In September of last year, the New York Times warned millennials to step aside to make way for their successors, Generation Z. While some might disparage them as much as their predecessors for being what Fast Company described as "'screen addicts' with the attention span of a gnat," there's still ample reason to believe positive change can happen via our youngest citizens.
Of course if my 4- and 7-year-old daughters are destined to change the world, it's news to me, especially since they can't ever remember to change their underwear in the morning. Yet they fill me with hope nonetheless. And it's not just them—their friends and contemporaries are also emerging as different than those who came before them if for no other reason than they were born having only known the monumental social changes that have taken place so far this century.
Besides being digital natives and never knowing a world without screens and connectivity, my kids also know there's no such thing as "boy colors" or "girl clothes." They know a person can be born as one gender but decide later they identify more closely with another. They know men can marry men, and women can marry women.
We have a unique opportunity to shape them in a new way than ever before, and in a brighter way, too.
They understand they don't have to be friends with anyone, but they must be kind to everyone.
They know smoking cigarettes will kill you, but marijuana will not.
It's entirely plausible to them that a woman could be President of the United States—in fact, they assume it will happen.
They see some dads stay home with the kids while moms go off to an office.
They see people for who they are, not for the color of their skin or their religion. So many of the barriers and divides with which most of us grew up have been obliterated—or close to it—for an entirely new generation, who has the opportunity to come of age in an entirely new age.
In some ways Generation Z is more like the Play-Doh Generation, because we have a unique opportunity to shape them in a new way than ever before, and in a brighter way, too—with fewer biases, prejudices and more love than hate in their hearts and lives. It's not as if violence, terrorism, hate crimes and discrimination will ever go away, but considering how many monumental changes have been made over just the past decade, there's hope for a brighter future than ever before.
For better or worse, the disasters that have occurred, and continue to occur, on U.S. soil over the past couple of decades have given us the language and tools to talk to our children in a different way than our parents ever spoke to us. A large part of those conversations include the importance of tolerance and acceptance for people who are different, and compassion and advocacy for those most in need. It may not mean Generation Z will be any more productive than millennials, but when kids are raised with empathy and awareness, what they might achieve has the possibility of being even more significant than how much.