Generation sensible: why so sensible?

A generation of young people are growing up in an uncertain world, characterised by global instability, terrorist threats, economic uncertainty and political division. It’s no surprise then that Gen Z are looking for stability in this tough, unpredictable climate; as a recent study points out, 60% of Gen-Z feel pressure to be successful and make money. They’ve had to become more realistic and pragmatic about what today’s economic context means for their future, with 42% of young people saying that traditional goals, such as buying a house or getting a steady job were idealistic.

A desire for control in uncertainty

Today’s youth are desiring control and becoming increasingly sensible. Rather than indulging in what they view as frivolous and harmful activities, such as binge drinking or experimenting with drugs, 79% of 16-24s are opting for staying in and bingeing TV series over a night out clubbing according to a recent youth trends report.

We seem to be witnessing a shift in the very definition of youth; gone are the days where being young meant being carefree. The youth of the today are being forced to grow up sooner and face scary, real-life ‘adult’ decisions much earlier. This pressure is clearly having an impact. The Mental Health Foundation reports that 57% of 18-24-year olds are feeling overwhelmed by a fear of making mistakes that will impact the rest of their lives.

Social media ramping up the pressure

Social media is intensifying this pressure to be perfect, with young people becoming intensely focussed on presenting the best versions of themselves, and facing the burden of documenting every waking moment to remain relevant. Growing notice is being taken of the digital pressures facing younger generations today, from keeping up with peers, influencers and celebrities, to living up to the expectations they have set for themselves on social media.

Building ‘brand me’

Previous generations had the luxury of the time to find themselves and go through all those terrible, awkward teen stages that everyone remembers not-so-fondly, without social media documenting every misstep. But today’s youth must be ‘Insta-ready’ right now. They use social platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat to curate perfect versions of themselves, creating a semi-permanent visual CV, whilst navigating their difficult journey towards adulthood.

Surveillance culture

Today’s surveillance culture means that young people today truly can’t afford to make any stupid mistakes, because everything they do is captured and shared on social media for the world to see. As everyone around them is acting like the paparazzi, the stakes for social embarrassment or shaming have never been higher for young people who recognise how detrimental a one-off drunken photo could be on their permanent online record down the line.

A new narcissism

This unremitting pursuit of perfection is manifested in new levels of vanity. In the world of social media, where images and videos dominate, looking your best is key. Looking Insta-ready has become the new focus for the youth of today, with 62% of 15 to 16-year olds feeling that social media has ramped up expectations of their personal appearance according to the Guardian. Young people are opting to spend more time being healthy – drinking green juices or mediating, than going out with friends. But is this health cult a genuine desire to connect with mind and body or just a means of virtue signalling and generating ‘likes’?

About Marina Graham

Marina Graham is a Research Manager at MTM who specialises in youth cultural trends and has a passion for understanding generational differences. She’s recently been working on various youth research projects, speaking with experts and young audiences to explore the realities of what it’s like to be a young person today.