Kids Actually Do Have It Tough These Days

hopscotch on gray concrete

I began watching a particular YouTube content creator for his Star Trek related content. But it turned out that, for the most part, I’d agree with him on a lot of his views on politics and society, too. While he’s far more left-wing than I am – I’m more of a centrist, unaffiliated with any political party – I do agree specifically with his comments that every generation of adults says the same things about young people. 

Each generation, my own included, seems to repeat the same dumb lines such as “when I was young” or “back in my day” that seem to suggest there were truly better times to be had in the past. But, if you actually look back historically, things were pretty screwed up back then, too. If anything, there are plenty of young people, then and now, who did a lot of great stuff to at least try to make the world a better place. Some may have succeeded better than we think.

But, one particular video of his also got me to thinking, kids today actually have it even worse than my generation did. (Sadly I’m a millennial; don’t hold that against me.) Thanks to the proliferation of social media, cancel culture, and unrealistic expectations for just about everything, kids today are forced to live in a world rife with conformity and falseness. 

Somewhat coincidentally, my wife Tom happened to be watching a documentary on Curiosity Stream about teenagers in today’s world. There’s a crazy emphasis on documenting your entire life. Neuroscientists are saying the effect of constant hyper-stimulation on the teenage brain is setting back our evolution thousands of years. 

Personally, I think this sounds like a great exaggeration of the truth. Still, information overload alone is enough to make a lot of young people find suicide a viable alternative to living in this hectic society. Yes, that particular documentary talked a lot about suicide. I don’t have any interest in actually watching it, because I don’t need further reason to be upset at the state of our screwed up world. Unfortunately, documentaries like that end up being made because something needs to be done about it, and at least on a grander scale, nothing good is going in that area.

Seeing what kids go through today, I know that I literally couldn’t be a teenager today without never leaving my room. Being neurodivergent, I simply can’t be overstimulated; my brain just stalls if I get overwhelmed. There’s no way I’d still be around if I had to grow up in today’s TikTok short-driven world. Things simply move too fast and people become irrelevant from moment to moment, or worse, canceled for no good reason. 

These days. if you get booted off of social media, not only do people essentially kill you off, but your career prospects appear to be zero, too. Employers want employees who are popular on social media. They want to know everything about you. It’s as if there are no secrets that can be kept in today’s world. It’s really sickening for a child of the 90’s to watch this go down.

Sure, there were never any “good old days.” Nostalgia can have this numbing, blinding effect when we give in to it too much. Still, my own life experience tells me that things are actually much worse in the 2020’s than they were twenty years ago. The video that prompted this essay talked about how getting back in touch with your younger years could give you a bit more empathy. While I do agree with that as a general statement, it actually just makes me more sad than anything else. 

Young people today have MORE to worry about and MORE crap to put up with than my generation ever did. Sadly, some members of my own generation (the Millennials) have a lot to do with why Gen Z seems so scatter-brained. Honestly, I think kids today are doing the best they can under the circumstances. 

Nowadays, if you don’t get into a “good” university and perform well on social media, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, et cetera,  you may as well just jump off a cliff. Sadly, many of these kids face worse fates: doing a fatal amount of drugs or just otherwise vicing themselves into permanent irrelevance.

I’m glad that some people can be so optimistic. But, I’m not. I’m pragmatic, and things are just going to get worse until they get better. Still, there’s good news. Not everyone out there is a fake social media whore. Not everyone out there has three college degrees, a shiny new car, a big house, and two and a half kids. Those that do are only showing you the surface level. You poke just a little bit deeper and you find extreme dysfunction. 

The truly successful people aren’t the people you think. There are two types of extremely successful people in this world. The most obvious kind is, unfortunately, those who stepped on and took advantage of whoever they could. The other kind, who we should instead aspire to be, are those who quietly do some thing or things extremely well in the background; such folks are able to retire modestly and comfortably, laying back and watching the rest of the world burn. 

So, how do you become one of these modestly successful people that requires no abuse of anyone or anything else? It’s actually quite straightforward: find the one thing you’re best at and get extremely good at that thing. Then, find other things to supplement that one thing, learn how to pivot when necessary to related things you can also be good at, and just outwork every one else. 

The trick to success is not just putting in more hours, but putting in smarter and more efficient effort, too. The efficiency part is key. If you work more hours than anyone and can be more efficient than anyone, you’re going to do pretty well — at least well enough to buy a home and car in cash and develop enough of a passive income or low-effort income to keep your bills paid. 

But, while this seems essentially straightforward, it’s not easy and rarely obvious. You need to build up a lot of emotional and spiritual fortitude. You’re going to have to push your body and mind to the maximum. You will have to delay pleasures and desires. 

Solvency is also key. You can’t be taking out loans for things unless it’s for a specific purpose that you can plan to pay off. Credit is fine, if you use it as a tool. Most people use it instead as a weapon, one that eventually ends up shooting them in the foot. I see it as a business expense only, whether it’s for an actual business or something necessary to go about my own business.

Don’t buy in to the corporate dogma of checklists and eligibility requirements. Keep in mind most of those corporate people did a lot of the things I just mentioned; the only difference is that they stepped on other people to get there. The better thing to do is lift others up along with you as you work your way up in your field. That way, you build a support system organically, not by creating a clique that has absurd requirements just to join. That’s what corporations do, and it makes me sick.

So, forget about the corporate world, and do your own thing. Sure, you may have to do some jobs that you hate just to pay the bills at first. But, if you save your money for only things that benefit you and give you a chance to move up, you won’t be working those kinds of jobs for long. 

Trust me, most people will hate you for upsetting the status quo. You just have to live with that. Many more people will thank you for not being a jerk and being a decent human being, while also delivering an excellent product or service.

If only people put these sort of values, such as work ethic, human decency, and efficiency, in front of kids today as they did when I was a kid in the 1990’s, our world wouldn’t be in the spot it’s in right now. I know people talk about these things, of course, but it seems the modern education system has pretty much left these core values behind in exchange for being groomers for corporate yes-people. 

Corporations have pretty much ruined the world by devaluing labor, innovation, and ingenuity, and assigned a dollar sign amount to intellectual property. Pretty soon, they’ll be putting a dollar amount on the worth of our individual children, too. If they don’t behind the scenes already…

This may all sound over the top, but it’s true. This isn’t to say this is a problem specific to the 21st century; it’s been an endemic problem in human society for thousands of years. But, there were times, such as in the mid 20th century, where things started to change for the better. We had our greatest scientific and technological advances in the years right before I was born in the late 80’s. 

While it seems the world is much more advanced now, we’re just miniaturizing and building on top of the groundwork laid by innovators from decades ago. Nanotechnology has simply made the tech of the 80’s tiny enough that we can have devices powered by billions of transistors in the palms of our hands. It’s all built on the same premises. Further innovations are being slowed or even blocked by those who are at the top of the world’s most profitable industries: crude oil and pharmaceuticals being the biggest offenders. 

Kids today may enjoy all these modern conveniences, but the price they pay for them is heavy. Unless, of course, they don’t listen to their teachers and business people who just want to take advantage of them. What kids should be doing instead is focusing themselves on learning all they can, identifying their best skills, and developing their skill sets in the most efficient and productive way possible. You know, like what they did back in the 80’s and 90’s. But, now, kids are just part of a numbers game; they aren’t seen as individuals, just as pawns in a three-dimensional chess game in which they are easily and thoughtlessly sacrificed to a “greater cause,” whatever that might be.

The good news is, no matter how young or old you are, you can break this cycle. Ask yourself right now, what are you best at in this world? How can you do that thing better than anyone around you? Then, ask yourself, are you willing to put the time, blood, sweat, and tears into building something that will provide something useful to humanity? It could be as basic as selling bottled water, driving a truck, or taking pictures of local sporting events. If you’re really good at something, and there’s either an existing demand or a potential demand for that product or service you can offer, start today. 

I don’t mean you should quit your job right now and just strike out on your own. People try this tactic all the time and fail miserably, often hurting loved ones in the process. You have to build up your own enterprise just like any clever entrepreneur would. You may not think yourself a potential business owner, but hey, all you have to do in business is have a solid plan and figure out how to make more money than you lose. 

It’s a lot easier to make your own way than people make it sound. You don’t need a degree from Warden or some other big-time business school to succeed. Farmers did just fine for years until the government screwed that up, and local shop owners have gone generations as profitable businesses. Heck, many of today’s corporations started as local businesses that figured out how to scale regionally, nationally, then worldwide.

What you should be teaching your own kids right now is that they should think of themselves as owning their own business. Everything you do should be your business, and you should treat it as such. It’s extremely easy to start a business in the 2020’s, especially with all the online tools available. 

All you need to have is a vision, know what direction to go in, then plan out how to take each step. Once you have the ball rolling, you can go all in, and make the same or more than you do right now at a “regular” job. If we teach ourselves, our friends, family members, and children this mindset right away, we may just yet save an entire generation.

Believe me, there are plenty of kids in Generation Z who already know this. Kids are turning their social media channels and even TikTok’s into an actual business venture. They apparently already know better, and so should we.

Do kids have it worse today? Absolutely. But, all of us alive today have the tools to turn things around pretty quickly. So, let’s go ahead and get started minding our own business, for real.

~ Amelia <3

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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