century. Teens: Which of the stories resonates particularly with you? Which issues weigh most heavily on your mind on a daily basis? How do you persevere through the stresses you face?

  • Is drug use a prevalent concern among your peers? What reasons do people have for turning to drugs and/or alcohol? Have you ever been in a situation where they were available to you? How did you handle it?

  • What pressures do millennials face that previous generations did not? In contrast, how has quality of life improved for this generation? How do you and your parents bridge the generational divide?

  • How does Millennials: Growing Up in the 21st Century promote perseverance? Why is this an important character strength?

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