There are many things I don’t understand. If I were to list them all – starting with TikTok – my children, and their friends, would mock me for acting in a very Boomer way. By stating this I’m clearly acting in a very Boomer way.
When I say they and their friends would mock, it’s unlikely they’d speak. They would share thoughts on a variety of messaging services. By describing them as a variety of messaging services, I’m reinforcing the Boomer look.
In truth, I’m quite in awe of the ability to post to several different platforms, watch some TV, eat, discern the subtext of what some people buzzing around their friendship groups mean AND learn song lyrics that are playing somewhere on the edge of audibility ALL AT THE SAME TIME. I struggle driving AND talking.
But that’s not why I think young people are incredibly impressive. In the ongoing messed-up contemporary culture wars, kids entered into lockdown with a very bad rep. And by kids I mean those who are old enough to go in and out of the house unaccompanied.
They were frequently dismissed as annoying and entitled snowflakes. The generation who, nose-deep in all manner of brand new, top-of-the-range gadgets, were so cotton-woolled by helicopter parents they were wholly incapable of facing life as it appeared. They’d melt in a storm! Conscript them! Toughen them up!
If we can build a future for them they will be a brilliant, unstoppable force
Then came lockdown. And it has proved that this reductive stereotyping is bunk.
Cast your mind back to when you were in your teens or hitting your early 20s. Your friends and your out-of-home life helped form your identity. If that was ripped away, coupled with a complete ending of the ability to get to school or some similar place to provide connection, you may have collapsed.
So far, there have been no stories of mass snowflake melting.
When exams were shelved, things that they’d worked towards for years, with the insistence they were vital for the future, there was no national flood of weeping. When students saw courses pulled, costly courses, they took it. When the call went out for NHS staff during the depth of the Covid crisis, 25,000 student nurses and midwives stepped up.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
The accelerating job cull that is ripping through Britain will hammer the under-25s disproportionately. That they’re not yet storming the Palaces of Westminster demanding revolution is, in many ways, the most surprising aspect of where they are just now.
As we return to normal, with shops reopening, it will be younger people who will be on the front line. The debate over when and how schools and colleges reopen impacts hard on so many of their tomorrows.
When Boris Johnson jaw-jaws about being some kind of crumpled, Etonian FDR, he needs to ensure that he delivers on the promises he makes for building back better for a younger generation. They won’t forget if those promises are broken.
They’ve lived through something that all of the finger-pointing sneerers never had to when they were younger. They have been toughened by what has happened. If we can build a future for them they will be a brilliant, unstoppable force. The kids are all right, really.
Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue