These Moments Still Matter: How COVID-19 Cancellations Impact Generation Z
In a matter of two weeks, cancel culture went from meaning to stop following a person or business online to a very real feeling that culture was being canceled. Countless events, festivals, and gatherings across the globe were put on hold out of precaution of the COVID-19 pandemic. And for good reason. Reducing opportunities for people to gather in large groups and encouraging people to stay home, including those with symptoms and those who may asymptomatically carry the virus, is a part of “flattening the curve,” designed to slow the spread of the disease. The guidelines for gatherings in the United States dwindled down to 10 people in many locations in a matter of days. With each new advisory, gatherings for important milestones and meaningful moments were taken off the calendar.
The cancellations and postponements due to COVID-19 precautions have had direct and rippling effects on nearly every industry, age group, gender, race, and religion. But there is an entire generation of young people who have grown up looking forward to or dreaming about once-in-a-lifetime meaningful moments and milestones that won’t take place this year or won’t take place in the ways they traditionally have. Generation Z, born between 1995–2010, makes up the cohort of young people between the ages of 10 and 25, who are today’s middle-school, high-school, and undergraduate and graduate students. For high school students, there won’t be the end-of-year dances and proms, college visits and tours, senior trips, spring athletics seasons, or graduations. For those in higher education, final classes will be finished online, and many were rushed to moving out of their residence halls and houses early for the semester. Turning the tassel from right to left might take place through a virtual commencement ceremony, if at all.
Certainly, the health and safety of individuals and communities are paramount, but we can still recognize that not having opportunities to celebrate hard work and accomplishments, take the SAT or AP exams, tour college campuses, have enriching experiences like study abroad, or play in a final athletics season can be deflating and saddening. Not having these moments does not discount the incredible amounts of work and energy young people have invested in their pursuits. They’ll still go on and do great things that contribute to their communities, industries, and the world. But it is okay for them to mourn the loss of the meaningful moments they won’t be able to have. While dealing with emotions spurred by the cancellations and postponements of important events, many in Generation Z are also recognizing the importance of and responsibility for keeping themselves, their families, and communities safe. As Generation Z college senior and baseball player at the University of Central Arkansas, Paul Rouse, shared in a tweet “If I have to give up my senior season of college baseball for someone to get to spend 10+ more years with their grandparents or a baby gets to live a full happy life, then take it away. It’s not about you.” Rouse shares a sentiment that rings true with many in Generation Z when it comes to creating positive change in the world — that sacrificing important moments today could mean a brighter and healthier future.
This isn’t to say that one generation’s important moments are a priority over another’s, but the further older generations age away from the meaningful milestones of youth and adolescence, their perspectives on the meaningfulness can change. To understand this phenomenon better, the Pew Research Center describes three lenses for understanding the impact of societal events on different generations. These lenses include the Period Effect, the Life Cycle (or Age) Effect, and the Cohort Effect.
The Period Effect addresses the broader social impacts on the entire population or society caused by a situation or event during a specific period of time. And, given we are still in the midst of it, it may be hard to know now how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the population as a whole and if it will create a “new normal.”
The Life Cycle Effect explains how people of different ages or at different stages of their life cycle react to a situation or event. In this case, older generations are likely experiencing the pandemic differently than younger individuals, like worrying about money, supplies, and healthcare. So, they may not see the importance of having a graduation ceremony because their priorities have shifted due to the stage of life they are currently in. If we rewound the clock, each generation when they were young would likely have experienced the same concerns and emotions with the widespread cancellation of the important moments of their youth due to the life stage they were in at the time.
The Cohort Effect specifically focuses on how different generational cohorts collectively respond to situations and events. It is usually the events and situations that occur during a generational cohort’s adolescence that make the largest impact on them because this phase of life is critical toward identity and world perspective development. So, as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds during Generation Z’s adolescent and young adult years, it will likely be among the societal events profoundly shaping their worldview and values. It’s not that this pandemic is impacting Generation Z the most, it is just occurring at a pivotal time in their development and maturation.
The phrase “unprecedented times” has seemingly become the tagline utilized to describe the experience society is enduring through the coronavirus pandemic. And these unprecedented times will certainly have unpredictable impacts on today’s youth in the immediate sense and the future. But for now, while we stay safe, we can lend our support to celebrate the meaningful moments, milestones, and accomplishments of the millions of young people in Generation Z who had plans to go to the big dance, play in their last game, or cross the stage at graduation. If we can’t physically be there to cheer them on in the crowd, we can rally around them to show our support.