Generation Z: Are they the new taliban?

Their parents are already hiding their booze, fags… and food packaging from their judgmental offspring. But what will happen when the most politically correct youngsters in history take charge of our country? Chris Harvey shares his tongue-in-cheek vision of our future.
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Imagine a scene in the not-too-distant future. It’s 2040 and Brexit and Breturn are just faint memories. Generation Z – those born after 1994 – now hold all positions of influence in every institution in the land. The last off-licences have been closed, meat-eating has been outlawed and work placements on avocado farms are compulsory.

The literature curriculum in schools has been suspended since the final ruling on the banning of Jane Austen – meaning no existing works by human authors now pass official standards on being inoffensive. The artificial intelligence-generated replacement 19th-century literature hasn’t yet been optimised for eight-second teaching modules.

The last few undestroyed Picassos are being hunted down and the term Pre-Raphaelite has been removed from the dictionary. There are no more murals or statues (the monuments to male political and military heroes were the first to be torn down). Mr Kipling cakes have been renamed.

Who is responsible for creating this puritanical perdition? Look no further than the movement’s leaders, the first digital generation, who seem to be channelling the Taliban.

It’s a terrifying vision of what could happen when a cohort with such moral certainty that it tolerates no dissent takes charge. And the thing is, it’s all our fault.

Generation Z, who are today aged under 24, grew up with parents who responded to their every need. They were driven to school, taken to clubs and classes, endless parties and playdates. They missed rationing, power cuts, shellsuits and Rubik’s Cube rage. They weren’t left alone for hours to create their own games from an empty cardboard box. We hovered over them and protected them at every turn, assuring them that everything they did was ‘amazing’ and ‘brilliant’.

This generation may be the first to be able to express themselves without being disapproved of. They were played with, taught, nurtured, encouraged and listened to. They haven’t been told to shut up and do as they’re told. As children they were seen and heard. And how do they repay us? They want us to do as we’re told and shut up.

Lizzie, a writer in her 50s, recalls this telling exchange with her 16-year-old child:

Husband: ‘Is it too early?’

Me: ‘Probably. It’s only 11am.’

Husband: ‘Please. It’s the weekend. Shall we?’

Me: ‘Oh, go on then.’

Daughter: ‘You are alcoholics. You need help.’

Husband: ‘I was asking if we should put the central heating on.’

Daughter: ‘Whatever. You still disgust me.’

Generation Z’s hardline approach to everything doesn’t just mean that they’ve learnt the lessons they’ve been taught – they’ve been making anti-smoking posters since they were in infants’ school, after all – but they’ve applied those imperatives to everything. They smoke less than the generations that came before, but they’re now so dogmatic that their parents daren’t smoke in front of them, booze or express non-vegan beliefs. Leather shoes? Murder. The Police record you tried to play in the car? Culturally appropriated white reggae. That boxset of Sex and the City? Too rich, too straight and a betrayal of women. Chips? Made from potatoes brought back by Spanish colonialists and Sir Walter Raleigh – the 16th-century embodiment of white male privilege, however gender fluid his fur-trimmed cloak, hose and garters appeared.

‘Their standards are much higher than ours. They’re very vocal and we get it in the neck,’ says Michael, an academic researcher with teenage children. ‘They disapprove of smoking and drinking – but also they’ve read about child labour and decided they don’t want new clothes. My partner loves fashion and often shops online, but when the boxes arrive our daughter will question her about it: “More new clothes!?” My partner gets such a hard time over it that she’s become secretive about her buying.

‘They’re also news savvy and they’ll tell me off about all the plastic packaging on food. They read all the ingredients in the supermarket – the youngest won’t eat custard because it’s got palm oil in it which is affecting orangutans. He won’t have Tunnock’s caramel wafers, which I love, because they’ve also got palm oil in them.’

How Clean is Your House star Aggie MacKenzie, 63, was ‘banned’ from buying a pumpkin this Halloween by her 23-year-old son Ewan as it would be left outside to rot. ‘He told me that an estimated eight million of them would be binned after Halloween,’ she says. ‘Yes, I was pumpkin-shamed.’

Generation Z want to challenge and overturn everything that went before and replace it with a rigid new set of rules which they enforce at every turn. If you don’t agree with them, you’re creating a hostile environment for others. Kate, 51, a publishing executive from London, says her daughter ‘always supports the underdog. She’s a fully paid up feminist, hates racism, sexism, Donald Trump and discrimination in any form.’

‘All the things we want are becoming prohibited by our children, so we have to hide,’ says Michael. ‘I imagine there’s going to be an alliance of parents meeting behind the bike sheds, smoking cigarettes, drinking gin and eating Tunnock’s wafers because their kids won’t let them.’

Where did these youngsters get their conviction from? Well, they are the first truly connected generation who don’t remember a time before the internet. They didn’t stomp off to their bedrooms and sulk when they thought something wasn’t fair; they stomped off and plugged into a hive mind of millions who decided that nothing is fair. They entered a cycle of social-media evolution, where existing beliefs are challenged and new certainties emerge as debate is shut down. It’s also where new words describing Generation Z’s reality pop up with bewildering speed, such as ‘pansexual’ which refers to attraction to other people regardless of their gender or sexuality.

What you believed yesterday, Generation Z know today to be wrong – you just don’t understand the terms they’re using to tell you how wrong you are.

Kate’s teenage daughter won’t allow any comment that she considers to be non-PC. ‘When I talked about a friend of hers being mixed race, I was given a lecture about how I shouldn’t use that term any more as it’s racist – I should call her “dual heritage”, she says.

‘Sexuality is not up for discussion; most of her friends are bisexual, gay and gender fluid. When I asked if any of them were heterosexual, I was told it was overrated.’

They’re also the first On Demand generation, who grew up in houses with a choice of screens. They haven’t been sitting watching the same TV as their parents, which perhaps further explains their ‘one view’ perspective; they haven’t been exposed to things with opposing viewpoints and swapped opinions about them. They’ve been immersed in their own brave new world ever since they could choose what they consumed, and they don’t have much time for your old one.

Some conversations with Generation Z do have a familiar ring to them, though, according to Lizzie, who quotes one: ‘How can you live in such squalor? Your room is a mess.’ Except, ‘this is my 16-year-old scolding me for being a slob. She clearly has no idea what I do all day (work). She’s too busy living her “best life”. Whatever that means.’

Lots of Generation Z kids grew up with divorced parents or in blended families with the children of their new step-parents, so they’re less tolerant of flawed relationships. Their parents ‘switched things up’ – leaving marriages if they weren’t happy and going on to meet new partners; their mothers hoping to have it all, including a fulfilling love life.

So for Generation Z, it’s the new normal: if it doesn’t work, start afresh. A recent survey suggested that up to a quarter of 18- to-24-year-olds think marriage should be a temporary arrangement similar to a mobile-phone contract. But as Aggie MacKenzie discovered, her love life also needed to meet her son’s approval. She’d downloaded dating app Tinder when she took part in the ITV reality show about midlife singletons, Our Shirley Valentine Summer, and forgot all about it.

‘One evening Ewan heard Tinder’s notification and he dived across the room to my phone, grabbed it and said to me, “What are you doing on Tinder? It’s not for the likes of you! You need to stick with Guardian Soulmates [an online dating site popular with older singles], Mum. Delete it NOW!” He stood there until he saw that I had actually deleted it.’

Like most revolutionary generations, such as in the 60s, with their ideology of nonviolent resistance, spiritual searching and sexual liberation, Generation Z are bringing new ideas into the mainstream. They really do care. They’re already forcing society to rethink its attitudes to women, race, gender and language. But, as in most revolutions, their fervour risks being succeeded by a reign of terror.

As Lizzie’s daughter put it, ‘Don’t tell me what to do. Your generation destroyed the planet.’

Which generation are you?

Baby Boomers

Born between 1945 and the early 60s, they grew up during postwar rationing and reconstruction, and came of age in the Swinging 60s and 70s, before benefiting from rising property prices and final-salary pensions, making them the wealthiest cohort.

Generation X

Born between the early-to-mid 60s and early 80s, they came of age in the 80s and 90s, experiencing economic boom and bust. Associated with cynicism, a love of rock music and grunge, they’re also dubbed the ‘MTV generation’.

The Xennials

This micro-generation, born between the late 70s and early 80s, experienced an analogue childhood and digital adulthood, coming of age when mobile phones went mainstream. They grew up in relative peace as the Eastern Bloc collapsed, and before the Gulf War and 9/11.

Generation Y

Also called Millennials, those born in the late 80s up to the mid-90s can barely remember a time before the web. The conflict in Afghanistan began as they grew up and they came of age in the recession. They’re often derided for being entitled and sensitive ‘snowflakes’.