Our snowflake generation... or the guinea pig revolution?

Our snowflake generation... or the guinea pig revolution?
Date10th May 2021AuthorGuest AuthorCategoriesStudent Life

A few years ago now, in discussion with some colleagues, we made a conscious decision to change the title of a particular enrichment offer at my sixth form from “Raising Aspirations” to “Realising Aspirations”. We were very conscious of the outgoing name alluding to the notion that our young people don’t possess aspirations and that it is incumbent upon us to raise these within them. It felt patronising to assume that these aspirations were never there; indeed, the new programme title aligns much more closely with what the scheme actually realises - fostering, nurturing and assisting our young people to achieve, in spite of any barriers, the aspirations they already had for themselves.

An avid radio listener, I’m constantly perplexed by this cliché that is banded around the airways of our “lost generation” who, more recently due to Covid, and before that the social media revolution, are portrayed as young people who immerse themselves in an anti-social state, often spending long periods of time in their bedrooms with nothing more than their smartphones for company.  This group are also often labelled with the cruel notion of being a “snowflake generation”. This jibe perpetuates the idea that this decade’s young people perceive themselves to be special, unique, vulnerable, and sensitive to external pressures that society throws at them; that they have no resilience or methods of defence against the harsh pressures of everyday modern society.

For me, this notion of a lack of resilience is frustrating and annoying. Similarly to our old enrichment programme title, I get angry and defensive about the opinion that our young people possess no resilience, and also that it is an all-encompassing antibiotic, a cure for everything, the greatest thing since penicillin!  If so, let’s ensure, when the vaccine roll-out hits our young people in the months to come, that an extra dose of the all-empowering “resilience” can be added and jabbed into every young person’s arm, for we’re sure they possess none of it already.  Yet who are we to accuse our young people of having no resilience?  Remind yourself of the number of times you’ve heard the words “I wouldn’t be a teenager these days at no price”; and yet, in the same breath, we are often quick to berate our young people for being defenceless against the constant wave of challenges and adversities that they need to overcome.  

Instead, do we not need to take a step back and reflect upon the reality of the world our young people are living in, where their immediate access to social media means they are constantly judged, appraised, vetted and rebuked? When at the swipe of a screen, they open themselves up to criticism and ridicule? When, at a national press conference last year, their whole structure, social life, education and often their lifelines were taken away from them, albeit for totally the right reasons, but taken away nonetheless? I recoil when I hear of “this generation Z” being compared (less favourably normally) with those of the past. There is no generation that we can compare this to, no past that we can reflect upon, no direct comparison that we can draw conclusions with. Don’t compare this generation to others that have had to overcome adversity. It’s not right to do so, and there are no “like for likes”.  The reality is each generation has its own demons to overcome, and to equate them to others is unhelpful and disrespects our young people.      

On a personal and reflective note, when I see my beautiful, clever, articulate, witty daughter scrolling through endless filtered, doctored, enhanced images of perceived beauty online, my heart sinks.  When I observe her pouting for yet another image that she’ll also filter and share with countless unknown, uncaring critics, only later for it to be removed due to her dissatisfaction at the number of likes or acknowledgments, my heart aches.  Yet the scars on her arms are not shared, enhanced, filtered, “liked”.  They are, for me at least, the reminders of the painful indictment of a generation of “guinea pigs” for whom we will not know the full impact of this period of time for many years to come.  In reality, history will know the ravages put upon them and the amazing resilience they actually demonstrated.  

I’ve composed this in complete understanding that I do not have the answers, but reassured that as practitioners, we will always seek to foster the feelings of self-worth in our young people and will continue to do so for generation Z, but also A, B, C……..

I’ve written this blog in complete acknowledgement and awe of the writer and broadcaster Rhidian Brook and Bishop Richard Harries, whose amazing and insightful contributions to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, in part, inspired me to write this blog.  And finally, my most important inspirations: my daughter, my son and all the amazing young people I have the privilege of working with – thank you for inspiring me every day.   

The author is an assistant principal in a sixth form college.

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