In recent years, teens have had to adjust their daily lives to a global pandemic, and it has affected our lives in many different ways. Particularly Generation Z, the generation succeeding Millennials. Beyond the pandemic, political events such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the January 6 Capitol riot have also affected the lives of teenagers–with many taking these issues to social media to bring about public awareness. 

When it comes to American teenagers, social media plays a huge role in their day-to-day lives. The platforms have cemented themselves as an integral part of teen culture. According to a 2018 study, over 90% of teenagers said to use social media, with over 50% claiming to use it daily.

Social media serves as the main source of news for teenagers. Everyday, teens are digesting news stories revolving around politics, global affairs, businesses, and pop culture. Your average Gen-Z teen processes more information than your average teen from any previous generation. Growing up during the digital age, today’s youth have no trouble keeping up with the steady flow of new technology, new forms of media, and digital innovations. 

The Role Technology Plays

As powerful as social media can be, there are many negative aspects revolving around the various platforms. Many adolescents suffer from anxiety and depression, with the number only increasing. Numerous studies have shown that the more time a teen spends behind a screen, the more likely they are to be unhappy and depressed. 

“Technology has stringed us together but [social media] is making people more … it’s bringing a cloud of depression over everybody.” said Zadie Taylor, a freshman at Carrboro High School. 

With the recent pandemic, the majority of Americans was forced to rely on technology in order to continue functioning within society. Most schools have adapted to virtual learning with the recent pandemic, which saw classrooms held through video calls. This new form of daily commuting has lasted intermittently for years now, and its use has caused a lack of social interaction between students. 

The untimeliness and lack of a proper schedule during the pandemic have caused an unprecedented loss of classroom time among students, with hindered many academically. The pandemic has also affected the mental health of students greatly, with a JAMA Pediatrics study stating that the unique combination of a public health crisis, social isolation, and economic recession have taken a serious mental toll on adolescents. 

The World’s Perspective

According to a New York Times interview conducted on various young people around the globe, many respondents believe that science and technology are the greatest improvements throughout generations. Taylor had gone on to mention that she too believes technology has been helpful and innovative to the world, believing that it has brought people together and brought ideas to life that would’ve otherwise not been possible without the implementation of technology in our world today. 

In a national survey of over 20,000 young people across 21 countries, 57% of the respondents believed that the world will be better off in basic ways such as education, health care, and physical safety. Though, when asked if children today would be better off than their parents economically, 56% of respondents in the United States said that they would be worse off. 

When asked what factors determine one’s success in the world, many young Americans believed that “not everyone was born on the same starting line,” showing their doubts about  the “American Dream”– the belief that hard work in America brings prosperity and happiness. Which is interesting to note that this idea is more aspiring to immigrants rather than native citizens. It seems like in a way, the values of Americans differ from those not originally from here. 

We asked Taylor her views on what determined success, who said, “in this society it’s probably family wealth but it shouldn’t be, but it should probably be … I don’t want to say education, but education determines what you do in life.” 

The majority of the New York Times survey respondents have stated that hard work determines success with family wealth and connections not far behind. Poorer countries also tend to have a higher rate of young people who believe religious values and faith determines one’s success. 

What Can the World Do Better?

We asked Taylor what she thought was the greatest issue our generation faces, and she had gone on to state that there’s an overall lack of understanding between one another. When asked what we could do collectively to improve on this matter, Taylor said “if everyone uses social media we might as well promote good ideas on it.” 

As mentioned prior, social media has proven numerous times that it can be an effective way to promote positive changes by serving as a platform for those to express their opinions and spread awareness on important societal topics . Ever since the implementation of social media, news has now been more transmissible than ever. Examples of this include the 2020 United States Presidential Election has seen the highest number of voters in American history, with social media playing a big role in that achievement as influencers were able to share to their millions of followers to vote, even in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Social media was also able to spread attention towards the many controversial acts of police abusing the power of their badge, such as the incident involving the murder of George Floyd that took place on May 25th, 2020. This led to numerous cities across the country rallying together in Black Lives Matter protests in attempts to convict the perpetrator Derek Chauvin and stop police brutality and racial discrimnation, which eventually did lead to his arrest days after. 

These positive forms of enacting change through the simple sharing of public voices and opinion is nothing new to our history of ever-changing growth in civilization. The power of bringing about change is something that seems to be never-ending across generations. With the advancement of technology, this progression is only becoming more and more prominent, even during an ongoing health crisis that the world is facing. As much as technology can bring us apart, it can also bring us together.