Gen Z gets High on Creative Expression
Generation Z is very stressed out right now—teens in particular. Twenty percent of teen males and 30% of teen females have been diagnosed with anxiety, according to the NIMH. This coincides with a recent increase in societal strains in general: per the American Psychological Association (APA), stress levels in America since January 2017 are at an all-time high. Generation Z is fully entirely aware of today’s broader societal stressors. For example, Lauren, 13, says, “I’m really really worried about America right now.” What does all this mean? Take your typical teen stressors and add a long list of new ones, such as an unsteady political administration, fears of deportation, talk of nuclear war, and so on. Plus, there are all kinds of generation-specific stressors particular to teens, like FOMO, viral prom proposals, college competition at an all-time high, Phone Separation Anxiety (PSA), and massive unpopularity and popularity contests on social media 24/7. Fortunately, our highly exposed generation of 7 to 21-year-olds is resilient to some of life’s challenges—and extremely passionate about confronting them.
Generation Z has invented new ways to be resilient. To handle multiple layers of stressors, they’ve crafted wildly creative coping methods that enable them to express their concerns instead of not getting buried under them. By coping methods, I don’t mean the typical numbing agents of the teenage wasteland. In fact, teens’ traditional outlets for dealing with stress are on the decline. Their fears about the world and their future are getting higher, but teenagers themselves are not: teen substance abuse is down, according to a survey by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH). What’s also on the decline is sports participation, indicating physical activity is less of an outlet than in previous years. Cigarette use is also down; however, the use of vaping among teens is skyrocketing. This is concerning, but there are also very encouraging changes.
Gen Z is relieving stress by igniting their passions and channeling their emotions through creative expression and venues that let them rant, sing, and rap off some steam. They compose raps to express their political motivations; listen to explicit music with a strong message as in Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN; engage in street activism and protests; stand firm against hate on campus as in Middlebury College; produce OpDocs filmed by a teen Syrian refugee for the NY Times; vlog for a purpose or cause as in Jazz Jennings; perform, educate or rant to become instafamous; confront topics like suicide head on with shows as in 13 Reasons Why; become entrepreneurs, sometimes seemingly overnight; and, in some cases, or become YouTube singers, comedians, or maybe even celebrities.
Encouragingly, despite being immersed in multiple layers of stress, resilient Gen Z continues to work hard to reach their goals. High school graduation rates were at an all-time high of 83% in 2015, with 70% of graduates enrolling in a university or college.
Resilient and creative, Generation Z has found some safe(r) ways to relieve some of their stress, ways that we—parents, educators, marketers, and peers—can support by paying closer attention to their productions and individual forms of expression. We can also support programs that facilitate creative and social expression, like the Writer’s Block Ink of New London, CT which I visited last week. And of course, the comforts of home and parent reassurance continue to be important to our resilient, stressed, beautifully creative Generation Z.