Millennials: youthquake or snowflakes?

Sunday 29 October, 16:0017:15, ConservatoryState of the Nation

Whereas earlier generations of young people provoked outrage among their elders, millennials – those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s – seem to attract merely condescension and concern. Today’s youth have been labelled ‘Generation Snowflake’ for their declarations of emotional vulnerability and demands for protection and support.

Instead of revolting, today’s students seem to be preoccupied with difficulties in negotiating personal relationships, demanding formal instruction and regulation of issues of consent and protection of apparently fragile identities against hostile criticism. University campuses offer puppy-petting zoos to combat exam stress, while professors are expected to provide ‘trigger warnings’ when potentially distressing issues arise in the study of literature or history.

The mental health of young people has become the focus of global concern and a crusading cause for the British royal family. According to the World Health Organisation we are living in an anxiety epidemic, one that particularly affects young people. A survey by The Prince’s Trust revealed that 58 per cent of 16- to 25-year-olds believed recent political events made them feel more anxious.

Yet, for those coming of age in an era of austerity and debt, Brexit and Trump, anxiety and apprehension may be appropriate responses. And, in their embrace of issues of social justice, and support for the kinder, gentler form of politics espoused by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, perhaps the millennials are pointing the way towards real change in society. Subverting the stereotype of political apathy, this year’s General Election saw the highest youth turnout since 1992, successfully swinging key marginals into the Labour camp.

Are the adults of tomorrow over-anxious snowflakes masquerading as a youthquake? Or is their pursuit of a different sort of politics – putting emotion and morality before ideology and policy – exactly the kind of shake up Western politics has been waiting for?