Generation X, as well as older Millennials, grew up in an era when cars were synonymous with freedom and getting out of the home on weekends was everything. We were open to taking risks. Many of us rebelled against our families and our upbringings, and we never thought about talking to our parents about taboo topics back then. However, teenagers today are more than content to—gulp—stay at home. Guck me with a spoon!
How could things have changed so quickly in just a few decades. One answer is that we’re living in an age of technology. For those born from roughly 1961–1981, the world was a different place in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Social media wasn’t even an idea. Computers used to take up entire tablestops or were larger than rooms. Plus, cell phones didn’t exist when Generation X were teens. A car phone was the best option.
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Most people assume there are differences between Gen X parents and their children because of the rise in technology. Because teens are now more connected online than ever, have more to do and are more comfortable with staying home, thanks to COVID-19 lockdown orders. But you might be surprised by other differences between GenX and their teenage kids.
Gen X Couldn’t Wait To Start Adulting
If you’re part of Generation X or even an elder millennial, what was the one thing you and your friends looked forward to as a teenager? Getting a driver’s license! The DMV is where most of us celebrated 16th birthdays. It was a way of life. Plus, it gave us the radical independence so many of us sought but couldn’t get elsewhere.
Teens are not the same. This is confirmed by the Federal Highway Commission Administration. In 2018, 61% of American 18-year-olds had a driver’s license, down from 80% percent in 1983. The number of 16-year olds holding licenses fell from 46% to 25% during this period.
Reddit user Reddit shared the experiences of Gen Xers with their teenagers not wanting to drive. The sentiment shared by many parents is summed up in this Reddit user’s comment: “I wanted to drive pretty much anything with tires and a motor as soon as I could reach the pedals and steer. My kids, not so much. Both of my sons were seniors in [high school] before getting their learner permits, and that was just to shut me up. They really weren’t interested.”
Teenagers today just don’t have the same interest in driving. Why is that? Because teens just don’t leave the house that we did decades ago. For those of us who couldn’t wait to get out of the house on the weekends or during the summer, we just don’t understand why our kids want to stay home. Reddit user just posted: “[My kids are] more than happy to gather 5-6 friends on Zoom or whatever and giggle and shriek at each other that way. The in-person hangout time just isn’t as important.”Perhaps today’s teens are more inclined to preserve their childhood and not rush to imitate adults.
Is Community Still Possible?
As teenagers grow up today in an era impacted by COVID-19, social media, and information being available at a moment’s notice, one searing difference between Gen X and their teens is the sense of community. The religious institutions are an area where the generations have a vastly different sense of community.
A Gallup poll found that nearly 70% of Americans grew up in a synagogue or church while Gen X was growing. This number dropped to 47% in 2020 and has been declining for more than 20 years. Gen X is well aware of the hypocrisy experienced by many in houses of worship. However, others lament that they destroyed these communities and did not replace them with a better option.
Reddit posted the following statement by an atheist self-described: “I never really considered how much of a role the churches played in the community aspect of people’s lives. I grew up in a Catholic family, and the community was massive. It was far from perfect, but it made a difference in people’s lives. Arguably, the positives outweighed the negatives by a large margin.”
Today’s teens are more comfortable with online communities. Teenagers connect with their friends via social media and play video games. This generation is not defined by cultural touchstones, even though they have these online communities. There is so much content online that everyone is absorbing.
Reddit user, “I wonder what it will be like for them when they reach our age and don’t have the same cultural touchstones. There is so much media that no one is consuming the same thing.”Teens today might not have the same cultural touchstones that Gen X has.
Teens are today healthier and more socially conscious.
Driving was a teenage rite-of-passage back in those days, as was drinking, getting high or having sex. For teens today, they’re much more conscious of the effects of drinking, smoking, drugs, and having lots of sex. In fact, The National Survey of Sexual Health and BehaviorRecently, many Gen Xers confirmed what they have witnessed with their kids. Although the study was focused on sex only, the lead researcher also discovered that teens were drinking less alcohol and driving less.
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Today’s teens are also more socially conscious than most of their parents were as teenagers. They’re involved in important discussions around racism, climate action, politics, and gender equality. Reddit was a place where parents made this observation. “At the age we were arguing which popular media franchise character was cooler, they’re engaging with discussions about the sociopolitical implications of how…characters’ roles are framed and presented.”
Plus, they’re more inclusive and understand that much in life is fluid, including gender, sexuality, and interests. Reddit user says: “They do have these amazing inclusive attitudes toward gender and sexuality—it goes beyond accepting others as they are, but more like you can be whatever you like and that’s just how it goes. I would say the current conservative political climate has no idea what is coming for them.”
Today’s Teens Are Cooler Than We Ever Were
Teenagers are cooler today than ever. Reddit user one parent shared this insight: “My teens are way cooler than I ever was, and so are all their friends. They are confident and put-together, and the agonizing awkwardness I went through is nowhere to be seen. They are somehow more sophisticated than I was at this age.”
They’re also full of creativity, as evident in their social media posts and videos. Plus, teens today aren’t concerned with stigmas that existed around mental health when we were growing up. They can express their anxiety and stress, while also seeking support for mental health.
Teens today are more compassionate and understanding than ever before. They’ve grown up in an era where bullying isn’t ok. They aren’t afraid of standing up to prejudice In fact, teens today stand up for each other and even stand up for themselves. They’re a generation that may just be defined by their kindness.
Overall, the sentiment Gen X has about their teenage children is best summed up in this parent’s Reddit comment: “I have a 25 [year old] and a 14 [year old]. Both are gamers and not at all interested in any sports, which I’m ok with. I wish they would get outdoors more though, both are stuck in their gaming routines. But both are caring and empathetic towards others. So I did something right.”