Commentary, Opinion

Young people incite progressive change—why don’t Boomers see it?

On Oct. 31, 2017, Business Insider ran a piece listing the industries and businesses which millennials had supposedly “killed,” or were in the process of killing, in the most recent decade. This article is part of a trend of baby boomer-penned thought pieces demonizing younger generations for their habits and lifestyles, and faulting them for any resulting economic decline. From BuzzFeed’s list of things millennials ended in 2016, to Business Insider’s piece on Gen Z’s shopping habits hurting traditional retailers, hordes of articles have appeared over the past few years under titles like, “Why young people are ruining (fill in the blank)?”

The stories these articles tell about young people are misleading. These pieces claim that younger generations only incite negative economic change; however, this is the wrong sort of change to be focusing on. The economic transformations that such articles lament are less important than the differences younger generations are making in other areas. In their attitudes toward important social issues, and in their unwillingness to yield to a gridlocked political system, millennials and Gen Z-ers have had increasingly powerful positive effects in areas beyond the economic sector.

In contrast, the prevailing media narrative surrounding the younger generations remains predominantly negative and rarely subtle. The supposed change these generations cause is typically portrayed with a particular set of characteristics: First, it is perceived as unintentional. Second, it is a result of their collective unwillingness to participate in certain stalwart boomer trends like beer drinking or shopping at department stores, and their general laziness. Third, this change brings with it a slew of negative consequences for everyone else.

Yet, this conception of young people is fundamentally flawed. Younger generations indeed defy the status quo, but not in the way that older generation authors persistently harp on—rather, they frequently defy the status quo to bring about positive change. Teenagers and young adults have sparked significant developments on important, long-term issues—such as gun control, climate change, and civil rights—through their activism and determination to incite progress.

For example, since the school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, in which 17 people died, student survivors from the school have held rallies and traveled to Washington D.C. to speak to lawmakers and National Rifle Association (NRA) representatives directly on gun control. On March 24, protesters in cities across Canada and the U.S. participated in the “March For Our Lives,” a focused protest to petition lawmakers to pass greater gun control measures, as a result of these students’ efforts. Hundreds of Montrealers attended the march.

Gun control is an issue that has caused partisan gridlock in the U.S. for years. Yet, the Parkland survivors have spurred media attention, inspired activism, and engaged in direct dialogue with the NRA and elected officials in ways that the U.S. hasn’t seen since the inception of the gun control debate. This is the power of youth determination. Concerns about the decrease of millenial attendance at Costco, or Gen Z’s lack of Facebook presence pale in comparison.

In addition to pushing for progressive policy, these generations also stand to inform and expand worldviews. Attitudes among the millennial generation—the world’s next leaders—bode well for the global issues society may encounter in the next 50 years. Surveys done by genForward in October 2017,  and the Pew Research Center in June 2017, show that the millennial generation’s attitudes toward issues like race and sexuality are more progressive than any previous generation’s. When Business Insider surveyed millennials in August 2017 about the issues which are most important to them, respondents cited climate change and poverty near the top of their lists.

Society should encourage and praise the efficacious attempts of young people to make a positive impact. In order to do that, the story being told about them needs to be the truth. Older generations should document the differences younger generations are making with their excitement and determination to change the world around them, rather than projecting fears about the traditions and industries that are being left in the past.

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