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Have We Overburdened Gen Z With Fears of the Future?

A Personal Perspective: Zoomers' apocalyptic anxieties.

My wife was talking to my 21-year-old daughter the other day and asked, ‘Are you OK? You and your friends seem a bit lost.’

My daughter replied, ‘We’re not lost. We’re just really angry.’


‘Because the World’s going to end,’ my daughter said, ‘because what’s the point of anything?’

Over the last few years, I’ve become concerned about my daughter's generation – Gen Z (also called Zoomers). Gen Z were born between the mid to late 1990s and the early 2010s, mostly to Generation X parents like myself. The oldest Zoomers are now 26 years old. What worries me about Gen Z is that they seem to see themselves as a doomed generation.

Gen Z are reporting much higher levels of depression than previous generations. According to Harvard pollster John De La Volpe, nearly half of Zoomers suffer from depression requiring clinical treatment. The CDC claims that suicide is Gen Zs second-leading cause of death, with a 56% increase between 2007-2017.

I’ve asked my kids where this sense of being ‘doomed’ comes from, and I’ve realized that while they see the cause as 'the state of the world' — the real root of their problem might lie in the mindset and baggage they’ve inherited from us, their parents.

Ambient Adolescent Apocalypticism

Born between the mid 1990s and the 2010s, the oldest Gen Zs are now 26. Their lives have been saturated with apocalypse themed films, books, games, TV and songs made by their elders.

Their top books were YA dystopias, 'The Hunger Games' and 'Divergent'. Two of their top TV shows are ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Dark’, while they play the Zombie game ‘The Last of Us’. Their musical icon, Billie Eilish, has songs saturated with themes of depression, suicidal ideation and apocalyptic imagery. In ‘All the Good Girls Go To Hell,’ she’s a fallen angel in a burning world.

In the Zoomer hit movie ‘Everything, Everywhere, All At Once (2022)’ a black hole is destroying the universe as the characters debate the meaninglessness of life, while one of the most popular Gen Z TV shows, Euphoria, delves deep into nihilism.

In ‘I know the End’ pop star Phoebe Bridgers has sung about the end-of-the-world in almost affectionate terms.

Zoomer culture seems caught in a feedback loop of fatalistic feelings of doom.

Why So Down, Zoomer?

As Sarah Jaquette Ray, a teacher of environmental studies, said in a 2020 article, Generation Z are ‘The Climate Generation’, and they have been ‘traumatised’ by their awareness of the issue. ‘They speak of an apocalypse on the horizon... Some students become so overwhelmed with despair and grief that they shut down.…Their sense of powerlessness, whether real or imagined, is at the root of their despair.’

Zoomer icon Greta Thunberg expresses despair and rage rather than offering solutions. Her famed U.N. speech stated, “Around the year 2030… we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilization as we know it.”

Against the better intentions of Thunberg’s Generation X activist parents, such terrifying predictions may have backfired and contributed to the depressive fatalism of Greta's generation. They may have led Gen Z not to political empowerment but to a sense of overwhelming powerlessness. A sense of helplessness can lead to depression.

It’s not just climate change that Zoomers feel defeated by. They were also the first generation of youths to live through a global pandemic since 1918-19. A report on Stress in America found that “Half of young Generation Z teens have said that the pandemic has affected their outlook on their future, with a similar number saying that it’s made their futures seem downright ‘impossible.”

The negative predictions pile up. Futurologists tell Gen Z that by 2040, 30-40% of their jobs will be replaced by robots and AI, and adding to their problems, Zoomers are reporting compulsive use of smartphones, social media and pornography, and these have been proven to cause anxiety and depression.

What Gen X Did Wrong and What We Can Do Now

In addition to the doom-laden media and social media that we, their parents, subjected them to, it’s possible that Gen Z have been overloaded by unresolved anxieties we passed onto them.

One of the impending apocalypses that Generation Z are anxious about is population explosion. ‘I don’t ever want to have kids,’ Zoomers say, ‘overpopulation is killing the planet.’

But yet, the West has actually been in population decline for the last two decades. This is definitely a retro-anxiety that the Zoomers inherited from their Gen X parents, who grew up with the ‘population bomb’ in the 1970s — predictions that have now been widely debunked.

Zoomers shouldn’t always be worrying about overpopulation, but they are.

Our generation, born 1965-1980, was also traumatized by the fear of nuclear annihilation in the last decade of the Cold War. Concepts like ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ and ‘Nuclear Winter’ were fed to us along with our school milk. Many of us Gen Xers went through nuclear preparedness drills, hiding under tables with our teachers as nuclear warning sirens blared.

As a result of living under this ambient fear our generation grew up to be — like Gen Z is today — anxious of the future and more depressed and pessimistic than the previous generation, the Baby Boomers. To Boomers, Generation X seemed to be ‘negative’, ‘demotivated’, ‘slackers’; our music and films were seen as dark and self-destructive. Back in the 1990s, we too slouched around moaning, 'everything's ruined, what's the point?' Many of our cultural icons suffered from mental illness and addiction; too many succumbed to suicide.

It’s possible that we Generation X parents may have inadvertently passed our unresolved traumas onto our own Gen Z kids, through the catastrophizing culture we created.

Even if our worst fears about, nuclear war, climate change or population explosion were well founded, even if we spread these fears to raise awareness, we may have gone beyond the tipping point in communicating these terrors to out Gen Z kids.

When young people are scared, they can go into shut-down. When they see problems as too huge to mend, they can lose all sense of agency and hope. Some of that ‘laziness’ that people report about Gen Z is no doubt a state of psychological withdrawal from being overburdened with anxiety.

I sense that we’ve overburdened our Generation Z kids by piling our own historical baggage onto their shoulders, on top of their own adolescent and epochal worries.

For the sake of this generation, we might have start unburdening our children of their fears. We could remove a good 50% of the ambient apocalyptic anxieties that they’re carrying around, and teach them a little skepticism when it comes to this idea that the future is fated. We could also teach them some of the resilience we developed over the last three decades; the courage that led us to have kids in the first place. We might also try to instill hope that whatever the future is, we two generations can help each other cope.

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