One week into the stay-at-home order, I caved and downloaded TikTok. I witnessed my teenage sister and my father try to recreate the popular “Blinding Lights” dance. And somehow, the algorithm decided I only wanted to see funny videos of dogs (which is completely accurate).
I remember cheering gleefully when society moved from claiming “millennials are ruining the ____ industry” to acknowledging that millennials are now in their mid-20s to late 30s and are doing perfectly fine, even if we don’t use paper napkins or fabric softeners. But through TikTok, I realized that millennials — and older generations — still have the chance to ruin something.
You see, after showing impossibly fluffy Fidos, the algorithm started offering more serious videos, ones that exposed the toxicity those born from 1997 to 2012 (known as “Gen Z”) experience. These ranged from calling out racist and sexist remarks to mobilizing viewers to hold others accountable for unjust killings or long-buried crimes. They are asking our generations to listen. And if we don’t, we’re ruining their future.
If we don’t listen to Gen Z and discredit them as naïve, phone-addicted kids, then we’re hindering them from reaching their full potential. Parents know this when their teen asks them about systemic racism. Teachers know this when high school students rally in response to kids their age getting shot in their classrooms. And now with COVID-19, many Gen Z-ers are the ones convincing their family members to take the virus seriously.
If we don’t listen to Gen Z and refuse to help them on a path to success, then we are preventing them from getting entry-level jobs. Those who graduated high school and college this year are looking at canceled internships and age barriers. We are telling graduates they need years of experience to get hired, but don’t trust them enough to give them that experience.
If we don’t listen to Gen Z and instead tell them to not get involved, stand up for their beliefs or speak out against hatred, then we hinder the most powerful group of future activists and leaders. I drove through the Pittsboro traffic circle when a group of Northwood students were peacefully advocating for Black lives, and then saw through many other generations angrily posting about it online. We are telling Gen Z to stop being offended by the news when the news affects them every single day.
So frankly, let’s cut the ageist crap. Let’s start actively listening to Zoomers and maybe even join them in a TikTok dance once in a while. Our future selves will thank us for it even if posterity won’t.
Rachel Horowitz resides in Chatham County and works in Pittsboro. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.