What does it mean to be Gen Z? Woke? Triggered? A snowflake? These are the platitudes that we are so often reduced to. In reality, we’re far more complex and multifaceted. With each year scarier than the last, there seems to be an air of impending doom. It feels like we’re hanging by a singular thread; oftentimes helpless to sew it together again. As we become increasingly aware of everything around us, I ask, what is it to come of age in a broken world?

I don’t want to fall victim to the typical ‘misunderstood teenage angst’ cliché; every generation has felt disillusionment in their youth. But, despite this, I do think we’re a generation like no other and, contrary to popular belief, we haven’t had it ‘easy’. 

The 2020s (so far) have been some of the most turbulent times in modern history. We spent our formative years in lockdown, a time for new experiences and emotional growth; only to be replaced by stress and anxiety. The pandemic meant giving up so much, and though rightfully so, it feels like there’s no compensation for the time lost. Surely, it’s not just me who feels like a 17-year-old caught in a 20-year-old’s body? Holding onto an emotional immaturity that just can’t keep up.

The youth mental health crisis has been given so little attention; it’s unsurprising Gen Z is struggling. It’s deeply frustrating when this is attributed to a ‘snowflake’ syndrome. It’s not. It’s a fundamental abandonment and neglect from those literally employed to care for us. Social media, academic pressure, grad jobs, housing markets, cost of living; the list goes on. But all these things share one thing in common; they are failing us.

As the world shifts further to the political right, and, even worse, further to a climate catastrophe; it’s difficult to feel hopeful. Even harder when our corrupt, self-serving governments act as if there are more important issues as if our future isn’t hanging in the balance. For the first time, in what I imagine is a long time, it feels like we’re not only failing to progress; we’re moving backwards.

So how do we cope with this? I think we’ve already found our answer: romanticising. ‘Romanticise your life!!’ TikTok tells us. ‘Romanticise your coffee!’ ‘Romanticise that train journey!’ ‘Romanticise the grocery shop!’ There is a growing push to recognise that we are each the protagonists of our own story. Obviously, this isn’t bad; I’m guilty of it myself. The reason behind it, however, is dismal. As the world comes crashing down around us, we’ve resorted to ‘enjoying the simple things’, looking inwards not outwards; life would simply be too overwhelming otherwise.

Navigating adolescence is hard enough, but with all these extra pressures? An exhausted and existential generation is born. Plunged into a climate crisis we didn’t cause; we’re screaming, and few are listening. But with the risk of sounding too existential, there is still hope, and largely it comes from us. Figures like Greta Thunberg, Emma Gonzalez, Malala Yousafzai; young people are paving the way for a more hopeful, happier planet. Gen Z has played a huge part in movements like #BLM and #MeToo and are hardly going to stop. Perhaps that’s what makes us so threatening.

We’ve come of age in a broken world, now it’s our turn to change it.

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