The ‘kids these days’ are not okay

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It’s long been a rite of passage for aging adults to look at the current generation with some haughtiness, a disdain for their styles and cultural norms, and plaintive pity for their naiveté to workings of the “real” world.

The elder statesmen speak from a place of perceived rugged wisdom, beginning the sentence with “The kids these days…”

This is generally predicated with some value-based condemnation. For example, “The kids these days don’t know anything about hard work” or “The kids these days can’t get off their damn phones and have a real conversation.”

Of course, this is all spoken while willfully forgetting that we were once “the kids these days.”

As I’ve been begrudgingly hurled into middle-age—soon to be old and cantankerous—it’s now high time for me to pass into this vast world of adult condescension and critique “the kids these days.” Only I can’t speak from a place of exasperation, only concern, when I say, “The kids these days are not okay.”

I work with adolescents, teaching both high school and college students. I also have two teenage children of my own, so I have some familiarity with “the kids” of Generation Z[1]. And while it can be a slippery slope to make sweeping generalizations about large groups of people, I believe it is accurate to say that “the kids these days” are experiencing a bona fide mental health crisis.

And we—the Gen. X (and some Millennial) parents—need to assume some of the blame.

Essentially, three factors have largely contributed to this mental health crisis: helicopter parenting, technology addiction, and a pandemic landing in our kids’ laps during their formative years.

Many Gen. Z adolescents are the products of Gen. X parents and some of Gen. X’s misguided helicopter-parenting techniques that raised kids in bubble wrap[2], risk-averse and fearful of failure. For my generation, who were notoriously insouciant—“Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.”—we quickly became fastidious micro-managers of our children, never allowing them to skin a knee.

The result is this generation of “kids these days” who exist in a perpetual state of panic, riddled by anxiety over the simple concept of failure, while simultaneously polishing their participation trophies.

Add to this an addiction to technology and social media that has made these kids veritable junkies. And the research is fairly conclusive: technology addiction is fostering higher rates of anxiety and depression[3].

So maybe you’re starting to see the mixings of a toxic mental health cocktail.

Then, of course, there was the pandemic that shut these kids in their homes and exacerbated their reliance on technology and social media as a sole means of socialization.

Adolescence is a time where a person is supposed to learn the social skills needed to survive the adult world[4], and without them, it stands to reason that anyone would be anxious and depressed. Most human beings[5] are hard-wired to seek out the company and companionship of others, and without them, life becomes a dismal shade of gray.

The COVID quarantine washed Gen. Z’s world in that gray.

So when we talk about “the kids these days,” maybe we shouldn’t rush to make value-based judgments of them. The kids these days don’t need our condemnation; they need our compassion.


[1] I’m using broad generation names and dates here.

[2] This article was later turned into a book for those interested in exploring the research.

[3] Again, Dr, Jean Twenge has published a book on the topic, but here is the article that beget the discussion.

[4] What we older folks like to refer to as the “real” world.

[5] Sociopaths are the exception.


About this Author

Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester with his wife and kids. He's the author of nine collections of fiction and poetry. His most recent book, Fly Like The Seagull was published by Luchador Press in 2020. He's a high school teacher and freelance writer, and in his free time, he writes bios about himself in the third person. For more information, visit his website: