Remember when you were young, and someone might have asked you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
In preschool, my teacher took her small camera and interviewed each of her students asking that very question. It seemed like everyone knew what they wanted to be.
“I wanna be like mommy!”
When she came up to me, I didn’t know what I wanted. I panicked and said “I want to be a singer,” then proceeded to sing the cringiest cover of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” the world has ever seen. Look, I’m still not certain or hopeful of my future, but at least I know that being a singer is not written in my constellation.
Now if you asked that same question to those little kids who are all grown up, what would they say? Are their dreams the same?
“I wanted to be an actor, but my parents weren’t supportive.”
“I wanted to be a doctor, but I couldn’t afford medical school tuition.”
“I wanted to go to college out of state, but the pandemic ruined my chances.”
It's harder to see those childhood dreams become a reality or at the very least think of a more positive future for ourselves. So when did things start to become hopeless for us? I’ve seen more and more of us forget our dreams or give them up entirely.
Sending “Hopes and Prayers”
In 2012, I started to become more aware and adapt to the world around me. At the time, I had just changed from a public to a private school. This meant that I needed to start all over, make new friends, and learn how to adjust to a new and stricter environment. Even with a more strict and sheltered environment, this did not shelter me from the reality our country faced.
On October 22, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States. My fourth-grade teacher at the time made us write letters to students on the other side of the country to see if they were okay and how they were doing. As we edited our draft letters, I started noticing how many times I read “Sending you our hopes and prayers that your family is safe.” Then I started to think about how writing this letter would impact them. Would this letter filled with “warm hugs and well wishes” really help them? However, I kept my mouth shut and continued with the assignment so I wouldn’t get in trouble.
A few months later was the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Ever since then, we started shooter drills. Drills would become even more intense as each incident went on. A school employee would try to forcefully open the door while we hid in a dark classroom under the tables. Sometimes the boys would even talk about holding scissors in their hands if the “real deal” happened. Since then I never sent hopes and prayers again. It just didn’t feel right or sincere enough. Words on a card could only do so much.
What’s Wrong With Gen Z?
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and author of the book “Coddling the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure” defined the years 2015-2017 as tumultuous years. During this period, mass shootings and terrorist attacks were carried out across Europe to the Middle East, and videos of police killing unarmed black people were reported daily. The gap between left and right politics also widened leading to more radical movements and protests.
There are two types of perspectives that generations from Gen X to Baby Boomers gave us. The first seems to belittle our generation’s culture. From their perspective, they watched us grow up listening to so much negativity. Therefore, the older generation labeled us as “fragile and lost.” This is due to our close upbringing in the digital age. Even our close relationship with the digital and social age is looked down upon. We appear “obsessive” to need to know and consume as much information as possible. Bullying has followed us even at home due to social media. We’ve seen the older generation struggle to understand pronouns, accept different sexual orientations, and learn that there are some terms that are now deemed offensive.
On the other hand, some generations feel like they are responsible for “overbearing Gen Z with fears of the future.” Ewan Morrison, an award-winning novelist asked his daughter,
“Are you OK? You and your friends seem lost.”
His daughter replied,
“We’re not lost, We’re just angry…because ‘the world is going to end’...What’s the point in doing anything?”
It has been reported that 70% of all teens across all genders, races, and family-income levels say that anxiety and depression are significant problems among their peers. In 2020, a new study by JAMA Network reported that the suicide rate in the United States increased by 30% percent. They also face many factors that cause chronic stress such as school shootings, student debt, joblessness, and even politics. In an interview with John Dell Volpe, the director of Polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, he said,“...this is a generation that’s dealt with more trauma more quickly than any generation in 70 years.”
It seems we’ve lost hope in our older generations. We’ve heard the words “never again” and “a better tomorrow” over and over again yet nothing seems to be working.
What is this Generation Doing?
In my eyes, we aren’t hopeless, just angry with the future we were given. Gen Z is doing the best we can to change that.
According to the Los Angeles Times, we are “far more open to diverse viewpoints and compromise than older Americans…” In fact, we share some of the same progressive ideals as millennials in social issues. One example is our mission to protect the health of our planet. There has never been a generation before us that has pushed for more laws, protests, and educating people to stop climate change. Even more so, we are also the most diverse and (unlike what most older generations think) the most educated generation in American history.
Even though people look down on our use of social media, we use it to our advantage. Our use of social media and engagement is what made use as the most connected and vocal generation yet. Though our way of going about things isn’t traditional, Gen Z proves that integrating our connections with internet culture works. We used technology to get more people to register and remember to vote. Volpe mentioned in his interview:
“The biggest difference is Gen Z has an urgency about their approach that Millennials lack. There’s an urgency, almost a desperation in some cases, I’d say, when you talk to some of the more active members of Gen Z.”
We also used it to raise money and be more creative with events in person and online.
According to a recent study by Oxfam, Gen Z is the most generous when it comes to donating their time to charity. Because of this, it’s become easier for people to raise awareness and donations to help people in need. For example, internet personalities used their platforms for philanthropy and charity events.
Just this past week a bunch of Twitch streamers came together and donated a bunch of their belongings to go up for a charity auction. As the event was happening, more and more people came to watch their favorite creators interact in a strange setting, while being able to compete against each other to win and buy items. All of this made it possible to raise over $415,784 to benefit the IDF, the Immune Deficiency Foundation.
Our Definition of Hope:
When I joined the LYF team, I realized how much hope we still have for the future. After I volunteered at my first event, I started to have a more positive outlook. During those events, I learned that well wishes and emotional support are still valued as hope. Simple things like making people smile and learning with other people gave me hope. No matter how big or small of a positive change you are making, that is hope. Even just learning about an issue or what is going on in the news makes a huge difference.
I learned that hope isn’t something that is gained. It’s something that you have to find. I found hope in people. When people join together, whether through social media or an in-person event to make a change, you can find hope no matter what generation you belong to. The LYF has provided me with a safe place to talk to people, share ideas, and make connections with people who share those same ideals for a better future. Those people gave me hope that I can make a difference in some way.
Gen Z is not hopeless. This generation just does things in a way that older generations have a harder time adjusting and understanding. Modern technology, methods, and our cultural differences are what set us apart from older generations, which makes it harder for them to relate to Gen Z. In other words, I think that this is a matter of misunderstanding. There is still so much that we can learn about from older generations and there is a lot that they can learn from Gen Z as well.
You may not be certain that the future is bright enough, but when we come together and prove others wrong, you will definitely have hope that Gen Z will do anything to make their dreams come true. With the technology we can use to our advantage and our very strong drive to make a difference, we give ourselves and the generations after us…hope.
About the Author
Alina is currently a junior at UNLV. She graduated from Northwest Technical Career Academy in 2021 from the Media Communications program. So far, she has been working as a full-time student, but has an extensive history with reporting, acting, graphic design, social media management, editing, and writing. This summer, she is an intern for both The Love Yourself Foundation and OneSeven Agency for marketing. Since the pandemic, she started making content and streams on YouTube and Twitch. She also has experience with voiceovers and audio and video editing.