Teen Culture

The Rise of “OK Boomer” and How to Break the Generational Gap

The slogan “OK Boomer” is making a rise among Generation Z. Whether it is on the front of shirts and sweatshirts, in songs, or being used as a hashtag, Generation Z is making their voice heard while mocking the mentality of older generations. 

Generation Z is fed up with being looked down upon, disregarded, and told that their opinions do not matter. They look to the world and see everything — from climate change, to the increased cost of living, to the cost of higher education — as problems all created and handed on to them by previous generations. This slogan is like an online eye roll aimed at all who go before them who they see as outdated political figures trying to run their lives. This popular slogan is evidence that Generation Z is beginning to view Boomers as a generation whose past choices are hurting their present. While this slogan refers directly to the generation of Boomers, many teens agree that anyone can be a “boomer” who does not like change, does not understand new things (especially related to technology), and who does not understand equality.

This collective feeling that Generation Z exhibits reveals a lot to us about their generation. We see particular concern and care for big issues such as a college education, climate change, and equality. As they blaze their way into the future prepared to prove everyone wrong, Generation Z  is not afraid to make their voices heard despite what older generations may think of them. They are open to change, embracing new technologies, and challenging status quos with their fluid ways of thinking. They are a generation unlike any other, and they are not backing down.

There are qualities of courage, of resolve, of dedication to a cause that are all very positive qualities for teens to have. They care about things bigger than themselves and are dedicated to justice. There is a lot that we can learn from these simple slogans that go viral on social media, and it is important that we do not disregard the anthems of this generation.

Yet, even if it can be merited, the overall attitude of disregarding older generations while playing the victim is not a healthy way for a teen to approach the world. While their opinions do matter, there is much they do not understand and great wisdom that can be learned from those who have gone before them.

In the face of the “OK Boomer” movement, what can you do as a parent? It is possible to both support the dreams and aspirations of your teens to make the world a better place and help them grow in healthy respect for the wisdom of those who had gone before them.

SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD

Do you listen and seek to understand your teen before offering advice?

Times are changing, and fast. While it is important to be able to share wisdom from your own life with your teen, they may not always see it as relevant.  If you really want to make an impact, it is important to remain open — first, hearing what your child has to say and seeking to understand where they are coming from. Rather than laying down a blanket statement or rule about a whole topic (that you may not fully understand), listen first and then share. Just because you did not grow up with the same technology, or pressure, or cultural movements, does not mean they don’t hold validity. Your wisdom and your insight are important, but understanding the change that has happened since you were a teen will allow for more compassionate conversation.

Do you seek to understand the technology that rules their world before you create rules?

Technology is a beast. There are new apps, new trends, new viral videos being created seemingly every second. Digital technology is a part of this generation, for better or for worse, and it is all the more important that you take the time to understand it. Read about the apps that your teens are using, download them and see how they work. Ask your teen to teach you about their favorite features, about who they are following, and why. Approach this experience not from a place of “policing” but from a place of desired understanding in order to properly regulate and guide. While teens may not want you on social media —  looking into what they are doing — they need you to do it anyway. These exercises will help you set guardrails that will deter them from the dark depths of what social media is capable of and guide them to the fullness of life.

Do you understand their worldview and opinions of equality?

One of the many admirable qualities of Generation Z is their ability to empathize with those who are different. This generation is dedicated to seeing those who are marginalized and outcast with new eyes and working to end injustice. They are the most diverse generation yet and that is a reality that drives their thirst for equality. They are testing boundaries and binaries that may make you uncomfortable. They challenge the status quo with such confidence that many of us are left in a mix of fear of change and awe. What does equality mean to your teen? Do you take the time to look into and understand the causes that matter to them and their generation? While there are many things this generation is fighting for that are not entirely in line with Catholic moral teaching, anything we try to teach will fall on deaf ears if we do not first earn the right to be heard. 

Generation Z wants to be heard. Your teen wants to be heard.

Through your patience and understanding, your open ear will create the foundation for your guidance, wisdom, support, advice, and guardrails in order to lead your teen to the fullness of life.

CONNECT THEM TO THE WISDOM OF THE PAST 

There is a dual mentality that is driving the rise of the “OK Boomer” movement. On the one hand, teens who disregard the wisdom of adults and, on the other hand, adults who think they always know how young people should act. In order to break the generational gap, we have to learn how to journey together.

Share your stories with your teens.

Help your teen gain perspective of the fact that they are not the first generation to face problems created by previous generations. After you have listened to their concerns, share with them stories of your experience and what you learned. What causes were you passionate about as a teen? What problems did you recognize you wanted to fix? What did you dream of when you dreamed of a better world? Share with them the perspective you gained as you continued to grow and understand more about society and the world around you. 

Empower them to make a difference.

While there are many real problems this generation is facing that do not have any short term solutions, do not let your teen fall into a victim mentality. Rather than looking at the world as problems created by others that they are subject to, help them to see ways they can make a difference. If they are concerned about the cost for college, support them by brainstorming other solutions such as going to a trade school or community college, or finding a job that will allow them to attend school part-time. If they are concerned about climate change, support them in their efforts to recycle and make changes as a family in how you consume products. If they feel like their opinion doesn’t matter or their voice is not being heard, when appropriate, bring them into family decisions as a contributing voice and opinion. 

Connect them to their grandparents.

If it is possible, connect your teen to their grandparents and support them in fostering that relationship. Support your teen in creating the time and space in their schedule to visit their grandparents. Encourage your teens to visit and listen to their grandparents’ stories, all the while supporting your parents in being open to conversations with your teen — even if they do not act, dress, or have opinions they agree with. Making time for these relationships may not always be easy or perfect, but connecting your teen to older generations and encouraging them to be open and listen may help them see that older people have much to offer.

It will not be easy to combat the “OK Boomer” mentality among this generation, but in your own home there is much you can do to help your teen have a healthy approach to the world and the history of previous generations that they are a part of — for better or worse. 

You can guide your teens to see the world, as Pope Francis put it, “as a canoe, in which the elderly help to keep on course by judging the position of the stars, while the young keep rowing, imagining what waits for them ahead. Let us steer clear of young people who think that adults represent a meaningless past, and those adults who always think they know how young people should act. Instead, let us all climb aboard the same canoe and together seek a better world, with the constantly renewed momentum of the Holy Spirit” (Christus Vivit, 201)  This better world is possible and it will happen when we are able to break generational gaps and truly learn to journey and face life’s challenges together. 

About the Author

Amanda Grubbs

Amanda Grubbs is a graduate from Franciscan University with a degree in Theology and Catechetics with a concentration in Youth Ministry. She serves as the Edge Support Coordinator for Life Teen, and is actively involved at her local parish. She is a Colorado native, happily married, and loves all things fall (which is unfortunate when living in the middle of the desert). You can email her at [email protected] or follower her on Twitter @LT_AmandaG.