The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon forever changed Millennials, collectively. Whatever they would have become before 9/11 changed as they were just coming of age when they saw those infamous images of planes flying into the World Trade Center.
I am not a Millennial, but rather, a late Gen-Xer. However, that horrific day and those memories are as forever burned into my mind just as the shooting of JFK is likely burned into my grandparent’s minds, and the shooting of Reagan into my parent’s minds. That said, for Millennials, 9/11 formed their minds in different ways than they were headed before the massive – shifting event. For them, there has never been a time that their nation has not been at war. They lost trust in their parents’ generation, who responded to threat with, often blind Patriotism, and Islamophobia, and they grew up in a world of intense security protocols and procedures like no generation before them. It produced, in them, an odd hybrid of acceptance of high security and technology, and a type of patriotism that is suspicious of exclusion.
Eleni Towns, a researcher at the Center for American Progress, assesses it this way:
“Millennials are patriotic and believe in America’s institutions and the democratic process, which demands civic participation and the ability of free speech, even against leadership. The generation is also more tolerant and welcoming of different people and more eager to engage in the world beyond our borders.” [i]
“[They became] Young captains, sergeants, lieutenants, they’ve assumed responsibilities reserved for more senior commanders and remind us that in an era when so many other institutions have shirked their obligations, the men and women of the United States military welcome responsibility,”[ii]
While there is much I could say about this fascinating group, I have come to admire, the bottom line of their development as an ‘age grouping’ was arrested by the tragic events of 9/11, and life, as they had known it, had stopped and changed direction, thus, changing them also forever.
If this immensely horrific event, happening in the midst of the coming of age moment, rocked the development of Millennials in such unforeseen and unplanned ways, then that leaves me to wonder in what ways will COVID-19 now alter the course of Gen Z[iii] and Alpha[iv]?
Their lives have been disrupted, and the disruption is not a minor one, but rather one that will last for months. They have lost a school year and just been sent home. Some have online classes, others mere pre-packaged homework, and still others nothing to aid them in studies. They are a highly social grouping that has had to be systematically isolated, through social distancing, to help stop the spread of this disease. And while it is true that they are the YouTube/Snapchat/Instagram generation, nothing can really, ever, replace human contact; suddenly and almost without any warning we ushered them off to a world where they have gone from reduced groupings of 250, to 50, to 10, to homebound, all within one week, with no tangible end in sight! You just can’t do that to impressionable children and not leave social scars.
Have we considered the long-term impact on our children of seeing empty grocery stores and full-grown, average, citizens walking about in homemade hazmat suits? It must be terrorizing to see these images, especially for Generation Alpha who are all still in the, very impressionable, under 10 years of age! Most of them saw this first hand, but even if sheltered, we are talking about a group of kids whose screens are more native to them than paper! They are the first generation entirely born within the 21st century and we know that by 2025 will account for 2 billion of the world’s population[v] and yet no matter where they live, on the whole Globe, they will all share one thing in common: COVID-19’s mass breakout, the hysteria, and misinformation that reigned, in its wake. Too often, their parents are more concerned about the disruption in “life as usual” than the impact it is making on their children. Meaning to or not, I suggest, we have built a global tribe of peoples who will grow up on all four corners of the globe and all share this terrifying event as one large collective memory that will resonate from China to France, Germany to Mexico, from Canada to New York City.
It is greater and more defining than the shootings of JFK, Reagan or even 9/11 because it is, for the first time, a global marker in time; one of a shared moment of terror they all experienced together. While Millennials, collectively, in America will forever recall planes flying into buildings, their children will recall a real-life, dystopian disease ravaging the whole world, and was coming for them, one nation at time, in what, to them, will appear like all in one mere week, forever changing their world. They literally lived a series of James Dashner fictional novel like events!
It was day 4 of being out of school. My son, seven years old, was walking our dog, Oreo, in the early evening. We live close to his, now closed, school and as we were walking on the grass heading towards the sidewalk he spotted a classmate, also walking her dog, with her parent. They began to wave and shout greetings as all kids who miss each other would. When, suddenly, the little girl’s mother shouted, “Who is that? Stop! Don’t go near them,” and she took her daughter, and their dog, across the street and ignored us, as if we did not exist. There was no observing of the 6-foot social distancing protocol; there was just pure fear being taught to youth, not with discussion, but with unexplained action. As we walked home Jose’ asked me, “Dad, what is going on? Why did they act that way? I miss my friends, why can’t we say hi from the other side of the road, even?” We went home and washed our hands and I did my best to explain this “Brave New World.”[vi]
What You Can Do:
- Be honest when you talk to your children
- Be accurate when you talk to your children
- Discuss with them the ways the world is and has changed
- Get out of denial
- Stop living in survival mode. Get over your own drama. Your children need you right now
- Beware this will have a lasting impact, not just on you, but your child
- Listen to their fear and concerns and stop trying to refocus them. They need to express their fear as a part of processing it
- Pray with them
- Model good faith
Vinnie MacIsaac is the pastor of Solid Rock Seventh-day Adventist Church in Arlington VA. He blogs at SimplyVinnie.com. This article is reposted with permission.