“Ok Boomer” is Not How to Begin a Conversation

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Ok Boomer” or seen the memes online. Today, we’ll discuss the phrase and how we can encourage conversation instead of division between generations.

About Boomer and Generational Terms

Back in 1963, the term “baby-boomer” was first published in a Salt Lake Tribune article. It meant a person born during the tail end or decade after World War II, when the United States saw a huge spike in births. Frequently shortened to “boomer” over the years, like other generational terms, the phrase has come to carry various connotations. When people hear “Boomer” or “Millenial” they tend to think of trends, values and certain characteristics they associate with that generation. 

Boomer has lately become a term often used for someone older who is considered close-minded and resistant to change. John Kelly from Dictionary.com shares, “We're using it in an ironic, often humorous, though sometimes malicious way as a catchall or stand-in for a set of attitudes. A ‘boomer’ [in this case] is an older, angry white male who is shaking his fist at the sky while not being able to take an insult. They have close-minded opinions, are resistant to change — whether it’s new technology or gender inclusivity — and are generally out of touch with how their behaviors affect other people.”

“Ok Boomer”: Origin and Meaning

“OK boomer” gained a lot of traction on the app TikTok and other internet platforms in 2019. It is said by younger people to an older person/people (not always actual Boomers). Younger people will even use it toward each other when they feel someone is being hypocritical or condescending. It typically comes out of annoyance and frustration. In many ways it is a backlash against perceived slights and dismissiveness of older adults toward younger generations. Remember, before “Ok Boomer” there were many discussions of all the negative things attributed to millennials.

Younger people feeling slighted and frustrated by older generations made this term popular. This is their reaction to “Boomers” saying certain things they consider dismissive, lacking inclusivity or open-mindedness. Similarly to how they felt they were dealt with, this phrase is meant to sound disdainful.

How to Turn from “Ok Boomer” to Meaningful Conversations

First, it is about conversation and listening--on both sides. Older adults need to listen and work to understand what these younger adults’ frustrations are. Whether you find the phrase offensive or not, it is clearly not a term that welcomes conversation. It is figuratively shutting the door on someone or turning away, rather than opening a dialogue.

But, we also need to be open to what might be behind the phrase. The remedy to the perceived misunderstandings on both sides is asking questions, being curious to learn, and genuine listening. Be open to criticisms and new ideas.

Similarly, younger adults can gain context about where the “Boomer” comes from and what they are thinking. Much of what appears to be close-mindedness or inability to adapt to change stems from fear. As a simple example, a young person may say “Ok Boomer” when an older adult makes comments about or doesn’t understand technology. However, Boomers are not digital natives. They can and do embrace technology but they may need to approach it (or have it approached) in a different way. It can be something the younger generation can help teach to older relatives, but with understanding that they won’t always grasp it in the same way.

Though we titled this “Ok Boomer is Not How to Begin a Conversation”, the phrase can actually spark conversation. Older adults can seek to understand why younger people feel dismissed and frustrated by their generation. Though their ideas may seem new and different, the younger generations are the future and what they say matters. Being open can lead to learning for everyone. It is important for elders to acknowledge that age does not automatically mean greater wisdom in all things. However, younger people may find that elders’ life experience does offer them something unique.

Personal and Difficult Conversations

Whether “Ok Boomer” is literally used or is just part of the attitude in a potential conversation, it won’t serve to move personal conversations forward. For example, when we need to have challenging conversations with family members about things like health, safety and planning. Or, when you as a younger family member are discussing relationships or life matters with older loved ones.

We previously discussed why it can be so hard to have healthy conversations with family. When it comes to things like older relatives getting help, many of us struggle to find the right approach.

The same principles mentioned above apply to such personal conversations, maybe even more so. Don’t start with dismissive language or make assumptions. If you’re finding it hard to bridge the gap (can be especially tough in sensitive matters), bring in a 3rd party. They’re not there to make judgments, but to keep the conversation moving forward.

Need help having healthy family discussions?

Chat with one of our family intervention experts. Get advice, discuss approaches, and get help mediating difficult conversations.

“Ok Boomer, Let’s Get to Know Each Other”

Let’s use these generational gaps as a chance to get to know each other. What are younger people’s worries and concerns about the world they’re being left? Why do they feel frustrated or dismissed? What solutions do they think can help? And, what have older people experienced that might help solve today’s problems? What have they lived through? 

Many older adults don’t share their stories of hardship, war, and living through crises. But, those stories can be invaluable to young people (and help them see beyond the “Boomer” label, which characterizes privilege). Stories have a way of getting through where lectures cannot. 

The best solution is listening, but here are some more concrete activities you can do to build bridges and get conversation flowing:

Ways to Connect

  • Have the kids help set Grandma up with technology and show her how to use it to communicate or do fun things together.
  • Go through photo albums or do audio/video interviews with older relatives about life experiences.
  • Cook together. Have a grandparent or parent show the kids old family recipes. Have the kids cook something totally new for the older relatives.
  • Create a book or movie club. Alternate which generation picks the book or movie. This can be especially interesting if it is around a topic you feel passionate about or some current issue or historical event.
  • Teach each other a new skill.
  • Volunteer together or do something to support a cause that matters to each of you. You could each suggest one cause or action that is important to you to do together. Or, you could come up with one thing you both feel is important.

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