Ugh, millennials. Snapchatting each other with silly filters, documenting their dual lives via Instagram and Finstagram, watching YouTube more than TV, swallowing Tide Pods...
That doesn’t sound like 30-something millennials or even 20-somethings. That sounds like the reputation of today’s teenagers.
Teenagers do not meet the age requirements for the millennial generation, yet they are commonly mistaken for millennials. The Pew Research Center defines millennials as being born between 1981 and 1997. Some scholars and marketers consider the millennial generation to be those born between 1980 and 1995. Others extend it by five years, from 1980 to 1996, to account for the largest living generation.
Today’s teenagers don’t fall into any of those definitions.
So, stop calling teenagers millennials. In fact, stop generalizing them as a whole.
Identifying people by the time period they grew up is a relatively new invention. As The Atlantic wrote in 2014, 19th century scholars mostly thought of generations as biological relationships within (male) families — grandfathers, fathers, sons, brothers. But in the early 20th century, European philosophers developed “societal generations” to create a framework to explain people who grew up in the same time period.
Scholars and marketers developed names and common characteristics for baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials. Psychologist Jean M. Twenge wrote books on narcissistic millennials called “Generation Me” and “The Narcissism Epidemic,” forging a reputation for millennials as self-entitled, confident, tolerant and all about the individual.
Describing societal generations can help create identities we can belong to, but often they can isolate us from that group. More importantly, the teenagers I talked to may not even want to be categorized as one thing in a generation known for embracing their individual identities.
Amelia Crowe, a 17-year-old from Evanston, Ill., told me that her generation consists of so many different identities and diverse backgrounds that it’s hard to imagine everyone being called the same thing.
“People don’t all want to be called one thing. I don’t think I need a name given by an older generation,” Crowe said.
Another teen I talked to on Tumblr — a 14-year-old Canadian named Quinn Jeffery-Off who identifies as non-binary and genderqueer — said that unlike millennials, Gen Z kids are fully realizing themselves much earlier.
“We’ve grown up in such a digital age where everything going on is out there. Millennials didn’t have that growing up,” said Jeffery-Off.
“We have so much access to resources and information, and I think that has affected how kids are starting to realize their identities and develop their own opinions when millennials only started doing that once they’d reached adulthood,” they said.
Last month, the New York Times petitioned Generation Z to vote on a new name to call themselves. I could try and come up with a name for them here — Generation Meme, Generation Finsta, Gen Tide Pod, Generation Dumbphone — but those are bad jokes I came up with friends.
I don’t know what the next generation should be named. Maybe no one name can define a generation as divergent as this one.