By Jamie Lindsey
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of today’s teenagers? Tide Pods? Trendy dance moves? Snapchatting everything? That is a lot of peoples’ attitude towards teenagers today. Fortunately, my profession allows me to see more than that in young kids. And let me tell you, I see such great potential in Generation Z.
Generation Z — born 1996 to 2010 — is a generation of diverse, unique and creative individuals. I understand that a lot of people can’t get past the tide pods trend. Honestly Gen Zers, you’re better than that. Tide pods? Really? I mean, despite the hiccups with the Gen Z kids, and some obvious room for improvement, I think that millennials and generations before us tend to underestimate these young people.
I have been a Jr. High/High School Speech & Debate teacher for four years and about to start my fifth. I have had first-hand experience with these kids over the years, and they are not a group to be underestimated.
The most recent example of the power of this generation are the Parkland High School students that organized a nationwide march against gun policies. Our teenagers, which keep in mind, are the next wave of new voters in our country, used their platforms, their experiences, and their knowledge to organize a nationwide march and speak to tens of thousands of people about gun policies. What was the biggest response from older generations? “They don’t know what they are talking about.”
I’m sorry…what? Do people really think that Gen Zers don’t understand how our political system works? I have sophomores in high school that understand politics better than most adults. During debate season, my students debate topics like Brexit, North Korea, Russian Interference, International Scandals: Geopolitics. What I have seen from this generation is determination, adaptability, and acceptance. Now, I understand that not everyone in this generation can be defined as this, however I am sharing my personal experience.
Whether it’s school work, social media followers, or learning new dance moves, the determination that this group of people have is insurmountable. I feel like Gen Z understands the influence they can have on their future and the future of the country. Everyday, teenagers are going viral on social media for whatever reason. For adults that don’t think this is a big deal, please think again. The influence of social media and our society is vital and ever growing. Millennials grew up watching social media be created right in front of them. Gen Zers already had the influence of social media while growing up. Gen Zers have already started networking and making connections. A lot of them are determined, in whatever way, to achieve what they want to achieve. Don’t underestimate that determination. If you tell them they can’t, they more than likely will prove you wrong.
Like most other generations, Gen Zers are, and will be, very adaptable. This group of people comprehends and understands what is going on with our political system and around the world. Honestly, with our political system what it is, we all have to be adaptable. However, this generation of new voters will be adaptable to what is best for not only our country, but what is going to be best for them personally. College tuition is at an all-time high in our country, and for those Gen Zers that want to attend college, they have to be adaptable to attend college. Education is becoming more and more expensive, and I am seeing more and more Gen Zers work to save for tuition to avoid going into debt. According to USAToday, in-state college tuition is now about $9,500 per year. This is about $2,500 more to attend college than it was when I graduated just five years ago.
Within this generation, I have seen bullying and cyberbullying. That is going to happen in every generation. However, I have seen acceptance of others in ways I could not explain. I have witnessed my students be open to each other and each other’s ideas. Luckily, since I teach debate, one concept I try to get through to my kids is respecting each other’s opinions, even if they disagree. To see kids accept others of different races, sexual orientation, and political ideology is truly an amazing thing. Watching thousands of students come together to fight for a common issue is inspiring. I do not remember one time when I was in high school that my schoolmates wanted to organize a protest or walk-out. Now we see it every year, or every time there is a tragedy or policy that needs to be changed. We are witnessing Gen Zers listen to and accept ideas that will actually help them create change. If you aren’t paying attention to these kids, you should be.
As a millennial, it’s hard to grasp some of the concepts, vocabulary, and trends of the Gen Zers. However, the things that I have seen in this generation are truly going to benefit our society. I am lucky, truly, to have gotten to know people from this generation. If it was not my job to teach them, I would not get the pleasure of knowing these kids. My life has changed. My job as a teacher is to inspire, but these kids inspire me everyday.
Before you judge a Gen Zer again, please remember: snapchat and dance trends are not the only thing they are good at. My advice: get to know them. Ask them questions. They are not incompetent, and they may surprise you. So millennials, you know how we hate when baby boomers mess up the economy and then blame us for being lazy when we work two jobs and eat ramen for dinner every night? Let’s not do that for the next generation. Let’s be an inspiration to them, and allow them to inspire you.