Generation Z has identified the people obstructing their way, and Gen Z calls that group Boomers. Regardless of age. A Boomer is anyone not taking action to support Gen Z’s agenda. I love that.

I said to my older son, “I’m so proud to be part of Gen X.”

He said, “You shouldn’t be. Your generation did nothing to stop a global disaster.”

Rule 1: Dump self-actualization in favor of selflessness.

I don’t tell him we grew up listening to Give a hoot, don’t pollute. I don’t tell him we took car trips with no seatbelts and rolled down the window to throw out the trash. Instead, I tell him Gen X will be remembered for parenting the generation that saved the planet. “Gen X are the most caring devoted parents in history. We had all the opportunities the baby boomers had, and instead of indulging in those opportunities, we took care of kids.”

But I do use our US History time to talk about how the people who got rich during the Gilded Age left nothing for the next generation. But that generation raised the kids who saved the US from the Great Depression. Similarly, baby boomers left nothing for the next generation. But that generation raised the generation that will save the planet.

Rule 2: Don’t use words when pictures will suffice.

I made a chart for us to talk about at lunchtime. Please try to ignore that someone viciously threw this chart into the garbage when he cleared his plate.

I show him the pattern. If one group has all the resources, the next group has to make something to call their own. The Rockefellers and Carnegies collected all the money. So the Lost Generation had to suffer through WWI and then wrote depressive novels. But the generation that came next redistributed wealth and rights during the ’50s and ’60s. And the same thing will happen now. Generation X had to build the Internet so we’d have jobs—it was like our version of the depressive novel. Generation Z will embark on a great distribution… we just need to wait until they all get out of college.

I draw pictures fast before my kids google a detail to show me I got it wrong.

One son says, “What’s on that kid’s head?”

The other says, “He’s wearing his house on his head because anything not attached to your body the Boomers will take for themselves.”

The boys spend the rest of the day walking around with insane things on their head. Even after underwear, a chair, and three bunches of grapes, they are still laughing.

Rule 3: Find a cause and really care. No co-opting and no dabbling. 

Here’s what will happen as Gen Z forces politicians to focus on climate. Baby boomers will announce that if it’s a movement, then they are leading. Millennials will photoshop themselves looking perfect as they travel to climate events at bucket-list locations. Gen X will have an alternative agenda.

My agenda will be public schools. Kids don’t need school to learn, and school doesn’t create social mobility, so we should redirect the education budget to social services for poor families. Do not doubt my conclusion. Mark Zuckerberg just dumped $100 million into the Newark Public schools and confirmed that more money for schools doesn’t help kids in poverty.

On top of that, MIT found that making a dent on poverty requires giving families a job, healthcare, and a savings account. Another group at MIT confirmed decades of research that says kids will learn to read on their own if they don’t live in poverty. So public schools spend billions of dollars teaching kids to read so they get out of poverty when the kids could learn on their own if we gave their parents basic necessities and a savings account. Read that last sentence again. Really.

Rule 4: Push reform like you don’t care who loses.  

Gen X could build the Internet because we had so little stake in the status quo. As soon as you start advocating for gradual reform, you’re trying to hold on to what you have, and then you’re part of the problem. Which is why we need to get rid of public school and redistribute that money to the poor.

You might say, “What about this kid or that kid whose family will never get out of poverty in this new plan?” But that kid was never going to benefit from school anyway. And if teachers are capable of showing kids how to succeed outside of school, then surely the teachers are capable of succeeding outside of school themselves; they can all get new jobs. School should be canceled.

I tell my son maybe he should focus on education instead of climate.

He says, “You can’t go to school if your house is underwater.”

I say, “You can’t address climate without addressing inequality.”

He says, “OK, Boomer.”

22 replies
  1. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    As soon as you start advocating for gradual reform, you’re trying to hold on to what you have, and then you’re part of the problem.

    Gradual reform is an oxymoron. Reform is always radical. So whoever advocates gradual reform just wants to look like they are pushing for change without losing any of the privilege they have.

    Reply
  2. Graham
    Graham says:

    Yes, and this is a problem everywhere you look in modern society. Here at home it’s the reason for the Brexit fiasco, and the reason I get stuck with my writing :-D Great post Penelope, now we just have to wait for the Boomers to pile in and we can have a rumble..

    Reply
    • Monica Leonelle
      Monica Leonelle says:

      Your sons can say OK Boomer 500x to me but you are correct. Gen Z is absolutely the first generation to truly fix the environment, but all of the environmental problems stem from racism, sexism, homophobia, late-stage capitalism, and other inequities that generations before theirs have had to take on.

      Inequality is the reason that all the generations previous to theirs came up with environmental solutions and failed miserably.

      Gen Z will save the environment because they have to; the way they will solve it is through living true gender and racial equality (they have no choice but to do so), dismantling the gasping remains of the patriarchy (mostly done for them by generations before them), and fixing all the extremist capitalist superpower countries (closely tied to the patriarchy as it’s always women and POC and LGBTQIA+ at the bottom of these).

      Reply
      • Jim C.
        Jim C. says:

        Waitaminute! If you’re looking for the first generation to save the environment, look at the WWII generation (a.k.a. the “Greatest Generation”). They are the ones who wrote and passed the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. And it was Richard Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency. (Yes, Nixon!) At that time the oldest Baby Boomers were in college or just entering the work force, and the youngest hadn’t been toilet-trained yet.

        Reply
  3. Chantell
    Chantell says:

    This was a great read, like all the posts where you share conversations with your kids. Must be fulfilling to parent at a stage where they are able to engage with you on this level.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Wait. I don’t see Gen Z as the victim. I see them as the hero. And I left Millennials out. Well, I took a swipe at them with the photos, but I largely left Millennials out in a sleight of hand that I learned from the media leaving Gen X out all the time. I realized that it’s much easier to write about generations if you just leave one out — a joke but also seriously true.

      Anyway, I think all of us talking incessantly about generations will end. I think it was just one moment in time when Baby Boomers couldn’t handle not being the youngest, and Millennials were so big we couldn’t ignore them. But I think we will go back to how things always were with generations which is that there are two parts of society: The old people who can’t change how they think, and the young people showing everyone a new way. And no matter when you were born, each person has the chance to choose where they fit in.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Denise
        Denise says:

        I would go even further, Penelope, and say that what we’re talking about is that the young embrace change—fight for it—and the old resist it. However, this in fact is not and need not be an age thing. Older people don’t have to close down and defend the status quo—and in fact the most thriving elders stay connected and welcome change. On the other hand, many young people fear change from an early age and resist it.

        Generationally, it’s easier to be optimistic and passionate about the future when you’re first starting in life (not to mention have a wee bit more physical energy)—so humans need to let them lead the charge—but the more humans of all ages who join in and work for change and a better world, well, the greater the chance we’ll get it—and the more fully alive we’ll be.

        Reply
  4. Carla Golden
    Carla Golden says:

    Will you please point me to the source for this quotation: “Gen X are the most caring, devoted parents in history. We had all the opportunities the baby boomers had, and instead of indulging in those opportunities, we took care of kids.” I couldn’t find it in the linked Bloomberg article. Thank you!

    Reply
  5. Badger Girl
    Badger Girl says:

    I’m at the young end of the Boomers and when I was in high school/college our generation was going to save the earth. Think Earth Day and Marvin Gaye’s Mercy, Mercy Me; fighting nuclear power and pollution. Then we grew up, got busy with careers, kids and life, not to mention Ronald Reagan in the 80s and subsequent mainstream politics. Now people say OK Boomers. It takes a lot of perseverance to save the earth. I wonder if Generation Z will do any better than Boomers?

    Reply
  6. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    I feel out of place during discussions on generational characteristics because I straddle two generations. I was born at the end of 1979 and I was too young for the coming of age things gen. X got into, but too old for the kid things that millennials were into. I don’t know if I’m a young gen Xer or an old millennial. I have heard my generation called the Oregon Trail generation after the computer game that was popular in the late 80s/early 90s, but I can’t really pinpoint an overall characteristic for my generation.

    Reply
  7. Jenny Hatch
    Jenny Hatch says:

    My adult kids are great during one on one conversations but in a group they treat me as a boomer and the attitude is basically shut up. Shut up and do the dishes when I talk politics.

    Reply
  8. Jean
    Jean says:

    You ever consider running for office? I’d totally vote for you and I think you wouldn’t care what the opposing side thinks so you could get a lot accomplished based on facts and logic.
    Imagine that.

    Reply
  9. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Penny,

    You wrote, “Do not doubt my conclusion. Mark Zuckerberg just dumped $100 million into the Newark Public schools and confirmed that more money for schools doesn’t help kids in poverty.” I disagree! Change takes time and the benefit of social interventions need time and nurturing to bear fruit.
    I am an immigrant and had to work lots of menial jobs so I could get educated and pay off loans (my parents mortgaged the house so I could have a semester of tuition while I learned the system.) Even when I graduated and got an office job, I still had to work in food service to pay the bills. My kids won’t have to work menial jobs, but it took 25 years of me busting my hump to provide that outcome. Zuckerberg’s money will make a difference if it benefits the same population K thru 12. But more of that population would be helped and the benefit more profound, if social ills were also addressed as you suggest. There is no miracle cure, but i love the discourse you stimulate!

    My2centsworth:)
    Peace,
    D

    Reply
  10. Windscale
    Windscale says:

    How do you work out which generation you associate with? I was born in 1971 so https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_X says I’m generation X. But I get the impression this can also vary based on parents etc. My father did national service, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_X says the last recruits for that were in November 1960 and aged between 17 and 21, so the latest he could have been born was November 1943. I suspect in fact he was older because I know he did an apprenticeship and did his national service in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, which would make sense if he was in REME after his apprenticeship. My mother I know was considerably younger than my father – perhaps 10 or more years younger. I wonder if that skewed which generation I associate with?

    Reply
  11. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I’m Gen X & I’m tired of being shoved into boomers. Carter tried to push Solar Power as the main energy source when I was in grade school. The 1st poem I wrote was 3rd grade about extinction. I was recycling & repurposing starting in my 20s. I was made fun of by peers bc I used water/newspaper to clean windows. But there were others w/me in NW that were all doing this. (Nirvana breakout years) I have always volunteered or supported community. So the true Gen Xers as defined by Douglas Copeland (gen x book written in 90s) defined us.👀

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *