The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday September 23rd

Column: Generation Z and kids in a crisis

<p>Brooke Dougherty writes for the opinion desk at The Daily Tar Heel.&nbsp;</p>
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Brooke Dougherty writes for the opinion desk at The Daily Tar Heel. 

Middle parts, iced coffee and avocado toast – there’s a lot of debate about what separates Generation Z from Millennials.

According to William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of a book about generational theory called "The Fourth Turning," the generation that came after millennials would begin in 2005. Many believe that the cut-off for Millennial is the mid-1990s, but there is uncertainty surrounding when Gen Z truly starts.

Personally, I like to think of myself as a Zillennial. Zillennials are those of us born between 1997 and 1999, the no-man’s land of not quite fitting in with either Zoomers or Millennials. 

I enjoyed watching "Clifford" growing up and drinking gas station Bug Juice. I have fond memories of my iPod nano that was packed with every Beatles song imaginable, and I discovered One Direction on Grooveshark. I have a TikTok, but I’m not exactly sure how to post on it, so I resort to doom scrolling.

But being defined by a generation is more than just specific dates and avocado toast. It draws from the circumstances going on during your lifetime and your upbringing.

Strauss and Howe’s generational theory includes the archetypes that align with each sector. Gen X are Nomads, Millennials are Heroes, and Zoomers are the Artist archetype. Each generation is an inverse to the one that raised them.

For example, Gen X kids were given exorbitant amounts of freedom. Because of this, Gen X parents turned around and raised their kids (Gen Z) in an overprotective manner. 

According to Strauss and Howe, the difference between Millennials (Heroes) and Gen Z (Artists) is that Heroes come of age during a crisis, and play a major role in resolving it as achievement-oriented adults. In contrast, Artists are too young to do anything about it. 

My generation is growing up in a crisis. The 2008 financial catastrophe continued with a pandemic, polarization of basic human rights issues and a climate crisis. 

(You may be a Zillennial if you are living through the pandemic AND you knew about the 2008 financial crisis, but weren’t able to do anything about it. You may also be eligible for mental and emotional compensation).

Similar to the Silent Generation, which was shaped by World War II and the Great Depression, Gen Z has characteristics of a suffocating coming of age, strong empathy and an indecisive and sensitive nature.

In an article for Forbes, Howe writes about how Gen Z is shaped by overprotection and isolation. 

“We conducted an online contest in 2006 to name the generation coming after the Millennials,” Howe wrote. “Homeland Generation became the ultimate winner, apparently because the decade of the 2000s was marked by 9/11, the War on Terror, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and a sense that the 'homeland' was no longer safe.” 

Howe goes on to write, “The word also fits since this generation of children is literally kept more at 'home' than any earlier generation.” 

This hits home — literally — since I’m writing this piece from the comfort of my couch for my school newspaper, and I’ve yet to have the pleasure of visiting the office in person. 

Howe was referencing the “protective, hands-on child-raising style of Gen-X parents,” but it’s a dark irony that my generation is also currently growing up in pandemic-induced isolation. 

The culmination of these experiences leads to a generation of many Artists that identify as progressive and humanitarian. A factor to living through something horrible is you can become more empathetic and in tune with the suffering of others. 

As a generation, we aren’t just growing up against a backdrop of a crisis — our whole lives have been fundamentally impacted as we live through it. We are trying to figure life out and decide what our course of action will be when things calm down. 

It doesn’t feel like we have a lot of authority right now. Some days, it seems hopeless, but the beauty of Gen Z is that we don’t shy away from hardship. 

We have proved that we can be resilient, and as Artists, we are equipped to make beauty out of the pain. We have turned to what we can control — creating a sense of community and fighting for those that do not have a voice. 

Our time will come. For now, we have to sow the seeds of a new world that we will help create. 


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