Introducing Generation Z… or Delta… or Snap

Connected set: In 2017, 96% of people aged between 16 and 24 owned a smartphone.

What should teenagers call themselves? When The New York Times asked under-22s to give their generation a name, they got thousands of suggestions. But some called the entire idea “nonsense”.

It all started with the Lost Generation, born at the turn of the century and decimated by the first world war. Those who fought the second world war were called the Greatest Generation. Their children, who grew up in a newly wealthy and peaceful world, are known as Baby Boomers. Then there is the “work hard, play hard” Generation X. Then the Millennials, often accused of being selfish and over-sensitive. Then… what?

Today’s teenagers are part of a new generation, born between around 1995 and 2015. Experts have labelled them Generation Z, the Homeland Generation (because they were shaped by the aftermath of 9/11 and like to be at home), and the iGeneration (or iGen for short).

However, “All of these names are bad” — at least according to New York Times writer Jonah Engel Bromwich, a Millennial. He asked people under 22 to suggest their own names for themselves. He received around 3,000 responses.

The results were published last week. New suggestions included “girl power!” (from an eight-year-old), the Thumbers (from a 91-year-old) and the Meme generation (“We go through life fast”).

Others suggested the Anxious Generation, Hopeful Generation, Generation Snap, the Cleaner-Uppers, and, simply, “Doomed”.

Of course, part of the difficulty in choosing a name is that the generation is still being formed — its youngest members are two-year-olds. However, there has been research on the defining traits of its older members.

According to psychologist Jean Twenge, they “are obsessed with safety… they have no patience for inequality... They are also at the forefront of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”

She argues that much of this is due to smartphones: in the UK, 90% of 16-25-year-olds own one, and they have caused “ripple effects across every area of their lives”.

So what should this generation be called?

Generation game

For Bromwich, the choice is clear: Generation Delta. He quotes 22-year-old Kelsy Hillesheim: “Delta is used to denote change and uncertainty in mathematics and the sciences, and my generation was shaped by change and uncertainty.” Terror attacks, the financial crash, unstable politics, climate change: young people live in a world in flux. But Delta also implies that they have the power to change the world for the better.

Don’t call us anything, argued 22-year-old Kiernan Majerus-Collins. “The whole notion of cohesive generations is nonsense.” People have personalities, not age groups. It is absurd to stereotype millions of kids before the majority have even grown up. In fact, it is not possible: a two-year-old living in poverty in Yorkshire will have a totally different experience of life from a wealthy 22-year-old in New York. Just leave them be.

You Decide

  1. What do you think your generation should be called?
  2. Is naming generations a useful exercise?

Activities

  1. In a single sentence, explain what makes your generation different from the ones that have come before.
  2. As a class, take it in turns to suggest a name for your generation. It can be one of the names listed in this article, or your own invention. Explain your reasoning. Then, once everyone has had a turn, vote for the best.

Some People Say...

“The young always have the same problem — how to rebel and conform at the same time.”

Quentin Crisp

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The current generation of young people (whatever they end up being called) have been growing up in a more unstable time than Millennials. The oldest might remember 9/11 in 2001, which started America’s “War on Terror”. In 2007 the first smartphone was released, followed a year later by the financial crisis. Now, political upheavals like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are remaking the world again.
What do we not know?
Which name will eventually become common, or when the Millennial generation ends, and the one that follows it begins. This is because “generations” are not scientific; the psychologists and historians who try to define them often disagree. Some say the generation begins with those born in 1995 onwards, while others say it does not start until 2005.

Word Watch

Turn of the century
Around 1900, that is — as the 19th century turned into the 20th.
Homeland
This is not a reference to the TV show, but the thing they were both named after: the US Department of Homeland Security, which describes its mission as to “secure the nation from the many threats we face”.
Mental-health crisis
According to a report, one in five referrals to NHS England mental health services were for under-18s. There has also been a 68% increase in self-harm among teenage girls in the UK since 2011.
90%
According to a 2015 report by Ofcom.
Delta
The fourth letter in the Greek alphabet, written as Δ (uppercase) and δ (lowercase). In mathematics it symbolises difference and change.
Financial crash
A global crisis which began in 2008 when the US bank Lehman Brothers collapsed. It was followed by a global recession — a period of economic downturn that lasted between 2008 and 2012.

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