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Building bridges by listening

Gen Z with their telephonophobia…Millennials with their avocado toast…Gen X with their apathy…Boomers with their stale viewpoints…OK.

Isn’t it time that we get rid of this completely fabricated ‘divide’ that exists between the generations? Isn’t it time that we realize we’re all in this together and our varied life experiences and timelines can be used for good if we team up? And isn’t it time that we actually admit that phone calls are overrated? No? That’s just me and my Gen Z pals?

But really. We’ve got to come together and see each other for our strengths.

As a Xennial (it’s a thing!) who’s spent the bulk of my professional life working with young people, I am so excited to watch Gen Z take on the world. I’ve watched high school students advocate for racial justice, LGBTQ+ inclusion, solutions to environmental crises and more. I’ve watched them speak up about the mental health issues that persist among themselves and their peers. I’ve watched them adroitly navigate dozens of technological changes.

And, most recently, I’ve watched as these now-former students begin adulthood amid the backdrop of a world that seems to be on the verge of collapse almost daily.

Technically, Gen Z is made up of people born after 1995, and they make up almost 38% of Michigan’s population. As they become adults, they’re receiving more and more attention, and all signs point to them being the generation that will save us from ourselves.

But that’s a lot of pressure to put on a group of young Americans who’ve come of age in a rapidly changing world that still clings to outdated, unjust systems. And it’s why we older Americans need to open our eyes and ears to what the youth around us are saying about their experiences, their dreams and their vision of what our future could be. And once we’ve heard them, we need to work with them. Cross-generational collaboration, not creating barriers between older and younger folks, is what we need if we want to achieve the transformational changes we so desperately need.

The League’s Kids Count in Michigan Project is trying to do just that. And we’re starting with listening.

When it came to producing the 2021 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, we wanted to make sure youth were at the center. So we asked them in a survey to share some of their thoughts, including how they think adults could help improve outcomes for kids. Over 85 teenagers responded, and here are just a few of their thoughts:

“Something I think adults can do to make kids feel more supported is just simply check in everyday with them. Ask if they’re ok, or if they need anything, and let them know that their hard work isn’t being overlooked.”

-Ariel J., Wayne County

“Adults can listen and not act like younger people don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to politics or the economy.”

Elliot S., Washtenaw County

“I want adults to know that even though we are youth we can support and help our community and also even though we are not adults yet we can still be stressed.”

J’kyla H., Ingham County

“[We need] more youth programs in the neighborhood and more information availability. Not everyone has social media.”

-Liliana T., Wayne County

It’s definitely time to check our stereotypes when it comes to this generation.

Inspired by these youth voices, we’re planning to hold more listening sessions, advocacy trainings and panel discussions in order to build a bridge between Gen Z and the older adults who can share their power and collaborate to make systems change in Michigan.

To see more about what youth in Michigan have to say about their experiences in school, their relationships with family and community, and their personal visions of the future, check out the Data Book. And if you know someone between the ages of 12 and 24 who’d be interested in participating in our listening sessions or trainings, please encourage them to visit www.mlpp.org to learn more.

Laura Millard Ross is the Communications Director for the Michigan League for Public Policy.

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