Every twenty years a new generation emerges, each with a defining name. Fighting World War II earned The Greatest Generation its name, while the post-war birthrate bump became the Baby Boomers. Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel of meandering young adults struggling to turn their lives into meaningful stories nailed Generation X. (He later renounced the term, but it stuck.)
The Millennial Generation led us into our new century.
Attempts to name a generation after the preceding one never stick. Generation X was originally called the Baby Busters, as if the Boom had gone Bust. The Millennials were originally called Generation Y, as if our national creative drought left us gave us no option but to pick the next letter of the alphabet.
Unable to learn from history, the best we can do so far is call today’s kids Generation Z, a ridiculous, derivative, and dead-end name. So what should we call this new generation, those now in high school and younger?
Writers have floated names like iGeneration, a reference to the generation’s tech obsession and presumed self-centeredness, and The Plurals, which, frankly, is among the worst generational handles ever.
Three years ago, MTV asked a thousand teens to name their own generation, they proposed The Founders because they hoped to restart a more accepting society. Sentiment aside, the name has zero traction.
We either try too hard or not hard enough with this generational naming business. I felt certain the right name would come to us rather than us cooking it up. Now I believe the name has emerged.
The Parkland Generation.
More than a singular event or a small group of advocates, the name captures both the cultural climate and the character of this generation. Let me explain.
This past Valentine’s Day, seventeen people died and seventeen others were wounded by a young gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. The event encapsulated our times: frightening, uncertain, hostile, divided.
Our panel of Shrinks discusses The Parkland Generation on this episode of the Shrink Tank Podcast.
In the aftermath, the Parkland students didn’t cower or go silent. Instead, they rallied, they advocated, they demanded change. In keeping with the spirit of our times, they were attacked on social media, on cable news, and in state legislatures.
“They took action because they had no choice, watching as the grown-ups do nothing.”
Some called them phonies, one pundit said they weren’t citizens, others said they should shut their mouths.
Yet they persisted. Led by as many young women as young men, students like David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, Alfonso Calderon, Sarah Chadwick, Alex Wind, and others, formed the #NeverAgain movement that looks much like their larger generation: smart, social media-savvy, racially-diverse, tenacious, and scrappy.
In the days following the Parkland shooting, these kids rallied, lobbied, and organized. A month to the day after the massacre, hundreds of thousands of teens walked out of schools around the country, with some even risking disciplinary action, thanks to the spark lit by the courageous students of Parkland.
“This beast of a generation woke up, sensed the vacuum of leadership and courage, and stepped into the fray.”
In only a few weeks, students created the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. and in major cities around the country, a remarkable feat for any generation of any age.
They took action because they had no choice, watching as the grown-ups do nothing. Law enforcement officials stood outside of the school during the shooting. A state lawmaker called them children who should not be heeded. The U.S. Senate responded within days when a dog died in a plane’s overhead compartment, but won’t budge on any meaningful reforms for kids’ safety.
Their president chides video games and movies but doesn’t really hear them.
Instead of passivity and cynicism, though, they have chosen activism and hopefulness. Twitter trolls don’t cow them; do-nothing politicians don’t delay them; partisan hacks don’t deter them.
Wizards with technology, skilled at networking, comfortable with conflict, and dogged as hell, these fierce kids will create real change.
Bracketed in birth by Columbine and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the youth of our entire nation have become The Parkland Generation. How fitting to name the generation after the elders of their cohort, the role models who will lead the way into the coming decades.
The Parkland Generation represents much more than gun reform. After decades of our country’s diminishing resilience, we’re experiencing a sea-change among our youth.
This beast of a generation woke up, sensed the vacuum of leadership and courage, and stepped into the fray.
Thank God for The Parkland Generation.