Rob Callender writes: Over the past week, the United States has watched the Centennial generation insert itself into the national dialogue. In doing so, it has asserted its right to help shape the future it will inherit.
The catalyst for this national coming-of-age was a depressingly familiar school shooting in the small Florida town of Parkland. What was completely unfamiliar was the students’ reaction. Their bold calls for action on gun control, along with their refusal to settle for the empty “thoughts and prayers” that usually follow such events, have captured the national spotlight. In doing so, the Centennial generation (those born in 1997 and after) has served notice it’s not content to stand by and watch.
After years of political turf battles that have done nothing to make them safer, young people are now raising their own voices as citizens. They are walking out of schools in protest of an unsafe “work” environment. They are marching to Florida’s state capitol—and to D.C.—to demand change. And they plan to mobilise their votes in support of preferred candidates in the 2018 mid-term elections. They’re intent on creating the change they demand.
To many political pundits and observers of culture, this civic awakening is a surprising development. Teens aren’t known for political engagement or for activism that requires more effort than “likes” and shares. But, through our research on generational change, we know that the Centennial generation is fundamentally different from previous generations. They have been shaped by a environment defined by unpredictability and flux. And they learnt from this to be vigilant about the world. They know that progress is possible only through effort, tenacity, and grit.
Centennials are a sharp contrast to the Millennial generation which came of age during the peaceful and prosperous 1990s. They’re more likely to shape a focused and pragmatic plan than to follow their dreams. #NeverAgain has a very different mood to #Occupy.
The events of the past week are a bracing illustration of this generational shift. School shootings aren’t new, but Centennials’ empowered reaction to them most definitely is. Their response is aligned with the core values of this generation: Realism, Openness and Resilience.
- Realism: accepting that success isn’t a birthright. 68% of Centennials agree with the statement: “I feel that I have to take whatever I can get in this world because no one is going to give me anything.”
- Openness: realizing that a new reality requires new strategies. A striking 83% of Centennials say “being open to new ideas” is very important to their personal identity.
- Resilience: Bouncing back from life’s abundant adversity. Four in five Centennials (80%) agree that, “It’s important to me to try things I have never done before, even if it may not lead to a successful outcome.”
Their core values enable Centennials to identify truths, act with intention and work to improve the world around them. Their drive to solve problems, including social problems, influences their attitude toward everything—from their own personal lives to the marketplace to society at large.
A new chapter
The students at the center of the Parkland school shooting have inspired other Americans with their poise and boldness in the face of tragedy. But they are not outliers or aberrations. More likely, we’re witnessing the first page in a new chapter of history. A generation is giving notice that if older generations can’t engineer solutions, Centennials will—and are increasingly able to—roll up their sleeves and get to work. Given the conditions in which they were raised and their core values, it is likely to be the first of many such moments.
Rob Callender is Associate Head of Polycultural & Inclusivity Insights at Kantar Consulting in North America. The image at the top of the post is by Lorie Shaull and is published here, with thanks, under a Creative Commons licence.