It is becoming increasingly certain the pandemic will be longer-lasting than we had hoped and more impactful than we had imagined. With its persistence, we are beginning to see warnings about terrible effects it will have on younger generations. But what if the predictions are too dire and there is hope for a positive influence on the pandemic generation?
Generational differences are typically based on groups of people coming of age in the midst of shared conditions which shape their perceptions of themselves and their opinions about the world around them. Key historical events and social trends have significant influence on how they think, behave and make sense of the world—so goes the theory.
It is plausible this generation—whose views are being shaped through the coronavirus pandemic—will be cynical, afraid or insecure. But it is also conceivable they will be shaped in more positive ways. Here are optimistic predictions for a generation of possibilities:
Being In Community
Consideration for others. This generation has been conditioned to consider their effect on others. Because of potential germ spread and virus transmission, there is daily press about the effects of our actions on others—from basics like breathing to mundane activities like grocery shopping. All our activities affect those around us. Perhaps this generation will learn to be especially compassionate, recognizing their impact. Maybe this generation will particularly value their broader community—and their role in it.
Time with family. This generation has spent a significant amount of time sequestered with family. Their circles have been small, likely including immediate family or perhaps their closest friends or relatives. This could be the generation who especially appreciate relationships, has closer bonds with their siblings and enjoys just spending time together—who can enjoy the simple pleasures of doing a puzzle or taking a walk. Through their absence, this generation may learn to value connections and become better at staying in touch and being intentional about visiting or making time to be together.
Empathy. Mental health challenges are rising steadily and study after study demonstrates the negative emotional effects of the coronavirus. Trauma is prevalent—often bringing out parts of our personalities which are less than our best. A study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences finds when people see distress in others, they identify with the experience. This in turn can motivate cooperation and increase the effectiveness of communication. This may be a generation of youth who are more aware of human needs, bear witness to mental health issues, demonstrate a great amount of empathy and build especially positive social skills.
A slower pace. Hustle culture was at its height when the pandemic hit, and busyness was a badge of honor. The pandemic has halted much of our running. There is less to do, fewer places to go and an overall reduction of pace. These are the youth who have had birthday celebrations at home with a handful of people, rather than elaborate events. This generation may learn to appreciate a slower approach and a more deliberate existence. This may be a generation who spends their energy on things that are small and meaningful rather than more extravagant. Perhaps this group can be more mindful , more intentional and more present day-to-day and week-to-week.
Embracing nature. In the last decade or so, literature on child development has bemoaned children who haven’t spent time outside because of television and technology. But the pandemic has created a new appreciation for the outdoors. People are increasingly tapping into nature because it feels more secure (germs are more likely to dissipate harmlessly into the air), and because it offers stay-at-home entertainment options via walking, biking and exploring. Perhaps this will be the generation of children who will appreciate nature to a greater extent, feel more connected to it and reap the benefits for their mental and physical health.
Learning And Gratitude
New ways to communicate. By reducing in-person connections, the pandemic has necessitated an increase in other kinds of communication—from video conference to distance dialogues across the cul-de-sac. These ways of connecting require new skills in listening for tone of voice, watching for micro-expressions and noticing non-verbal cues via screens or from greater distances. This generation may develop their communication muscles by intuiting the needs of others and finding new ways to make real human connections beyond how we build relationships today.
New skills. The pandemic has spurred all kinds of new learning, and the consumption of DIY videos and online idea boards for at-home entertainment has skyrocketed. This may be the generation who can entertain themselves in new and creative ways. They may learn largely-forgotten skills like knitting, latch-hook or crochet. They may become proficient in nurturing a great sourdough starter or speaking another language. Most importantly, learning how to learn may be the purview of this generation.
Appreciating everything. When control is limited and so much is taken away, we appreciate things for their absence. Eating out, going to a movie or working out at a fitness center may have been easy to take for granted. Going to school may have been tiring—considering early alarm clocks or too much homework. But the pandemic has limited these to such a degree that we miss them terribly. This may be the generation of kids who will crave to get back to a classroom and appreciate even a simple dinner out. This generation may be more grateful for even the small things like basic supplies or the opportunity to be together with friends.
Creativity And Grit
Innovating. From the greatest barriers, arise the most inspiring innovations . Without limitations, it’s easy to continue doing things the same old way, but the pandemic has imposed some significant restrictions on doing things as usual. This could be the generation that finds new ways to get things done, fresh approaches to problems or unexpected responses to unresolved issues.
Adapting. Resilience is defined as three things: understanding reality, making sense of it and improvising—creating unexpected solutions. The pandemic has been extraordinarily hard, and we’ve had to find our way through. Research published in the Psychological Review found “mental toughness” is enhanced when people had multiple experiences of stress over time. Instead of having a negative cumulative effect, people could build positive outcomes in stressful situations. Another study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology also found some stress could be helpful—building resilience, learning and constructive outcomes. This could be the generation that learns to persist in the face of difficulty and to keep on going, even over a rocky terrain. This generation could be the one to demonstrate new levels of grit and determination.
Of course, we can all be better as a result of the pandemic—not just generations who are in their formative years. But those who are young—who are shaping their views of themselves and of the world—are in an extraordinary time and place to be positively influenced by the struggle we’re all going through. They are a “what if” generation facing plenty of possibilities. They may be the generation who can be in community and be present, who emphasize learning and gratitude. They may be the generation who is not only appreciative, but also creative and determined against all odds. There is hope for this generation to achieve an optimistic, capable and compassionate approach that will, in turn, shape the world.
By Tracy Brower, Contributor