Madonna King: Kids want to protest. That’s something all generations should celebrate

Schoolchildren went on strike for climate change in 2019.

Schoolchildren went on strike for climate change in 2019. Photo: Getty

This week, one of my Gen Z daughters questioned how I knew the contemporary meaning of the word ‘fold’; to yield or collapse.

We were on BeReal, a once-in-every-24-hour chance for me to know what the 18-year-old is doing, 1000km away. I treasure it; even wait for it like a teenager, on some days. “It was a word in my day,’’ came my indignant Gen X response.

That means she’ll probably never use it again, and I stay away from words like GOAT, and slay and Yass Queen. My Baby Boomer husband has still not recovered from Gen Z’s launch of “OK Boomer’’.

But that light-hearted banter between parents and Gen Z children (those born between 1995 and 2009) over language might camouflage a wider and deeper disconnect between generations, that now has a front-row seat in rallies and protests across the globe.

And it’s something both generations should celebrate.

The loudest call for change, with the Voice referendum, came via mass echo chambers delivered on TikTok feeds, filled with young people wanting action.

We oldies could ignore it there, because it didn’t spill onto the streets. We didn’t see it. But that’s changing now, particularly across Gen Z’s support for action on climate change and demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.

Strikes in Australia on Friday are expected to involve thousands of teens using a collective voice that many don’t yet have at the ballot box.

But this movement is bigger than that. It’s unfolding globally, and the US is a spectacular example.

There, Gaza has been the lightning rod for Gen Z rallies across the university campuses. In New York, Gen Z protesters have also taken to the streets, demanding an end to fossil fuels and warning Joe Biden he would have “the blood of my generation on your hands’’ unless action was taken.

Young and determined

Unions, too, are becoming bloated with younger members after lengthy periods of declining numbers. They want to be heard, offline too.

None of this public political engagement should surprise us, despite it not being seen since Baby Boomers took to the streets, at the same age, to demand all sorts of reform.

This cohort has been loud, but not on the old-fashioned forums our leaders use. Indeed Mark McCrindle makes the point that Gen Z uses TikTok, Instagram and YouTube daily in vast numbers to learn new skills.

Social media is their default, and three-quarters of them in another study were found to use TikTok as a search platform – compared to 51 per cent overall who preferred Google.

In our home, with two Gen Zers, it’s been eye-opening to see how the case for Palestine and against Israel has played out on social media. It’s been loud and relentless, and those on TikTok with divergent views could find themselves quickly cancelled – no matter how popular or thoughtful they were.

Until now, none of this has played out publicly, because online has been where Gen Z have chosen to swap views and galvanise support for change.

Who would blame them? This generation values collaboration more than their parents – and certainly politicians – and social media has allowed them to access and share information much younger than their parents.

Despite that, they are forbidden a view at the ballot box until 18.

They are probably also sick of the labels routinely assigned to them by surveys claiming they are needy and lazy with impaired social skills and an obsession with technology.

It’s easy to create those labels when we are not walking in their shoes.

Different perspectives

Research has also shown they are more financially stressed than any other generation, and more likely to be looking at changing their jobs, or finding second ones. It’s unlikely that many of them will own their own home.

They also think differently. And an example of that might be the demand by many of them that media not take their photo – even in a public place where they are leading a rally. That highlights how they view privacy and their rights, but also how they consume and see media in a totally different way.

Policy makers would be foolish to dismiss their concerns, and demand they return to school classes as they did a few years ago.

It’s in all our interests that our children are engaged and fighting for a better world. Their decision to now do that, offline, might simply show the failure of the generations before them.

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