We often talk about the pandemic in terms of generations. The Boomers are most vulnerable to succumbing to the virus. Generation X carries high financial burdens as they are most likely to have mortgages and kids still at home. We blame the spike in COVID-19 cases on Millennials, yet they make up the largest part of a workforce suffering an 11% unemployment rate.
But no one is talking about Gen Z.
My daughter is Gen Z. She’s 16 years old and a junior in high school. And she’s crashing. Hard.
Not since the Great Depression has our country been so rocked to the core of it’s being. Of course, back then, the impact on kids was minimal. The world isn’t like it is now. The adults carried the burden of a massive financial crisis but, for kids, life seemed normal. They could still do basic things like see friends and go to school. This doesn’t exist for my daughter right now.
I never had to endure anything that created a major external influence on my childhood. Sure, I remember growing up with an absurd amount of fear of Russia. I had no idea why I was afraid of Russia, it was just something that loomed out there but never really affected us. That’s about all the strife I remember in my life as a kid.
This pandemic though, it’s affecting Gen Z in ways we can’t begin to understand. We need to be aware of that.
My greatest concern stems from the fact that my daughter is in the most formative years when it comes to personal development. She’s vulnerable to outside influences. These years are critical and there is nothing normal about the world.
She’s watching as her dreams fly out the window. It’s now very unlikely that she’ll get to play volleyball in the fall. It brings her immense joy and there is going to be a gaping hole where there was once pride and camaraderie. These aren’t feelings she can just create on her own.
She’s realistic about her dreams. All she’d like is the chance to play sports for a couple of years at the community college level and let that pay for her school so she doesn’t have to take out a student loan to pay for what I can’t. Seeing the likelihood of this happening, as training and competing goes by the wayside, is making her anxious and depressed.
It’s easy for her to be annoyed with what she sees around her. Our state has decimated the idea of flattening the curve and we’re now seeing four times the number of cases each day that we did when this whole thing started three months ago.
In all the data, her age group is the smallest representation of cases. Teenagers aren’t spreading this virus. She knows she is stuck at home for months because adults, the people our kids look to as example of how to be, can’t behave themselves.
We’re why they can’t have nice things. This breeds resentment. And, frankly, the example we’ve set for Gen Z sucks.
What they have going for them is that they’re masters at social distancing because they have technology on their side.
My daughter lives solely in a digital world. Her laptop is open all day long with someone on the other side of the connection. It’s all she’s got. TikToks on her phone, video calls with friends, and Dateline with her mom is all she has.
I have hope though. Some good has got to come from all of this and I see her trying to find it whether she realizes she’s doing it or not. My daughter is exceptionally strong and resilient. She’s doing the best she can right now. She’s adjusting in beautiful ways.
I see her starved for human interaction. Last week, I asked her to take out the trash and she came back in the house 15 minutes later. When I asked her what she was doing, she said she was talking to Larry, the older gentleman who lives across the street, who spends every afternoon sweeping the dry pods that fall off his mesquite tree from the street.
She said they had a nice talk. He told her that he likes to keep the street in the neighborhood looking nice in case anyone has visitors.
“Mom. Seriously. Like, how absolutely adorable is that?” She offered to help him the next time he was out there.
This is the strength of our kids. The pride that she takes in her sports, that is missing in her life, just manifested itself in keeping our neighborhood pretty.
Out of hardship comes tenacity. Every day is either beauty or despair for her. We might as well flip a coin each morning to see what it’s going to be.
I know the only thing I can do to help her is to open conversations, let her process life, let her feel anger and resentment, and understand that there will be disembodied voices of teenagers coming out of her computer at all hours of the day.
I know she’ll be fine. I just wish she didn’t have to go through this. I wish she could have said goodbye to my grandmother when the virus took her from us in May. I wish she could see her grandmother. I wish she had just a little taste of normal. She deserves that and I don’t know when it’s coming back.