While some people with an agenda may portray them as Tide Pod detergent kids to demean them and try to dim their voices, the majority of this generation of Gen Z’ers that I have had the pleasure to be around (including my grandchildren) are intelligent, articulate and eager to make positive changes in the world. Generation Z are the kids born starting in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. From their earliest recollection, they were brought into a world haunted by terrorism.
These kids remind me a little of us baby boomers who were brought up in the Cold War era. We reminisce now that we had happy childhoods, but there was also that ever-present fear brought about by a Russian threat of nuclear war. Every child of my generation knew the locations of every bomb shelter within a 50-mile range of where we lived, and we prayed that we would have time to get there before we died of radiation poisoning or worse, burning to death. It was scary stuff for a child; I know, I was there.
Yet it is this very same group who are criticizing our youth of today and making them feel like their voices don’t matter. Are our memories fading so fast that we don’t remember that fear? Our threats were far away; the enemy on the other side of the world, and the threat was just a threat, a possibility. We didn’t experience it personally. The threats our children are facing are up close and right here on their own turf. How much scarier is that?
Have we forgotten that as we became teenagers in the 1960’s, how frustrated we were with our own government for throwing us into a war in Vietnam with no purpose? A war that would kill or maim the very kids we went to school with? We all knew of someone who had died, lost a limb, or whose mental stability would never be the same. But these young men valiantly fought, seeking to make the world a safer place.
These kids are fighting a battle too. To them it's a war zone battle, but with nothing to fight back with but words. And solidarity. It's an unpopular war and they've been treated with humiliation. They're kids, in danger of losing their lives, and they're facing more than one enemy. Enemies with guns and enemies who refuse to do anything about those guns; enemies in leadership positions that could.
Tide pods; just something tried by a select few. Our GenZ'ers make up for 26% of the 325.7 million people population of the entire United States. That’s 84.7 million Gen Z’ers. According to the American Association for Poison Control Centers, 12,299 laundry detergent exposures were reported in 2017, and more than half of those reported were children 5 years old and younger (accidental exposures). That means approximately 6000 intentional cases of kids over 5 years old and if even 75% of those were high school age, the percentage is only .0059%. That doesn’t sound like a rampant problem among high school students to me. Throughout the ages, there have been those select few who thrive on danger. We had them in our day too. Drag racing was one, or the game of “chicken” where two teenage boys would hop in their cars and barrel towards each other seeing which one would swerve first. But those select few who were stupid enough to try these things didn’t define our generation. Neither should Tide Pods define theirs.
Because we don’t fully understand the ways of this generation doesn’t make it right to demean and demoralize them. Their shaved heads, their piercings, their ripped-up jeans. It’s foreign stuff to me just as it is to you. But our parents didn’t like the boy with the Beatles’ haircut that we brought home. They didn’t understand the music, the peace symbols nor the protest marches. We grew up with prejudices handed down by parents. Some of us overcame them; some did not. But for the most part, we turned out okay. These kids will too. They’re fed up with fear-mongering; they’re fed up with adults who don’t seem to care; they’re fed up with lawmakers too afraid to make decisions for fear of losing campaign funds. I’m fed up too. I may not understand these kids, but I like them. They’re strong. They harbor hope, not hate. We could all learn from them. But we need to pull from our memory banks those hopes and dreams we had of changing the future and pass the torch on, even when we have reservations, to the ones who will live the future. We’re in the declining years of ours. If we try to guide them with our wisdom instead of berating them, we will have a much greater influence on what they choose to do.
For those who still don’t understand, maybe you don’t have grandchildren. Maybe you don’t have a granddaughter like mine who has a buzzed haircut, but who has a college grade point average most people could only ever dream of having; one whose biggest vice is studying her way through school to the point of exhaustion, but needs a slightly rebellious way of expressing herself through dress and appearance. Maybe you don’t have one who dresses a little bit weird, but has a kind and giving heart, thinking of other people’s feelings more than she thinks of her own. Maybe your children or grands look and act perfectly in ways that you approve of. I have one of those too; he's in seminary. But not all kids are like that. Does that mean we should love them less? I'm extremely proud of my granddaughters, as well as my grandson.
I’m happy to give them a chance to make right what we’ve done wrong. Maybe they won’t succeed, but instead of sitting on their duffs complaining and doing nothing like a lot of us are doing, they’re trying to make the world a safer place for kids. We should be doing that too instead of being so caught up in our love for guns that we can’t see the fear that is consuming them.
Hug a kid today. Tell them you understand their frustrations; you've lived through frustrations of your own. Tell them that even if you don't agree with their agenda, you're willing to listen and that you're proud that they're standing up for their rights. All they want is a future free of fear.