How to Understand Generational Conflicts
“What’s up with kids these days?”
The idea that kids have life easier than their predecessors is not new, and one can hardly blame the experienced for their skepticism. They found success without the luxuries of modern life. However, when one follows this common sense into a fear or distrust of technology, it becomes irrational.
Being afraid or distrustful of the things that kids do these days has a name. Published sociologist David Finkelhor coined the term “juvenoia” which means “an exaggerated fear of the things that influence kids these days” (Finkelhor). Every generation has been afraid in some capacity of the changes that follow technological and societal advancement. Assuming, for a moment, that this fear is not unfounded, it can be true that technology is both helpful and harmful.
Look at cell phones, for instance; they clearly revolutionized communications, from landlines to cell phones and smart phones. Smart phones, in particular, allow one to carry the full functionality of a desktop computer in their pockets. Thus cell phones are clearly beneficial to society, yet they are also continually under scrutiny for allowing third parties and government agencies to access information that could be seen as damaging to an individual’s privacy.
In addition, the easy access to pornographic content through a smartphone means that young children are more commonly exposed to pornography and predators. Keeping in mind that this has always been a present danger to children, the invention of commonplace and private pocket technologies has upsides and downsides. Perhaps it is not as unreasonable to be afraid of the forward marching of technology and the things that influence ‘kids these days’ as we might expect. At the very least, these issues should be approached cautiously.
As children grow out of innocence, however, the things that influence them begin to change. A parent can decide what movies to show their young child, what music they ought or ought not listen to, and what sort of friends they ought to keep. But as children enter into adolescence, they begin to move out of their parents realm of control. From this point forward, children, teenagers, and young adults must see the world around them, formulate their ideas, their opinions, their beliefs, and their morals. In some cases, their parents help create these ideas. In other cases, they make these decisions themselves. Every human should have the right to their own ideas and opinions, however, there should always be room for an opposing point of view.
The question remains, that if the child’s parent does not help to cultivate the ideas and values that are conducive to a healthy ego, where does the child find these ideas? Does music offer moral wisdom and the power of discernment? Do wisdom and discernment even matter today, or are they words from a bygone era, full of rules and systematic oppression? Stanford Professor William Damon wrote in his book Greater Expectations: Overcoming the Culture of Indulgence in America’s Homes and Schools:
“But I am convinced that, at its core, the predicament that has beset today’s youth is one problem and not several. A bit more precisely, it is one interconnected web of problems that define a common pattern. A term that I used to capture the interconnected web is ‘demoralization.’ To use the term for this purpose, I draw on both the words to related meanings: a loss of moral standards and a debilitating lack of spirit” (Damon xiii-xiv).
It is the opinion of many that society is becoming increasingly divorced from old traditional morality and ideas. This is both celebrated and mourned, with a growing division between the proponents of old fashioned morality and the dissenters thereof. A look at popular culture today gives the impression that old fashioned morality has been thoroughly undone. Therefore, the greater issue with juvenoia is not “what is technology doing to young kids,” but instead “how is our society guiding children today, and is it a sufficient replacement for the parents who are increasingly less involved with their development of ideas and values.”
It is here that the scope of this article begins. A look at this generation would suggest that, in its current form, society is not a suitable replacement for parental guidance. The past three generations have matured, and have a heavy hand to play in societal evolution. This upcoming young generation, the Centennial Generation, is known as Generation Z.
Centennials are remarkable for several reasons. Most significantly, they have unprecedented levels of depression, higher than their older cousins. Generational researcher Jean Twenge stated in an interview with The Atlantic that this generation’s depression manifests in antisocial gatherings and technology addiction. Teenagers today are less likely to hang out with friends, slower to get their driver’s licenses, less likely to enter into a long-term dating relationship, more likely to feel lonely, and more susceptible to depression.
This increase in depression rates illustrates one reason why ideologically stranding impressionable adolescents and teenagers is detrimental. Despite its diversity, the upcoming generation generally agrees that it’s future is bleak and dull at best. The reasons for this can be categorized into three contributing factors: historical, socio-political, and medical.
Historically, generations have always been different from one another. They have built upon each other, and found the previous generation to be dull. The generation cycle begins with the ‘greatest generation,’ also known as The traditionalists, who were the middle aged adults at the end of WWII, and largely in control of the world at that time. The traditionalists are remembered for having Judeo-Christian morals and values. Wholesomeness, family first, abstinence before marriage, and responsible budgeting are all characteristics of the greatest generation.
Following the traditionalists were the Baby Boomers. Young adults returning from WWII, the first half of the Baby Boomer generation proceeded to increase the US population dramatically. The other half of the Baby Boomer generation, those too young to fight in the war, dominated the 60s. This part of the generational cycle saw rebellion from the ideas of the traditionalists. Thus, psychedelic culture and hippies were born. The sexual revolution sought to put an end to the prudish restraint of religious traditions. Boomers are also called the ‘Me Generation,’ because they sought self satisfaction, self expression, and introspective realization more than their predecessors.
The time period from circa 1960-1975 marks the length of the Baby Boomers, the hippies, and the Me Generation. According to theologian and philosopher Dr. Francis Schaeffer, this stretch of time is also when the philosophy of nihilism began to take hold in American Culture. Nietzsche had pioneered Nihilism a century prior, but in the face of American Christian revival, it never made the trip across the Atlantic.
Premarital sexuality, through the sexual revolution, became more socially appropriate. Drug usage increased. The Baby Boomers also gave rise to the money titan that is pop culture. Music is part and parcel to humanity, but the idea that music could be used to influence the masses to change their views, or even shape them, was new. Artists like the Beatles promoted psychedelics, and concerts like Woodstock helped shift the ideals of the generation from civic responsibility towards pleasure and commune. The Baby Boomers method of escaping from reality was, without a doubt, eastern mysticism and hippie culture. This method of escape would be significant later in the cycle.
After the Baby Boomers, Generation X was born between 1970 and 1980, bringing a new spin to nihilism. At this point, popular culture included music, celebrities, and advertising. Gen X was also known as the party generation, and coined the terms ‘living for the weekend’ and ‘midlife crisis.’ In generational fashion, eastern mysticism was no longer ‘cool.’ The boomers may have practiced hedonism, but Generation X combined hedonism with nihilism. The resulting concoction found itself in rejection of a higher authority or purpose and in pursuit of a great time. Marijuana found its way out the door, and alcohol and cocaine walked in. Large weekend parties were the thing, and the pop culture followed suit.
Next came generation Y, or the Millennials, and things begin to change substantially. Millennials incorporated hedonism into their cycle, but partially rejected nihilism on some terms. Namely, Millennials tend to value collectivism and groupthink, making them a socially-oriented generation. Eastern mysticism has made a small comeback, but more significant is the Millennials’ involvement in identity politics.
The Millennials took hold of politics and reformed it into a more accessible and debatable pastime. More Millennials are liberal-leaning than prior generations, according to PEW Research in 2017. Additionally, the majority are more likely than their predecessors to support newer political ideas such as LGBT acceptance and gender fluidity, as well as large scale immigration reform, abundant government social programs, and drug legalization. The Millennial paradise is a clean, smart, intersectionally aware, environmentally conscious Northern European city.
Millennials also resonate with Gen Z’s anxiety and depression issues. Unlike the previous generations, technology has advanced far enough that the internet strongly influenced them. This is the final part of popular culture. Thus popular culture is comprised, for the purpose of this article, of music culture, celebrity culture, large budget advertising, and the internet.
Generation Z, also known as Centennials, began in 1997 according to Pew Research. Some sources determine that it ended in 2009, others believe it continues into the present. Either way, Centennials are bizarrely different from Millennial in a few ways. First, they are antisocial. This is in part attributed to technology. It can also be credited to socio-political turmoil. As for the cycle, the Centennials generally do not enjoy Millennial’s habits. Instead of groupthinking, Centennials tend to be individualistic, and prefer personal accomplishment over group success. A centennial party could consist of a few friends sitting on their phones. Oftentimes, the small group will pass around antidepressant medication for a deep calm and disconnected high to quiet the anxiety and drown out the world.
They have less use for politics than their predecessors, although the majority still support P.C. ideas such as mass immigration reform, LGBT rights, and gender fluidity; they are also more conservative on topics like finance. They also share generation X’s lack of regard for morality. At this point, the virtues which defined the Traditionalist generation are thoroughly downtrodden. This is the foundation for the topic of depression. These are the generations that created the circumstances which caused an entire generation to be trapped in a state of apathy and insecurity. Beginning with the Baby Boomers, each generation has added a cog to the machine that is now running down a destructive path. Juvenoia is a fear of the things that influence the kids these days towards suicide and widespread desensitization.
The first chain around the feet of Centennials is culture. Popular culture is comprised of several categories that all work together. Each part is designed to influence and suggest. Subliminal suggestion is a taboo topic that has influenced centennials more than it is credited for. Some instances of subliminal suggestion are more well known than others, such as red and yellow color combination subconsciously suggesting hunger and a desire to eat, thus many fast food establishments use these colors to increase their business. Because this behavior isn’t necessarily malignant or nefarious, subliminal suggestion isn’t seen as something that ought to be moderated. It is the individual, after all, who makes the purchase. Yet the United States struggles with obesity and diabetes. Surely these epidemics are not improved by companies using subliminal signals to induce symptoms or suggestions of hunger. Similarly, popular culture is guilty of using subliminal techniques to manipulate the minds of the young. A musician or celebrity is, in a way, a company that cares about its profit margins.
Musicians hold more influence than perhaps anyone else over this generation, considering how much time centennials spend in isolation, and how much of that time is spent listening to music. Forbes suggested in 2017 that this could average upwards of thirty-two hours per week for most. Thus musicians may hold more influence over some gen Z kids than their own parents. This influence could be used to teach any particular idea of morality, and often it is. A study in 2011 found that 92% of the top ten billboard songs were about sex. A similar study found that writing a successful pop song required that it only be written on a second grade reading level, according to The Atlantic. The most influential powers over the adolescent Centennial generation have educated them about unbridled sexuality on a second grade reading level.
Since 2009, rap music has overtaken rock music as the most popular genre of music in the US, and has brought its own problems with it. A study by The American Journal of Public Health, which observed 522 single African American females after different consumption rates of rap music over one year, found that:
“Over the 12-month follow-up, 37.6% acquired a new sexually transmitted disease, 4.8% hit a teacher, 12.1% reported being arrested, 14.8% had sexual intercourse with someone other than their steady partner, 44.2% reported using drugs, and 44.4% consumed alcohol. Logistic regression analyses illustrated that after controlling for covariates, greater exposure to rap music videos was independently associated with a broad spectrum of health outcomes. Compared with adolescents who had less exposure to rap music videos, adolescents who had greater exposure to rap music videos were 3 times more likely to have hit a teacher; more than 2.5 times as likely to have been arrested; 2 times as likely to have had multiple sexual partners; and more than 1.5 times as likely to have acquired a new sexually transmitted disease, used drugs, and used alcohol over the 12-month follow-up period” (Wingwood, et. al., para 9-10 )
The new genre of music influencing Generation Z is thoroughly permeated with abundant sexuality, moral abandon, and a penchant for the illegal.
Celebrity culture is little better. In addition to normalizing hedonism, celebrity obsession has its own set of harms. According to a 2014 study by Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience:
“Findings generally indicate that higher scores on the Celebrity Attitudes Scale, which indicates a greater preoccupation with a celebrity, are associated with a number of potential emotional and psychological difficulties. These difficulties may include concerns about body image (particularly among young adolescents), greater proneness to cosmetic surgery, sensation-seeking, cognitive rigidity, identity diffusion, and poor interpersonal boundaries. Additional psychological and interpersonal difficulties may include narcissistic personality features, dissociation, addictive tendencies, criminal tendencies, stalking behavior, compulsive buying, depression, anxiety, and general social dysfunction.” (Sansone & Sansone, para 24)
This study found that obsession with celebrities can be debilitating to young individuals for several reasons. Body image is one of the foremost acknowledged issues in the Centennial generation. Put simply, idolizing someone who has thousands of dollars to spend on plastic surgery, professional makeup artists, and a team to improve public reputation, is bound to create insecurity. Unreasonable standards for success can easily depress. Body image is especially important because it is one of the most common weapons used in bullying, both in person as well as online; and in a generation that is deeply immersed in casual sexuality, body image is all the more relevant.
After body image, sensation seeking creates a propensity for mischief. The side effects can also lead to medical issues, which will be discussed later. In short, celebrity obsession can lead to negative emotions that damage an individual’s self worth, and cause mental harm.
The idea of subliminal messaging is present here as well. Celebrity culture is built around vanity, and the self worth issues of teenagers and young adults have the potential for a massive pay off for the celebrity companies. Teasing the idea of beauty products that liken you to a social god or goddess, is a weak, false promise at best, but low self worth is crippling enough that any promise of escape is a temptation more powerful than logic. Keeping the young generation insecure ensures a captive market. Releasing new miracle products to make one look like their personal deity is a payoff that ensures the cycle continues. While subliminal messaging isn’t a crime, it does have side effects that many in power would rather not address, especially after making millions from sad kids. While the captive audience is busy trying to make themselves unrealistically attractive, nobody is around to notice the spell that is cast over them with the power of puberty and teenage anxiety.
Many Centennials also want to be like their celebrity god in career as well. A large number of Centennials reported that they want to ‘be famous’ as a career. The only issue is that with the exception of movie stars and musicians, many celebrities are popular for small reasons. The larger issue is that celebrities are not as often made as they are chosen. Celebrity popularity relies heavily on the media for its momentum, thus the media can decide who ought to attain celebrity status. Celebrity culture is partly an elite that capitalizes on creating insecurity and reaping the crop of anxiety and negativity that it propagates.
This trend of parents leaving their developing teenagers to find their own way is the byproduct of, as stated previously, a groundwork that is strung from the many generations prior. The idea of latchkey kids is not new, but ever since Generation X grew into adolescence, parents have been slowly divorcing themselves from their children in many. This corresponds with the new idea of the ‘modern family.’ Traditional families saw the mother at home raising their children, teaching them how to take in the world around them, while the husband was the breadwinner who provided, and at times gave the necessary guidance for the male children. As the idea of the modern family evolved, and was eventually disassembled, both parents began working, at first only during school hours. The mother often was home in time to spend the rest of the day with her children. Then with Generation X came the idea of latchkey kids, or kids who had to let themselves into the house after school because mom and dad were both at work. Then came single parents who had to provide income and also raise their children, which, although possible, isn’t healthy for kids. Now that Generation Z is growing up, their parents, Generation X, are used to the idea of parents being more absent than they ought to be. The normalized absence and lack of guidance doesn’t raise red flags because it’s normal to them. The effects of this are demonstrated in children who must turn to other means for the affirmation that their parents failed to provide.
Enter social media. Social media is a form of communication unlike any other. Social media allows an individual to broadcast an ‘ideal form’ of their life or exploits. It doesn’t need to be anchored in reality, and usually isn’t. Moreover, seeing the ideal exploits of other people you know can cause negative emotions. According to Twenge’s study:
“Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media. Admittedly, 10 hours a week is a lot. But those who spend six to nine hours a week on social media are still 47 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who use social media even less. The opposite is true of in-person interactions. Those who spend an above-average amount of time with their friends in person are 20 percent less likely to say they’re unhappy than those who hang out for a below-average amount of time.” (Twenge, para 27)
The effects of social media on children and teenagers is generally negative, and leads to anxiety and more self worth issues. Just like the exposure to music and culture, if parents did more to negate these effects, they might not be as bad, but in the case of social media, it becomes a medium of self worth. In the absence of sufficient parental affection, social media quickly fills the void, as a way for someone to get ‘likes,’ or positive attention from many places at once. While simply avoiding social media is incredibly easy, seeing it as a parental supplement changes the reality of the situation. Instead of just cutting off social media, this becomes an issue of cutting off a parental influence, and is more like eliminating a parent than a negative influence. This makes it harder to eliminate social media than it would appear on the surface. The resulting addiction to social media further amplifies its negative influence, resulting in a net increase of anxiety and depression.
Perhaps the use of social media as a replacement for parents is a symptom of control like music and culture, where it is designed to entrap and captivate. Instances such as these show that a combination of business competition accidentally combined with the human psyche potentially damages a young generation. Social media platforms are designed to generate profits. Like fast food restaurants, instances of subliminal messaging and intentional captivation are designed to make their profits larger. Certainly social media was never intended to nurture children or give them the affirmation they need to develop.
No analysis of culture is complete without a look into politics. The first members of Generation Z were only four years old during the events of September 11, 2001. It’s unlikely that many of them remember the actual events, but the repercussions of 9/11 exert themselves more heavily on Generation Z than any other generation.
Centennials consequently cannot remember a world without the TSA, or a world where a terrorist attack was not immediately imminent. Privacy rights went away with the 9/11 attacks, and the Centennials have not had nearly as many individual privacy rights as the previous generations. The idea that the NSA could be spying on them is more of a joke than a scary truth. Memes about the FBI agent assigned to watch them show how accepting of this idea they really are. The fact that the government doesn’t trust its citizens isn’t unnatural any more. Generation Z is used to mass panic and paranoia. While this might seem like a positive, the long-term effects prove otherwise.
Similarly, the escalating number of school shootings means that any day at school could quickly unwind into complete chaos. The omniscient and menacing threat of death by school shooter, nuclear attack, radical terrorist, and communist dictator looms overhead like a constant reminder to Centennials that chaos abounds. Unlike the late nineties, Generation Z is surrounded by global turmoil unlike any seen before because of mass media. Any and all chaotic events can be televised within minutes, and shown to the world at large. To an adult viewer perhaps the events are upsetting, but to the unguided Centennials these events are a fact of life that loses its shock due to desensitization. A mind that has grown numb to the threat of death or annihilation is not a happy one.
Modern culture is not designed to be friendly. Businesses are made for profit, and when improperly moderated can have unforeseen negative effects. Parents aren’t aware enough of the moral and value education that their children need. The resulting madness sees children competing with each other on the internet to display the most elaborate façade. News media competes to deliver the most grizzly details to the eager masses who want to know the latest facts about political scandals while the government races to strip the rights from its terrified citizens.
All the while, a generation of children doesn’t know any other reality, so the depressing state of the world becomes their whole existence. If parents did their part to show the true state of the world, and the goodness in a strong, moral, disciplined human, then the world might look different. If parents knew how to show their children the positive reinforcement that they needed, then perhaps cyber bullied school shooters would not so often be cajoled into massacring their abusive peers out of tearful spite and a devastating fear of their lonely, bleak future. Despite all this, parents and culture are not the only influences.
Amidst the chaos, the medical establishment has worked tirelessly to repair the damage done to the depressed Centennials. Unfortunately the diagnosis is seldom ‘lack of upbringing’ or ‘lack of positive reinforcement.’ A doctor can’t prescribe 100mg of love for a depressed child. Instead, antidepressants are the most commonly issued solution. Antidepressants come with their own disadvantages. According to Jeffrey Vittengl,
“These findings show that symptoms were more sharply elevated 9 years following treatment including medication than treatment without medication, and major depressive disorder severity plus other covariates did not account for increased depression after medication. Patient characteristics accounted for symptoms after treatment without medication, however. This pattern suggests possible long-term iatrogenic effects of antidepressants.” (Vittengil para 4)
Antidepressants are often given as a solution to an issue that they aren’t needed to solve. The net result of antidepressant misuse and iatrogenesis, or, illness caused by medical examination or treatment, is that the individual becomes more depressed. This cycle of depression isn’t necessarily new. The medical industry has prescribed several different kinds of cure-all medications in the past, one of the more notable being oxycontin. Millennials were often prescribed opioid medications that were designed to help reduce pain and induce relaxation.
They failed to prevent addiction, however, and Millennials have a high statistic of opioid addiction as a result. Similarly, Centennials are often prescribed amphetamines as a cure-all. Including many antidepressants as well as ADHD medicines, these are often too hastily prescribed, and consequently misused. There is no question that ADHD is a real condition that can have serious consequences, and it is also true that medications can be of great benefit for certain patients with ADHD. Nevertheless, according to Sanford Newmark, head of the Pediatric Integrative Neurodevelopmental Program at the University of California:
“I also believe that ADHD is significantly overdiagnosed. And for those who do have the condition, medications aren’t always the best or only option. First, let’s look at overdiagnosis. In a 2010 study in the Journal of Health Economics, researchers found that the youngest children among U.S. kindergartners (those born in August) were 40% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and twice as likely to take ADHD medications as the oldest kindergartners studied (those born in September). Similar results were found in a study of children ages 6 to 12 published this year in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Simply put, this means that the people making the diagnoses aren’t distinguishing, in many cases, between normal developmental immaturity and ADHD. The author of the U.S. study estimates that this mistake could account for 20% of the current ADHD diagnoses in the U.S., or about 900,000 children, by his count.” (Newmark)
Misdiagnosis is dangerous to children because it puts them at risk for more serious medical issues later. This bad treatment creates a cycle of dependency on medications. Antidepressants are used and cause more depression. ADHD medication can cause anxiety, which is treated by medicine that then can cause depression. The cycle continues with more and more medications that desensitize the user and create a dull and bleak feeling to match the dull and bleak world that is slowly becoming a fact of life.
This normalization of disorders mixes with the void left by insufficient parenting and the anxiety and loneliness propagated by social media to create a volatile cocktail of unhappiness. The resulting plummet in self worth leads to more depression and more medication. The increase in medication results in a need to escape. Unfortunately, the Centennial’s methods of escape involve abusing more medications and/or substances as instructed by popular music and popular culture.
The substance abuse results in psychological harm that is diagnosed and treated with more emotion-killing medication. The medical companies profit, as with oxycontin in the past, selling pills designed to solve problems, but the problems only compound. The majority of the school shooters in recent years have been on more than a few of these pills.
Coupled with the modern idea of morality, and the steady drop of dating shown by Twenge’s study, these developing teenagers are hard pressed to find value from their post-modern, absent families. They struggle to find love from each other, music taught them that sex is more important than most other things, and celebrities taught them that they can love themselves if only they looked more like a god or goddess. These lost and developing humans are trapped in a whirlwind.
There isn’t enough adult guidance to help them find their feet, and at this point they reject the guidance of their guardians out of rebellion. Amid the chaos, the popular culture machine finds them and spins them through its various cycles, educating about rampant sexuality, destroying the idea of love, promoting vanity, and issuing an abundance of happy pills that only cause more sadness. The hapless parents don’t understand how to help because they, too, are victims of a similar cycle; every generation that passes is put through a harsher cycle of neglect and destruction.
Centennials are part of a great convergence of factors that all work together to beat down positivity and create both dependence and a feeling of inferiority. The generations prior had discarded the idea of a supporting family and threw culture into a spiral of nihilism and hedonism. At the same time, music began to craft a message that further promoted abandon and immorality, while celebrities capitalized on vanity and inferiority. Meanwhile medical companies sold medications without complete certainty that they would be effective. It’s difficult to say which of these factors came first, but it is easy to see that they all worked together beautifully, each supporting the other.
A solution to this madness could be best found at the source of the troubles. When the Baby Boomers walked away from the ideas of the Traditionalists, family, decency, virtue, and the rest, they started a cycle. Since then that cycle has been eating away at western society.
The morals and values of the Traditionalists were sufficient to keep a healthy mind and prevent epidemics like this one. Perhaps a temporary solution could be found by reintegrating the idea of positive parental reinforcement, but that reinforcement must teach a certain idea of world outlook, and convey certain values that are unpopular today. At the very least, a sustainable and non destructive form of love must be found for the Centennials, or else their self destructive pursuits of pleasure could prove irreversibly detrimental to their long term well being.
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- Finkelhor, David. “The Internet, Youth Safety and the problem of ‘juvenoia’” Crimes against Children Research Center, The University of New Hampshire, January 2011,
- Damon, William. Greater Expectations: Overcoming the Culture of Indulgence in America’s Homes and Schools. Free Press, 1995.
- Twenge, Jean M. “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 19 Mar. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/
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- Vittengl, Jeffrey R. Poorer Long-Term Outcomes among Persons with Major Depressive Disorder Treated with Medication, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (2017)
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