Recently, one of my daughters shared a Tic-Tock video in our family group chat that caused quit a lot of debate. The video began with a middle-aged woman asking what’s wrong with 18–25-year-olds today, in not so nice language. Immediately after her question is posed, a woman identifying herself as a psychologist gives a very long reason as to why Gen Z has something “wrong with them.”
The psychologist goes through every possible scenario except one. It’s a lengthy list, and I can see why that generation was quick to share and point out that this explains why they are struggling. I don’t dispute that they’ve gone through a lot. I truly sympathize with them, in fact I empathize with them. After all, my generation and all previous ones had similar experiences.
“Gen Z is the first generation in a long time truly growing up feeling like they’re not safe.” She points out that this is the first generation that cannot escape bullying. I do agree. Social media and cell phone use and abuse are harming younger generations. She is not wrong, and I will not argue. But there’s more…
“They were exposed to 9/11 as kids.” Eh, not really. Most of them were not born, and the few who were alive were babies and toddlers too young to understand and remember. Yet, the other generations lived that day, and we lived it for more than a day. We also lived the 10 years prior to that when we watched our peers leave college and jobs to go to Iraq. We watched the world shift from World War to Soviet domination to horrific acts of terror around the globe. We saw more than one World Trade Center Bombing, the military barracks bombings in Beirut, the Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, and the Benghazi massacre. We lived through the fear of shoe bombs on airplanes and bioterrorism threats by crop-dusters and the terror of anthrax in our mail.
“They grew up constantly hearing about mass shootings at schools…” As a parent, I get this. How often did I pray for my children’s safety when they left for school (especially during those lockdowns when a threat had been made), and how often do I still sit in church and think, anyone could come in at any time and take us all out? It’s a constant fear, but it’s not limited to Gen Z.
Past generations have grown up with fear as part of their daily lives. We grew up with nuclear war scenarios played out in every movie and every cautionary documentary. I remember watching The Day After and believing nobody in my generation would live long enough to graduate from high school. It was a very real and terrifying threat that I’ve heard young people today say was just a threat and not at all traumatizing. Believe me, it was traumatizing when you were living it.
|This doesn’t even touch on the experiences of older generations who, instead of active shooter drills, went through air-raid drills and the Bay of Pigs incident. And these don’t come close to the terror or living in London during the Blitz in WWII. Just look at Ukraine at this very moment!
“They witness politicians choosing money over their safety.” I hate to tell you, but this isn’t anything new. It’s been happening since long before The United States was even a spark of an idea. Let’s recall the role of corrupt politics in the Fall of the Roman Empire, the Medieval Times, the Medici Reign, the Reign of Terror,Tammany Hall and Teapot Dome in the late 17- and 1800s. Don’t even get me started on the 20th Century politicians.
Gen Z “watched people die because a worldwide pandemic was politicized.” Perhaps, they witnessed a pandemic take victims because that’s what pandemics do. Do I really need to list all the world’s pandemics and the amount of people who died? And how about the AIDS epidemic? In the 1980s, when little to nothing was known or understood about the virus, and there was no medicine to treat it, everyone lived in fear of contracting it. The fear played out in heart-breaking situations like the story of Ryan White, a little boy painfully ostracized because he had a disease nobody understood.
I find it interesting that she worded one explanation for Gen Z behavior as “Gen Z is either experiencing themselves or watching people that they love have their rights stripped away all because another person’s religion doesn’t approve of their existence.” Well, let’s talk about the millions upon millions of babies who have been killed because another person does approve of or desire their existence. On second thought, that would take way too long to talk about here when I’ve yet to get to the real problem.
“Gen Z is the first generation to have incurred this much debt with little to no way out of it.” Let me say right here, I am okay with my children being helped with their loans. I’ve heard every argument there is, and I still remain firm in my belief that the loan process is criminal. However, I do know that many Americans lived through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and had greater debt (statistically speaking) and more economic issues than college graduates today.
“They are the first generation to accept the idea of getting help and support from mental health services.” This I applaud. This is needed. This is something for which we should all be grateful. However, mental health services aren’t getting to the main root of the problem in many cases. I’ve had discussions with Gen Z adults who think that mental health solutions are band aids for bigger problems. That topic would take far too much time to cover here. The bottom line on this is that mental health services only help if they tackle the underlying issues rather than the short-term fixes that may lead to more mental health breakdowns in the long run.
Every generation has its crosses to bear. We all experience trauma on both personal and global levels. We all have to deal with a cruel world and a host of atrocities in our lives, in our communities, and in our world. But there is one area that this woman has failed to address, and I firmly believe that it’s the biggest factor in what is going “wrong” with today’s youth. It’s the root of bullying. It is the cause and strengthening of all fear. It’s the heart of intolerance and, it has been argued, a source of mental health decline.
The lack of faith is a growing and debilitating disease taking over the world, more harmful than terrorism or AIDS or the pandemic. It is killing our children and ruining our societies.
More than 1/3 of Gen Z identifies as Religiously Unaffiliated. They are losing or have lost their religious identity and trust in God. They don’t have the belief and, more importantly, the hope in the Resurrection. And what’s worse, it is our parents’ and our generation’s fault.
A March 2022 survey, The Survey Center on American Life, found that “The parents of millennials and Generation Z did less to encourage regular participation in formal worship services and model religious behaviors in their children than had previous generations. Many childhood religious activities that were once common, such as saying grace, have become more of the exception than the norm.”
||The study further found that “Americans who regularly attend services are far more engaged in community life than are those who seldom or never attend religious services.” Why is this important? Because being engaged in community life is important. It’s a way to interact in person, in real time, with real people. It’s not virtual reality, and it’s not talking on a device. It’s spending time with people, being outdoors, being exposed to healthy experiences, and feeling a sense of belonging. Furthermore, “Gen Z Is less Llkely to have participated in religious services growing up” or to even have been exposed to scripture.
My generation identified as 25% Catholic. Gen Z identifies as 8% Catholic and 34% unaffiliated, which includes identifying as atheist or agnostic (18%).
Most Gen Z kids have never said grace before a meal. This is due to another problem altogether, but one that I feel is related. “Seventy-six percent of baby boomers say they had ‘meals together as a family’ every day when they were growing up, an experience shared by less than half (46 percent) of millennials and only 38 percent of Generation Z.” Not sharing meals together is a symptom of a bigger problem – not going to Mass together. “Among baby boomers who were raised Catholic, 71 percent say they attended church at least once a week with their families. Only about half (51 percent) of millennials raised in Catholic households report attending weekly church services as a family.”
What I’m trying to get across is that the problem goes much deeper and is more alarming than the entire list the psychologist in the video threw at us. Gen Z has no roots. They have no grounding in faith or family or their very identities. They don’t know who they are or what they want or how they should act or react because God has been all but eliminated from their lives. We hear everyday that our youth is having identities crises like never seen before. How can that be a surprise to anyone?
|We can only truly define or know ourselves once we know who the person is that Christ defines us to be. We see this in the beautiful exchange between Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16:15-18. After Peter identifies Christ as the Messiah, Jesus tells Peter, "“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church." Peter was Simon, a fisherman, a nobody in the eyes of the world until he saw who he truly was and what his place is in God's plan. We must know God and His plan for us in order to know ourselves.
We were all created by the will of God. We all have a plan and a purpose according to the Divine Purpose. We are all special, unique individuals in God’s eyes, and He knows what He has planned for us. So many have forgotten the words said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” (Jeremiah 1:5). These words are meant for all of us.
Everyone has a place in God’s plan, but we can’t see our place if we don’t know who we are or, more importantly, who God is. God wants us to be happy. He wants us to be prosperous. He desires a life of love and peace and hope for everyone. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
Prior generations had that hope. Even when all looked bleak and scary, they had a belief that all would be well. They worked hard to be prosperous and sought their place in the Story of Salvation. We have taken this hope away from our youth. I pray that it isn’t too late to find a way to give it back.