There seems to be this concern, particularly on the right and from older generations, that kids are just way too soft these days. Everyone is sensitive. Everyone is easily triggered. Everyone seems to have some sort of mental illness or trauma.
And yes, there does seem to be some data that supports this generalization. Compared to the 68% of Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers who think their mental health is in good shape, less than half of millennials felt the same way. Of the ten biggest health conditions facing millennials, incidents of major depression have made, by far, the biggest jump. Antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication usage is up across the board over the last couple decades, but it has spiked with millennials and Gen-Zers, and in particular with young women.
It’s strange that we’re so glib in dismissing or judging kids for this. First off, the last twenty-five years have been traumatic–and that is no one’s fault but the ‘adults’, whether we’re talking about bad wars or bad loans or bad pandemic policies. But second, the sneering condescension from those very same adults ignores the more likely conclusion: No one is any more sensitive or susceptible to difficult times or traumatic events…it’s just that the culture has shifted toward openness and acceptance. Young people are no longer stuffing their emotions down and pretending they don’t exist. Instead of *self-*medicating, millennials and Gen-Zers are going to therapy or seeing a doctor. They’re taking care of themselves…and that’s a good thing.
Instead of judging people for doing this or overreacting to how we parent our own children, what if we took a step back and thought about how different we might have turned out if we had the luxury of growing up in such a time? If our parents’ divorce hadn’t been pro forma, if our dad hadn’t told us to ‘rub dirt on it’ when we got hurt, if our issues with this substance or that substance had been taken seriously. What if someone had stepped in and dealt with the schoolyard bully, what if we had been allowed to explore our interests without judgment?
Of course, the world is tough and one cannot go around as an open wound or a delicate flower. But kids these days are not weak–they have been through a lot. And it may well be that they are processing it better than any generation ever has before…and doing it with kindness and justice and compassion, for themselves and others.
That should be celebrated, not mocked.