I was reading an article the other day that made me think. It was an interview with the author Karla Vermeulen about her new book Generation Disaster. In the interview, Karla defines this group as having their childhood or early adolescence occurring in the immediate wake of the attacks of 9/11. This group doesn’t remember a time Americans didn’t believe there was a risk of another terrorist attack, or a time when the US wasn’t at war somewhere in the world. This group has seen friends or relatives join the military because they had no other employment options and then return with physical or psychological wounds. Reports about climate change and the effects it will have on them personally have become increasingly urgent and they’ve seen it for themselves as our weather continues to be out of whack and there is an increase in natural disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and droughts. They’ve experienced mass shootings for most of their lives in schools and public settings targeting members of their own generation. Their childhood and adolescence occurred during a serious economic recession and increasing wealth gaps. And they’ve entered adulthood during extreme political conflicts, within their country and families. And let’s not forget witnessing and often participating in movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo.
If that wasn’t enough, they also grew up in a time when all of this was on full display in mass and social media. Before you get your panties in a bunch and start to argue that every generation has had their fair share of hardships, Karla looked into the cumulative impact of these traumas on children, adolescence and young adults and found that this cohort is more stressed than ever. She conducted a study with some really sad results:
- 37% said they knew someone who had died of a drug overdose
- 30% said they were very or extremely concerned that they will be affected by a natural disaster like a tornado, hurricane, or flood; 48% were somewhat concerned; and 22% were not at all concerned.
- 36% said they were very or extremely concerned that they or their community will be affected by a human-caused disaster (terrorist attack, mass shooting, etc.); 46% were somewhat concerned; and 18% were not at all concerned.
- 46% said they were very or extremely concerned that they or their community will be affected by climate change, 35% were somewhat concerned, and 19% were not at all concerned.
Eek. Not great. I know on this podcast I can give GenZers a hard time sometimes. But in reality, I also have a lot of respect for them and my younger Millennial counterparts. Specifically in social and environmental issues. After all, I can relate to some of this. I had school shooter drills in High School. I watched my brother go to war multiple times and never 100% be the same. I was personally affected by the housing crash. I vividly remember watching the attacks on 9/11 my sophomore year of college live and feeling horrified. But the difference is I also remember what it was like before all of that.
When we went to our recycling class in school but didn’t really understand the impacts of climate change and what we were facing. When I could ride my bike or roller skates to Dairy Queen across town without parents without fear of being sexually assaulted. When I thought that everything was fair and everyone in public office had good intensions. When we were fighting over who got to pick the card on the David Copperfield TV special, not over our politics. When I could go to school and not worry about guns. When my parents provided a great middle-class life and protests weren’t a regular occurrence – or really an occurrence at all. I feel fortunate I was able to have that childhood. The childhood and young adulthood ignorant of the problems in our society and country. When bigger problems seemed far away, not at home.
While I’m really into politics now, that wasn’t always the case. Obama was actually the first Presidential race I voted in because he was the first President that felt like he understood me and spoke my language. He felt relatable to me and more approachable than the slew of older white men that felt more like my grandpa than relatable. But as I get older, and read about the Generation Disaster, I realize how lucky I am to have stayed niave and ignorant for so long. They weren’t that lucky.
So it’s less surprising when teenager like Greta Thunburg takes on the global community to demand change for her generation and more to come. It’s not surprising when the Parkland shooting survivors led the conversation on gun control. They are trying to put out the dumpster fire we have handed them and I do feel some responsibility for that. I think one of the reasons I get so worked up about politics is because I have some guilt that I didn’t pay attention sooner. Now as at almost middle aged, I realize that I spent more than half my life completely ignorant to the world around me and it’s something I’m embarrassed about.
But now that my eyes have been opened, I can’t just leave all the cleanup work to my younger counterparts. So I do what I can. I think the hardest part of this younger generation is the social media angle as it amplifies everything.
I remember when I was in college I wrote a paper on the media’s impact on women’s body image – negative as you can imagine. Especially considering I grew up in between Kate Moss and Pamela Anderson. So either you were anorexic or you were filled with silicone. But your natural self was not pretty, that was for sure. Probably why I would hide my makeup when I was 12 years old because I didn’t want to go to school with my natural face and my mom wouldn’t let me get makeup until I was in highschool. But even knowing the harm on my own self esteem and body image the media caused as I grew up, I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been if I had social media to deal with.
The filters alone will get ya. God forbid you just post a picture without a filter – in fact, when you do, it’s so uncommon you are supposed to use the hashtag #nofilter. God forbid you take a picture of me without having to pretty much get on a ladder to get the right downward angle so it’s more flattering for Instagram. And I’m a grown ass woman! While it’s difficult to be an aging woman when our society has such a heightened sense of body dysmorphia amplified by influencers and social media accounts, growing up with this would be so much more difficult. You are still learning about yourself. Your body is going through changes – I think we all could agree there was a chunck of time in our lives we would have never posted a pic on social media. Mine was when I cut my air short to be like Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. But when we were growing up, we only had to worry about the people we knew that would make fun of us at school.
These kids have the entire internet as a threat. And worse, anonymous bullies that hide behind their usernames and fake accounts while they leave hateful and horrible comments with the intent to hurt the receiver. I see this on TikTok a lot. There’s a lot of what they call response videos where the user will post a video response to a hateful comment they received. Sometimes these videos are witty and funny but other times they are genuinely sad. I’ll never forget this one I watched. She was no more than 13 years old and she would post videos of her singing. Like when we were younger and would perform in front of our parents, but it was on TikTok. Pure innocence because she just loved to sing. Was she good? No, she was no Ariana Grande ok? But was she horrible? No, she wasn’t. But that’s not the point! Some assholes started commenting on her videos making fun of her so she posted one crying and pleading for people to leave her alone. She was trying her best and still learning and their comments are very hurtful.
Could you imagine the damage it would do if when you got up in front of the family to perform a dance or song, they humiliated you in pubic? Think of all the comedians and talent we love today that started off that same way and would have never pursued their dreams. Who are these assholes that do this?
So Generation Disaster, I’m sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t do enough to protect you from the harms of this world longer. I’m sorry we stole your chance at an ignorantly blissful childhood. I’m sorry that you now have to clean up the mess we made. But you aren’t alone. There are those of us that do care and are fighting right there next to you. Maybe that’s standing next to you in a protest or maybe it’s reporting the asshole that left you a nasty comment on TikTok and adding a comment of our own of support to keep going. I may think your clothing choices are questionable and get annoyed when you call me Cheugy, but you’re good people. Thank you so much for listening! Subscribe, review and pass along to a friend. You can also subscribe to my blog that includes transcripts of episodes at myalmostmidlfecrisis.com. Also, if you haven’t checked it out yet, I have a new blog called A Woman’s Place that discusses the political and social issues facing women today – see Generation Disaster, I told you I was there for you. A Woman’s Place is available on Spotify and more to come soon!
Until next time!