With the oldest millennials turning 40 this year, Generation Z will soon bear the brunt of intergenerational loathing. Just as other generations stereotyped millennials for loving avocados and participation trophies, being unable to afford a house (Buzzfeed, 2018) and for “killing” all kinds of products (Business Insider, 2020), so too must they criticize the newest generation of adults. But while the popular digs at millennials may have been creative (avocado slander is always in), they were not nearly as vitriolic as the sentiments fired at Gen Z. On the surface, some of the criticism appears more akin to what millennials faced––a dubious article posted to LinkedIn from 2019 asserts: “Gen Z’ers. They have the attention span of a goldfish and suck the life out of any business without a winning online strategy.” On the other hand an article in the New York Post from 2021 argues that “Gen Z is made of zombies — less educated, more depressed, without values.” These sentiments may be false, but unless Americans work to counter these narratives, Gen Z can expect this unfair characterization to continue.
To start off, Gen Zers are not zombies. Generation Z is shaping up to be the most educated generation in American history, despite entering the workforce at lower rates than previous generations (Yahoo Finance, 2021). Generation Z isn’t going to college to get jobs; they’re going to college to become educated. And while it is true that Gen Z as a whole tends to report being less mentally healthy than other generations, this ignores the fact that they are also more likely to report any concerns about their mental health (American Psychological Association, 2019). Based on these findings, it’s possible that a higher rate of depression among members of Gen Z does not necessarily signal that this generation suffers from more mental health issues. Even if Gen Z does have poor mental wellbeing, three of their main causes for increased stress and depression are mass shootings, climate change and social media usage, all of which have only permeated the American consciousness over the past 20 years. Finally, the claim that Generation Z lacks morality; Gen Z may have waning faith in organized religion, but being religious does not equate to having no values, as evidenced by the causes they support. Gen Z has made consistent efforts to be climate conscious during their time on college campuses and plan their future careers around sustainability (The Guardian, 2021). While I readily admit my attention span may be lacking (although I like to think myself better than a goldfish), the idea that Gen Z consists entirely of zombies is patently absurd.
These frustrations become even more irritating because “articles” published by newspapers like The New York Post ignore or trivialize the challenges Gen Z faces. Rather than shame a generation for their struggle with mental health, would it not be better to offer sympathy and question how this issue arose? The total ignorance of the challenges Gen Z faces is also telling. Gen Z and future generations will bear the brunt of any failures to combat climate change—a problem that humans have consistently ignored for over half a century—not to mention, the pandemic and extreme political polarization. With this in mind it’s a miracle Gen Z has not turned into uncaring zombies. The oldest member of Gen Z is 24, but reading commentaries on this generation it would seem like they are 50—until they reach that age, the public really ought to cut Gen Z a little slack; this generation has a long way to go until its criticism is justified.