Survivors of the massacre that killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. created the #NeverAgain movement, sparking thousands of students to walk out of school in protest for stricter gun regulation. With the same passion and urgency to make a difference in seemingly helpless times, environmental activist Greta Thunberg grew her one-person school strike outside the Swedish parliament into a global climate movement demanding action against climate change. Time after time, members of Gen Z take the first step towards solutions when those in power turn a blind eye to prominent problems.
Agents of change, leaders of tomorrow, and changemakers are only a few of the many labels afforded to Gen Z. While these titles for a young generation expected to “save the world” may seem innocuous, they are, in fact, dangerous and misleading.
When members of Gen Z feel obligated to make a great difference in the world, their idea of what constitutes success becomes extremely flawed. Suddenly, achieving overwhelming, unrealistic goals such as advancing gender equality, eradicating racism, and resolving homelessness equates to living a happy, fulfilling life.
In 2018, Rayne Fisher-Quann organized a movement where tens of thousands of Ontario students walked out of classrooms in protest against the provincial government’s decision to revoke a modernized version of the sex-ed curriculum.
Fisher-Quann, however, would not have been able to gather a large handful of students if it were not for Instagram, a social media platform used by about seven-in-ten U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 (72%). The availability of the internet and social media heavily contributes to members of Gen Z feeling responsible to make a significant change in the world from a young age.
Compared to other generations, Gen Z engages in social media platforms the most. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 90% of those aged 13-17 use social media platforms.
Unsurprisingly, social media’s prominent presence today has led to the creation of countless movements. According to the Pew Research Center, “eight-in-ten Americans say social media platforms are very (31%) or somewhat (49%) effective for raising public awareness about political or social issues […] A similar share (77%) believes these platforms are at least somewhat effective for creating sustained social movements.”
Yet, the rise of activism as a result of social media is not the only way in which social media has influenced Gen Z to become engaged in political issues early on. High voter turnout rates among members of Gen Z are directly tied to social media use.
“Anyone who is trying to reach the younger generation of voters is doing the majority of that effort through social media channels,” explained Jason Morgese, founder of Leavemark, an ad-free data storage social platform, to Forbes.
“Social media is where they find their political news and the main platform from which they share ideas,” added Morgese. “With the younger generation becoming more politically involved and mistrusting mainstream platforms, social media has proven to be a place for opinion sharing amongst peers and for emerging media platforms to gain traction and reach new audiences.”
Gen Z’s social awareness has made them more inclined than any other generation to go beyond simply recognizing significant issues – they want and feel the need to be part of the change.
However, when members of Gen Z feel as though they are the only hope – that it is solely up to them to better the world around them – they will inevitably fail without others’ help. While Gen Z’s willingness and drive to make a difference in the world is admirable, what role are other generations including baby boomers and Gen Xers playing? This is where the issue lies.
With Gen Z’s heavily involved in activism, older generations feel comfortable simply observing rather than participating and advancing their younger counterparts’ efforts. However, social change cannot successfully occur with individuals standing on the sidelines, waiting for others to do what is necessary. By avoiding responsibility and suggesting that change can only happen in the future, older generations place high expectations on Gen Z.
Change will never occur if some take a step forward while others take a step back.
Along with remaining thoroughly committed to combating the most difficult of problems, Gen Z holds a great deal of hope for the future. According to a new poll from MTV and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 66% of Gen Z and 63% of millennial Americans believe their generation is motivated to make positive change, compared with 56% of Gen X Americans. Gen Z and millennial Americans are also more likely than Generation X to feel they can impact the actions of the government, with 44% of Gen Z and 42% of millennials saying they can, compared with only 31% of Gen X.
Gen Z seems to be different than most generations. Having endured several national crises, Gen Z, the youngest generation, remains resilient and ready to be part of the change. Yet, is it reasonable to think that one generation has the ability to eliminate all the pressing issues in the status quo? One person cannot be responsible for completely changing the world for the better – and one generation cannot be either.
This is not to say that Gen Z cannot be leaders in sparking change. Rather, other generations, along with Gen Z, must be involved in such endeavors. Every individual, every community, every generation, and the world as a whole, are responsible for recognizing and tackling the world’s most urgent issues.
Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States, has said, “People in every generation should be part of the movement to demand change quickly.” Each generation, although different, has one thing in common: the understood duty to leave the world a better place than they found it.