One beautiful fall morning when my son was 11, he turned on the TV. That in and of itself was unusual because we were not in the habit of watching morning TV. He was being home schooled that year, so we had plenty of opportunities to watch the morning news, but we just didn’t do it. However on that particular morning, as I was helping my daughter prepare for school, for whatever reason, my son turned on the news and said, “Hey Mom! A plane crashed into one of the Twin Towers.”
Recently at dinner, he was talking about his generation, “We are not going to be a pretty generation as we age,” he told us, quite out of the blue. “What do you mean?” Tattoos. He was talking about a generation of tattoo’d old folks, and we all had a good giggle at the thought of old wrinkled grannies and grandpas walking around with “sleeves”, tramp stamps, and ear plugs. He picked up a tortilla chip and held it vertically, “You’ll be able to slide this through someone’s ear hole when they are 75.”
He’s almost 21. Our 18 year old daughter left for college a few weeks ago- the first to leave the nest- so I’ve been thinking about watching my kids grow up. How they were, how they are, thinking about their friends, and their attitudes. We’ve been talking about life, politics, society, all the things that young adults on the cusp of full adulthood think about. I really like the people my kids are becoming, but more than that, I really like their generation, tattoos and all.
This generation seems to be a very focused and hard-working group of people who have their feet on the ground. They appear to be more mature and intelligent than most of the stoopid Boomers I remember at that age, myself included. Our lives at the same age were disco, drugs, self-indulgence. My kids don’t have that non-work ethic. They don’t party like rock stars and they don’t sleep around with people they don’t know. They take care of themselves, and they take care of each other. They are connected in ways that no generation was before them, and from what I’ve seen they are supportive of their friends, but hold each other responsible and don’t cotton bad or self-destructive behavior.
When my daughter was in middle school and beginning to goof around on MySpace, I had the requisite awkward talk about stalkers and internet privacy, and my daughter rolled her eyes. She explained how kids dealt with internet creepers: “If someone we don’t know tries to friend one of us, we check them out. We don’t let creepers into our circle.” That’s really smart. I’ve been told that privacy is an artifact of inefficiency. My kids are nothing if not efficient. I do believe this might be the 9/11 Generation. That brilliant Fall day changed everything for them, even if it didn’t outwardly change their lives at all, at the time it occurred.
This generation hit puberty around the time the planes hit the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a bucolic field in rural Pennsylvania, and I see the profound impact 9/11 had on that generation. “Hey Mom! A plane just crashed into one of the Twin Towers” became bone-chilling horror as a second plane crashed. My politically aware son turned and calmly said, “It’s Osama Bin Laden.” At that moment the old world ended and a new world was born. As teenagers, this generation weighed the pros and cons of joining the military as that meant more than a college education, it meant they could go to war to kill and die. Six years later, they watched helplessly as lifestyles even they recognized as self-indulgent, crashed and burned on Wall Street in 2007. If they lived in the Rust Belt, they watched as entire cities gasped and crumbled while hog-tied Labor Unions couldn’t save their parent’s jobs. If they lived in the Sunbelt, they lived through an unprecedented housing collapse. Now they ponder the long-term implications of too much government and a forced health care plan that even they can see adds up to a enormous burden they will have to shoulder.
This generation does not seem to have naive illusions of world peace. They know that there are people in the world who despise and hate them and being connected is keeping them both safe and aware. They no longer believe, as so many generations have before them, that government can solve their problems. This should not be taken to mean they are apathetic, rather, they are hyper-aware of the world, they simply want to make changes on their own terms. They want the responsibility of taking care of things on their own. All young adults question authority, but this 9/11 Generation, this subset of a bigger generation, has seen at a very impressionable age that big government, big bosses, big labor, big corporations are simply big- burdensome, cumbersome entities that cannot provide protection against job loss, domestic attacks, lifestyle. This is a generation that has learned at a very impressionable age that if they want to be happy, they are going to have to be responsible for that, themselves.
Watching my kids and their friends, I see how this generation’s gifts and resilience and character will grow into adulthood. This could very well be one of those rare generations that astonish and improve the world. They are smart, and with age comes wisdom so as they enter the adult world and we begin to feel the impact, the 9/11 Generation’s ability to roll with the punches and keep going, their enthusiasm and raw grit despite everything they’ve witnessed, their technological prowess and connectivity, will all bring about huge changes for the human race. This is a generation that has seen both adversity and extraordinary shifts in how humans interact and watching them as they enter adulthood with resolve and intelligence and a keen sense of a new world order, finally, I can see that something positive might have come from the tragedy of 9/11.