We not only just finished another year—we just completed another decade. Some of the “firsts” that happened over the last decade are remarkable:
- The first non-political candidate won the presidency — Donald Trump.
- Facebook became more valuable than AT&T, General Electric, and Citigroup combined.
- Same-sex marriage became legal.
- American unemployment fell to 3.5%.
- Disney bought three more huge entertainment companies.
- Great Britain decided to leave the European Union.
- The U.S. became the top energy producer in the world.
- The Chicago Cubs actually won a World Series.
This past year, however, spawned several realities that we should be aware of as we attempt to teach, coach, employ, and parent Generation Z kids. While local events and family influence kids most, global realities also impact their psyche, since their smartphones connect them to the world. Reflect for a moment how much newsfeeds and prompts can cause young people to feel fearful, empowered, anxious, or depressed.
Realities That Likely Influenced Your Students
I’d like to offer a list of some of the biggest events and occurrences in 2019 that influenced our students. This past year (like most years) we experienced both negative and positive realities, engineered by both adults and kids.
1. Mental health issues reached record levels in many areas.
Both educators and parents had an epiphany last year as anxiety and depression became central issues on high school and college campuses. “National assessment data show rising levels of anxiety, depression, and suicidality—suicidal ideation, suicide plans, and suicide attempts—among the college population. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students,” says the American Council on Education. Millions of today’s kids feel overwhelmed.
2. The largest college entrance scandal sent a terrible message to kids.
It was in the news for months during 2019. More than 50 parents offered bribes to “brokers” who agreed to get their children into the college of choice. The message it sent to students was twofold. First, it’s OK to cheat to get what you want; and second, parents don’t believe the kids can do it on their own. Both are sad signals. Helicopter parents became Apache Helicopters. Intrusive styles actually damage kids. This became clear in 2019.
3. Vaping took a toll on the psyche of both students and parents.
Vaping and e-cigarettes became a “thing” in 2019, as the Center for Disease Control informed us of the damaging effect of vaping. A total of 54 deaths linked to vaping products were confirmed as of December 2019, among 27 states and the District of Columbia. When this all started, most of us felt e-cigarettes were a healthy alternative to smoking. Now, we’re not so sure. It remains debatable for most, but the FDA plans to ban most flavored e-cigarettes.
4. Record level mass shootings took a toll on fear levels.
There were more mass killings in 2019 than any year on record. We suffered from 41 mass shootings, which is defined by four or more people killed. California, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, had the most mass shootings—eight. I’ve found in interviewing students that many of them duck in fear when they hear a pop or any sound that resembles a gunshot. Nearly half of U.S. states experienced a shooting, which makes it feel up close and personal.
1. Student protests signal that Generation Z feels empowered to speak up.
Did you keep track of the student protests last year? Even if you disagree with their issues, teens and young adults took a stand for issues like gun control, climate change, voting rights, racial equality, and government injustice. It appears Generation Z is not waiting to be authorized by adults to speak out. Smartphones inform and connect them… and millions are dissatisfied with current realities.
2. Young black women ruled the beauty pageants, signaling a shift in culture.
For the first time in history, five Black women — Toni-Ann Singh, who was recently crowned Miss World; Zozibini Tunzi as Miss Universe; Kaliegh Garris as Miss Teen USA; Cheslie Kryst as Miss USA; and Nia Franklin as Miss America— hold the crowns for the world’s top beauty pageants. This offers hope for minority girls who can feel it’s possible to reach goals that, in the past, felt impossible.
3. Kids are not waiting to make feature-length motion pictures.
Since smart technology surfaced, putting filmmaking within the reach of anyone, teens have begun to produce videos and films faster than ever. This past year, Marsai Martin, a 14-year old, became the first executive producer of a film (that she starred in) called “Little.” The trend again is—what was once the domain of adults is now a possibility for both minors and minorities. Just ask Marsai.
4. Students are inventing and innovating more than ever.
Another sign of the times are kid inventions, once again, the result of ubiquitous technology that’s smart and accessible. In 2019, students created apps to get things done; a toilet flush reminder (to get people to flush after using), colored soap to attract kids to wash their hands before dinner, a bed that flips into an air hockey table and a laptop levitator to enable someone to type on their laptop while lying in bed. These were invented by kids as young as 8 years old.
These are all signs of the times. Here’s to launching into a new year as informed leaders.