How we failed a generation: How we broke Generation Z

Over the past decade and a half, American society has made wildly poor choices that have broken a generation, all while debating whether or not actions have consequences.   

If one is simply making a prediction, Generation Z would have been top of the list in potential. Kids should be more innovative, and thanks to the internet, the playing field had been lowered where knowledge was as accessible as water. More kids wanted to go to college, and after a childhood-defining recession, the economy was on the upswing. Kids should be healthier, smoking wasn’t cool anymore, keeping up mental health was the name of the game. But instead, Generation Z deserves praise for even making it to adulthood.

By every metric, we have failed Generation Z and set them up for failure by our decisions. As someone usually listed as in-between Generation Z and Millennials, I have been fortunate enough to avoid many of the most significant disasters this generation must endure through their teenage years but have seen their repercussions firsthand. There are three significant disasters this generation will be forced to feel the brunt of.   

The largest and most infuriating of these disasters has been the inept response to the coronavirus by the United States. Enough think pieces have criticized the non-response the U.S. employed in the critical stages of the pandemic, including pieces from this author, so this piece will not go over the decisions that contributed to the dumpster fire endured through 2020. Ask yourself, who has been forced to stay home and lock down the most throughout the pandemic, two central answers appear — those living in nursing homes and the elderly, and teenagers, particularly those in high school. We reopened office buildings to adults with preexisting conditions while remote work is increasingly popular among grownups. 

Despite every CDC recommendation, we reopened bars and clubs, reopened NFL games, many college campuses, and reopened indoor dining. Despite having evidence to suggest kids and teenagers were largely immune to COVID-19 in the late summer of 2020, all of those groups got green or yellow lights while teenagers were asked to stay home. This was a mistake that will haunt us for the next decade. Online education and isolation have been suffocating for these students. Not only have they suffered by receiving an education that struggles with ineffectiveness in the best of circumstances, but the social isolation they have endured in these formative years is not something replaceable. We took away graduations, proms, summer camps, sports and just seeing their friends daily. We ripped the entire social fabric of what it means to be a teenager away without asking, and many of it without good reason.

Meanwhile, their parents went to work, and their older siblings at college went to the bars. The mental health side effects cannot be overstated. Depression, anxiety, loneliness, despair, and hopelessness were all high among Generation Z before the pandemic. Imagine what it is now.   

Before the pandemic, we created a toxic political climate immune to the winds of change and radiating a foul stench of vitriol that can be smelled blocks away from the nearest white pride rally.

Generation Z has grown up with conspiracy theories undermining the most essential facets of our government. Even with the most charismatic President in a generation, who inherited an economy in collapse and a country in the palm of his hands, he couldn’t avoid partisan hard-lining and obstructionism. This generation was up close and personal to the political wasteland we created. We taught Gen-Z to be activists, to fight injustice, and spot corruption, and then fought them while they did. 

The result leads to a youth resentful of their adult counterparts who symbolize a block in the change they see needed across the political spectrum. If the upcoming generations don’t respect the institutions or the adults who were in them, our democracy is at risk of falling apart. 

The internet is the final institution that failed Generation Z. The internet and social media are only now taming themselves and trying to leave behind its reputation as the wild west of society. 

Social media may be the single biggest destroyer of Generation Z. Instagram’s decision to take away how many likes you can see in the photo is the right decision. Kids on these apps were constantly subjugated to compare themselves to their peers and influencers. 

Combined with the late 2000s and early 2010’s epidemic of cyberbullying, this combination proved to be fatal for some. Amanda Todd is a notable and early example, while thousands of others marking memorials in their high schools each year. Some schools chose to ignore them to move on, and some add a rock to a garden in remembrance. Instead of structural change, self-introspection, and additional support — our nation adds rocks to gardens in remembrance.   

Generation Z deserves an apology from almost all of us. If you are ever upset with this young generation, remember we made them this way.       

Tyler Spence can be contacted at [email protected]