Gen Zs have had it rough the past few years.
They were the first generation in a century to be forced to complete their high school education from home, endured harsh lockdowns during critical formative years and missed important milestones they’d been looking forward to their entire lives: 18th birthdays, formals, graduations, schoolies.
And when the pandemic lockdowns lifted and conditions eased, they still couldn’t catch a break. Russia invaded Ukraine and suddenly World War Three was (literally) on the cards.
Oh, and then heavens opened and swathes of the eastern seaboard went underwater, destroying livelihoods and homes – many of which had only just been rebuilt after Black Summer.
Throw the housing affordability crisis, the rising cost of living, job insecurity and the unravelling climate catastrophe into the mix – it’s no wonder there’s a crisis of hope among Gen Zs.
The phenomenon is so serious that experts studying the mental health of Gen Zs have coined a new phrase: Gen Z dread.
Postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Centre for Innovation in Global health Britt Wray co-authored Generation Dread: Finding purpose in an age of climate crisis in which she uncovers a sobering statistic: more than half of Gen Zs she surveyed (56%) agreed with the statement ‘Humanity is doomed’.
“It’s incredibly sad to hold that statistic in your heart and realise what it means that so many people are walking around and feeling that way about their own future and the future of the entire human race,” she told Yale Environment 360.
“It’s shameful that we have left young people with that kind of emotional reality.”
But, she said, she doesn’t think Gen Zs are overreacting.
“Speaking as a millennial, we have understood the climate crisis for a long time now,” she said.
“(Sure), it came in as a big cloud over our lives as teenagers or young adults in our early 20s. However, we still had the privilege of having gone through earlier developmental stages without thinking about the climate crisis on a daily basis and receiving messages telling us that our future prospects are diminishing.”
So how can we help our Gen Z kids navigate this (understandable) existential pessimism?
Dorset Mind is a UK-based local charity that educates and challenges mental health stigma and inequality.
Here’s how they suggest you support your Gen Z teen stricken with Gen Z Dread.
- Try to understand
Approach a conversation with your Gen Z kid from a place of compassion. There’s nothing worse than being scoffed at for being ‘dramatic’ – this invalidates their experience and discourages them from talking about their feelings, which can exacerbate mental health problems.
- Validate their emotions
Even if you can’t understand or connect with your Gen Z kid’s pessimism, remember that it’s very real (and distressing) to them. Validate their emotions by offering affirmative responses such as “I can see how that must feel difficult” and “how can I best support you?”.
- Practice cognitive reframing
Encourage your Gen Z kid to challenge thinking patterns that can have a negative impact on mental health. As a Dorset Mind Gen Z blogger deeswinton pointed out: “we can’t change the reality of the world, but we can change the way we think about it, and how much we let those thoughts affect our lives.”