New York Times columnist David Brooks earlier this month wrote a piece about “learning what hardship has to teach us,” headlining the piece “The age of coddling is over.” Brooks, a Baby Boomer, echoed the opinions of many in his generation, choosing to peg the ongoing pandemic and impending recession to his belief that millennials and members of Generation Z have not experienced true hardship until now.
Brooks claims that “safetyism,” the belief that safety is more important than anything else, has led to overprotective parents that raise weak and sheltered children. He highlights higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicide among young people as evidence that parents are unable to teach their children how to function in the world. He feels that the hardship induced by coronavirus will help shape young people into stronger versions of themselves and curb “safetyism.” But Brooks’ vague descriptions of trivial examples of “coddling” young people is frankly offensive to all of the hardships that younger generations have endured.
If hardship shapes character, like Brooks says, then he needs to educate himself on what Gen Z and millennials have lived through. Growing up during multiple national crises, and now a pandemic, has shaped and continues to shapes how these generations view the world and what they want to do with it.
Both generations have lived through 9/11, three or four recessions, endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, near-routine mass school shootings and a worsening climate. The mental health issues younger people face are not caused by coddling. If anything, they’re caused by the serious issues younger generations have faced and will continue to deal with their entire lives. Young people are anything but coddled, and suggesting otherwise demonstrates Brooks’ ignorance.
Boomers look at the younger generation and blame their poor economic prospects and lack of money on $5 Starbucks coffee and $15 avocado toast. But the reality is the younger generation is trying to make a living in the aftermath of the Great Recession, which caused a boom in student loan debt as the job market collapsed, and in an economy ruined by Baby Boomer politicians. On top of that, the pandemic is leading to increased economic insecurity, job loss, a looming recession and the potential destruction of future job markets.
Millennials and Gen Z have also never experienced an America not at war. We have been at war in Afghanistan since 1999, and many grew up during the Iraq war between 2003 and 2011. And yet older generations seem perplexed when young people are reported to be less patriotic than former generations. They have witnessed what are seen as pointless wars for their entire lives: one war based on lies about weapons of mass destruction and another that was revealed to be a failure that we were misled about. The younger generations are used as pawns to fight the wars that those in D.C. deemed politically important. Now, they question the systems of power that led them there.
Let’s not forget that millennials and Gen Z have grown up with the constant threat of school shootings. Some millennials and members of Gen Z were in school during what is considered the first major school shooting in the United States at Columbine High School in 1999. Since then, there have been school shootings every year until March, when schools closed due to the coronavirus. Because schools closed, last month was the first March without a school shooting since 2002. And yet, despite their peers being shot and killed at school, millennials and Gen Z have seen no substantive gun control measures from older generations that hold political power. While Brooks’ and older generations have failed to act, the younger generation have been dying in schools for at least a decade. Saying the generations have been closed off to the dangers of the world is insensitive and wrong.
One of the biggest problems the younger generation is being handed from the older generation is not a tanking economy, endless wars or school shootings – it’s the climate crisis.
Members of Gen Z view climate change as the top challenge of the time. But Brooks’ generation failed on its response to the issue. As a result, the younger generation is being handed an earth suffocated by carbon pollution, increased temperatures and extreme weather like hurricanes and floods. Younger generations are and will need to deal with a crumbling Earth. They do not have the privilege to be coddled. If they were, the planet would not be able to support us when we get to be Brooks’ age.
Baby boomers like Brooks are responsible for many of the situations that millennials and Gen Z have been put in. Do not lecture millennials and Gen Z on how they have not faced real hardship. Their futures are being destroyed by older generations which do not need to deal with the consequences of their actions.
Hannah Thacker, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is the contributing opinions editor.
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