Why We Need To Stop Worrying About 'Kids These Days'
Kids these days are disrespectful.
Kids these days are entitled.
Kids these days. I worry for the future.
“Kids these days” is a common refrain, and it’s almost always used as a pejorative. I hear it most often from folks over 40, a demographic I joined two Septembers ago — we look at tweens, teens, and college-age kids and criticize what we perceive as foreshadowing of certain doom. Some people seem to believe that teenagers are literally going to be the collapse of society.
Interestingly, the people who complain most about today’s youth being irredeemable delinquents seem to forget the criticism of their own generation when it was still in its youth. Disrespectful. Entitled. Vulgar music. Inappropriate dress. Selfish.
Every older generation employs the same tired critiques of every younger generation. I think it’s time we break the cycle and stop harping on the young ones. It’s redundant and arrogant. It assumes we didn’t occasionally act like idiots when we were young. It assumes no previous generations ever did. And it assumes Gen Z’s frontal lobes will never fully develop.
Moreover, if there were any generation that would deserve criticism the least, it’s this particular up-and-coming generation. Gen Z, also known as Zoomers, are doing better than previous generations by a number of objective metrics. I’ll own my personal bias — I have a 14-year-old son who astounds me every day with his wisdom, kindness, and hilarity — but the aggregate data on this generation also backs me up.
Zoomers think giving a shit about your fellow humans is the obvious way to be.
The most racially and ethnically diverse generation in the U.S. to date, Zoomers live up to the American idea of a “melting pot.” Gen Z will be the least white generation the U.S. has ever seen, and not only that, they view their contribution to the country’s growing diversity as a positive.
Inclusivity is not only important to Zoomers, but they also, as a rule, take it for granted. Ask a Zoomer the kinds of questions folks “grappled” with in the ‘80s and ‘90s, like “Would you remain friends with someone if you found out they were gay?” or “Would you date someone outside your race?” and they will most likely look at you like your forehead just suddenly sprouted a stalk of broccoli.
In a 2018 Pew research survey, when asked whether same-sex marriage was a good thing for society, 48% of Zoomers said it was good thing and 36% said it makes no difference. Only 15% said same-sex marriage was bad for society, compared to Boomers, of whom 32% said same-sex marriage was bad for society. Zoomers are also more likely to personally know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns.
Gen Z is also more likely than previous generations to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism, especially among Republicans in that age group. Of Millennial Republicans, 30% say Black people are treated less fairly than white people. Of Gen Z Republicans, 43% say the same.
Zoomers are making mature choices even as they take their time growing up.
Compared to any other previous generation, Zoomers are more likely to graduate high school and more likely to attend college. In 2018, 57% of 18- to 21-year-olds were enrolled in a two-year or four-year college. In 1987, when Gen Xers were that age, only 43% were enrolled in college.
They’re pragmatic elsewhere, too. In 2017, researchers at San Diego State University and Bryn Mawr College reported that today’s teens are less likely to engage in adult behaviors like drinking alcohol, smoking, dating, and having sex. Analysists assumed this trend has to do with today’s teens being busier with homework, extracurricular activities, and increased time online.
Another apparent side effect of this slowed-down approach to growing up is that teen pregnancies are at an all-time low, as are abortions. The CDC conducted a study in 2013 that revealed a significant drop in teen pregnancies among low-income teens as well. Among the 600,000 teens who used the Title X National Family Planning Program for contraception, the use of long-acting reversible contraception like IUDs and implants nearly doubled from 2005 to 2013.
Gen Z are digital natives and expert bullshit detectors.
Zoomers are digital natives, meaning they either weren’t born yet or don’t remember a world without the internet, smartphones, and social media. They have grown up with an infinite amount of information at their fingertips, and with that they have had to acquire the skepticism necessary to spot when someone’s trying to manipulate, exploit, or deceive them. We’ve come a long way from my sweet grandmother finding a letter from Publisher’s Clearinghouse in her mailbox and being convinced she’d won a million dollars from a fake contest she never entered. These kids are absolutely not here for anyone’s bullshit.
Folks in older generations wring their hands over today’s kids’ use of digital media, panicking that kids are disengaged and asocial, but they rarely take the time to examine what kids are actually looking at. Get a teen to talk about what they’re doing on that device in their hands, and you’ll discover a rich social world and an eager, active consumption and analysis of current events, arts, music, history, and pop culture. These kids are as likely to deliver a searing critique of our contemporary political and social landscape as they are to watch headache-inducing (for us) YouTube videos filled with words they invented themselves and humor that is hopelessly beyond our comprehension.
Gen Z is all about social justice.
In a 2020 survey conducted by the National Society of High School Scholars, it was found that Zoomers are more concerned about human rights than salaries. These kids are keenly aware of social issues while also being sensible and tenacious with their education and career goals. And no wonder. This is the generation that saw their parents suffer through the Great Recession of 2007-2009. They’ve experienced getting their schools shot up while the adults in charge did nothing to help them but encourage them to practice active shooter drills. It was Gen Z kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that started the #NeverAgain movement. Gen Z have marched at #BlackLivesMatter protests and witnessed the shameful inadequate response of our government to a global pandemic. Because of how digitally connected these kids are, they know more about current events than most of us ever did at their age.
Zoomers are creative, hilarious, cheerful nihilists.
Zoomer K-pop fans hijack bullshit hashtags like #WhiteLivesMatter and #ImpeachBidenNow. They are philosophers who can easily hold seemingly opposing ideas like “nothing matters” and “everything is amazing.” They recognize irony, hypocrisy, and injustice and will call these things out by relentlessly mocking them. They could give a shit about fashion trends in terms of what others think about them, but they will rock an outfit for their own personal enjoyment.
Basically, Gen Z is being careful about where they put their fucks. They’re discerning, confident, and streetwise without being closed-minded, arrogant, and careless. They will debate you under the table while simultaneously having a conversation with their besties in a chat thread on an app you probably don’t know about.
So, if any generation deserves the “kids these days” pejorative less, it’s Gen Z. Sure, there are shitheads in every generation. But as a whole, this one is pretty badass, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re giving us every reason to have hope for the future.
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