Gen Z rebel differently, they have a cause. Unlike generations prior, their enemy isn’t as intangible as “the man”. Anarchy is seen as wasted opportunity. The pandemic has been a defining moment for Gen Z’ers who remain constant, outspoken advocates for societal change. Today’s teenagers are exhibiting the same spirit of rebellion as the post-war generations: it’s just their focus has sharpened.
Today, high school students are more likely to define themselves by their political stances and their vocations, rather than what archetypal “clique” they fit into. It’s a lifestyle that doesn’t allow room for random rebellion. In the same way that the Straight Edge punk movement thought that sobriety, veganism and animal rights were truer principles of punk, Gen Z reject mindlessness and anarchy in favour of mindfulness and plain old having a plan.
The teenaged rite of “going off the rails” isn’t glamorized by this audience. 82% of young people in 2018 said that achieving impressive grades or being successful in their career was a top priority, versus the 68% who ranked being with their friends as most important. Lifestyles popular with Gen Z’ers like veganism, fitness and teetotalism are a means of reclaiming a sense of control. In fact, 44% of Gen Z-ers say being vegan is cooler than smoking.
The cliche that young people spend their lives online, instead of indulging in a romanticised form of rebellion, has truth, but Gen Z-ers are more cautious and risk-averse than their parents, partly because that technology exists. A study involving nearly 10,000 young people in the UK found that the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds who say they never drink alcohol rose from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015.
Technology reduces drinking as a competing activity or as a public eye on behaviour. A decline in drinking is part of a wider cultural shift thanks to the social-media surveillance that younger people have grown up with. “Control has become a key watchword for today’s younger drinkers,” Jonny Forsyth, a global food-and-drink analyst at Mintel, said in 2017.
Gen Z’ers self-awareness can be inhibiting. Where social media presents freedom to express themselves, it can also immortalise every wrong move. The culture of drink and drug shaming in the media, means teenagers today have inherited a fear of social embarrassment. Getting smashed at a party is a one-way ticket to a Snapchat story. Plus, for a generation intensely in tune with their mental health, sometimes the anxiety after a night out isn’t worth the price tag.
Gender plays a part too. For today’s teenagers, being a man isn’t just about chopping points, and heavy drinking has lost much of its status. Recent studies suggest that drinking is not as important a building block for the masculinity of present-day young men as it was to earlier generations.
Gen Z, like the generations before them, is made up of rule-breakers, too, but not for rebellion’s sake or in an existential quest for meaning. They’re taking their lead from the past, actively rebuilding their identities and demanding the futures they’ve dreamt of. 64% of Gen Z respondents said that they expected to drink alcohol less frequently when they grew older than today’s older generations do. It’s not for lack of fun. They’ve just got sh*t to do.
So clear the way, Gen Z are coming through, clear headed and on a mission. We’ll completely murder the the genre defining lyrics from Minor Threat to leave you with this; ‘they’re a person just like you, but they’ve got better things to do, they’ve got the straight edge’.