By Vincent Lyn
The Future Belongs To Those who Give The Next Generation Reason For Hope” ~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Young people are critical to a better future. 15% of the world’s population — some 1.2 billion people — are aged between 15 and 29. The world gets ever younger, with 10 billion more people yet to be born in this century. This exponential growth will continue to be uneven, with concentration in more populous and less developed countries, resulting in more mouths to feed, more young people to educate and more jobs to provide. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected young people, and especially young women and girls. It has disrupted their education, their training, their jobs, their relationships and their mental health. It certainly makes sense that young people are worried about their future considering at the present global rates of consumption we require the resources of about 1.6 earths. At this rate, we risk exhausting our planet’s life support systems that provide us with fresh water, nutritious food and clean air.
If you could wish anything for your children, what would it be?
No doubt your wishes would include for your children to have a happy, healthy, plentiful childhood to enable them to grow and build the life they deserve. Naturally we wish this for our children, our children’s children and beyond.
If we rewind back to our own childhood, we were fortunate enough to have this type of life: less access to junk food, we exercised daily playing outdoors till it was dark and with little access to technology. We had no choice but to use our imaginations through creative play. Somehow, through the pressures of our lifestyles many have moved into unhealthy habits as adults.
As many of us know once established, these habits can be difficult to shift.
Now, in order to give our children the best opportunity to excel in life we must break our bad habits and re-wind to the values of our childhood, so to honor our wishes to give them the best chance at life. Not to have our children develop their lifestyle habits based on our current ones, rather than to build upon those we know of our childhood.
Generation Z is coming of age against a precarious backdrop of economic, climate and health crises. Still grappling with the damages of the Great Recession, Millennials may be the burnt-out generation, but their successors don’t have it any easier. In the past few years, those born between 1997 and 2012 have experienced Trump’s ascendency, devastating fires around the globe from Australia to the Amazon, catastrophic flooding from China to Europe and the Americas, and now a protracted global pandemic.
Gen Z’s crisis bucket list seems short of only a zombie apocalypse. At the turn of the decade a series of movements made global shock waves. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, but in 2020 the Black Lives Matter and #StopAsianHate movements captured young people’s fears and frustrations against rampant systemic racism and institutional betrayal.
Then the pandemic opened doors to a fresh set of economic troubles. All generations feel the economic pain, but Gen Z is entering a crippled job market, competing with more experienced workers for limited entry-level jobs and internships. Many experts compare the disruption and stress of the coronavirus pandemic to living through a war, or the Great Depression, but this is a crisis on a scale most of their parents, and even their grandparents, never had to face.
This generation is also the most likely to get laid off as it makes up a disproportionately high share of employees in vulnerable industries, such as the hospitality and leisure sectors. Crucially, though, Gen Z may not bounce back from the beating. Research on the “generation effect” shows that extraordinary events have a lasting impact on people in their formative years, 12–24 years. These experiences crystallize into a lifetime of social and political values. Gen Z has seen fear and mortality so closely, the potential negative consequences — such as psychological stress, educational disruption and financial insecurity — may never leave them.
But that is a bleak assumption. An optimistic reading, drawing on intersecting political and psychological theories, is that the constant bombardment of shock may be creating a more resilient, shock-proof generation. Among distressing ongoing lockdowns, hours of virtual schooling, diminished employment prospects, disconnection from loved ones, unheard political pleas, and fears of looming climate disasters are unsung tales of resilience, compassion and renewed community spirit.
As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The pandemic opened doors to a fresh set of economic troubles, and Gen Z have been hit particularly hard. Life-threatening events can evoke fear and shatter confidence, but they can also build tacit resilience and shock management skills. And when these shocks hit a significant proportion of the community, they can instill a sense of solidarity, optimism and hope.
Studies show that resilient people are more likely to be brave, assertive, cognitively flexible and self-sufficient. A cocktail of stresses is shaping a jaded generation that knows life is hard and requires work. The result? Today’s young people are pragmatic, disciplined and autonomous.
Gen Z is more financially aware. They know the transition to adulthood — finding a secure home, job and family — will likely be drawn out. They have seen their millennial siblings experience the effects of the 2007–2008 Great Recession, and watched as the economy was brought to its knees by the coronavirus. Today’s youth know they are going to be poorer than their parents, and are more financially cautious than their predecessors: they’re shopping in thrift stores, accruing emergency savings and monitoring their finances more closely.
Gen Z is also more politically engaged. Klaus Hurrelmann and Erik Albrecht’s recent book, Gen Z: Between Climate Crisis and Coronavirus Pandemic, reports a boom in political activism among those born after 2000. Gen Z’s, along with Millennials, are more active than their older peers in addressing climate change both on and offline. School climate change strikes and the Fridays for Future movement reveal their radical approach to demanding more decisive action from leaders.
The global pandemic is also a catalyst for their politicization. Today, they are speaking out against the mishandling of the pandemic, the misuse of executive powers and the erosion of accountability. Despite it all, Gen Z is more compassionate and self-aware. Although the global pandemic has seen rates of psychological, educational, employment, and relationship distress soar, young people have also reported positive effects.
A Headspace survey of young Australians last year revealed 51 per cent felt more compassion or generosity towards others, 69 per cent felt more empathy for vulnerable people, and many embraced self-care. Similarly, in a UK study, among Gen Z’s testimonials of angst, stress and frustration were signs of resilience and hope. Young people are aware of their generation’s exceptionalism: that it is absolutely different from previous ones; that there are many issues to face but also that we underestimate the strength this will give them in the future.
They are ready to take up some of the most powerful roles out there to work towards making our world better, because they see a need to be seriously better than their predecessors. Gen Z may well be the generation of hope. But just because Gen Z’s can stand on their own feet doesn’t mean they won’t need a hand. The challenge for policymakers and governments is to recognize and support a generation that has adapted to adversity — before it reaches a breaking point.
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts