Fear Sells. Millennials and Gen Z Are Making It Cool (Or Is This How They Are Coping?)

We all know that anxiety in everyone is a growing problem. We hear about it all of the time. We feel it too. This is not just a teen problem. As it is very much a teen problem.

I’m starting my fifth decade as a youth pastor. I have seen this change in teenagers. In the 1980s I taught a lot about friends and peer pressure and to be careful of who’s cars you get into on Friday nights. Now it is about safe spaces, prayer and breathing techniques, and identity issues. Today’s teens aren’t even getting their drivers’ licenses often due to anxiety. (When teens do get their licenses parents these days can add apps that act as “backseat drivers” for when the teens are driving without them. Like that won’t cause more anxiety!)

According to just one recent survey on the thoughts of Gen Z (ages 13 to 17) when asked about the U.S., 85% worry about the future of America, and 66% believe that America is changing for the worse. Those concerns could be why 77% of 13-17-year-olds tell us they often worry about things they cannot control, compared to 66% of Millennials. Source. Do you see how high those numbers are? Do you see how high those numbers are about the scary world?

I’ve collected dozens of survey information similar to this because this is part of what I do as a youth pastor.

Today’s teens really believe the world is going to end. Not when Jesus returns but the world is going to end.

Climate change is very very real to them. It is not a political debate to them. They are seeing the very real increase of freakish tornadoes, hurricanes, and consuming wildfires. They are watching YouTube videos and other social media for news and are learning.

When you ask teens about their anxiety it is broader than school stuff. Broader than friend stuff. It is world stuff. At their fingertips–and often while they are alone–are streaming platforms warning of the perils of plastic while also educating about the horrors happening across the globe.

You’ve heard of COVID-19. Teens are researching COVID-19 on their smartphones during their downtime.

What do Americans do when there is a new problem to stress about? We create a market out of it. We try to buy our way back into comfort. We have created markets for adult coloring books, essential oils, and numerous other new products designed to calm us down–despite the little scientific data support to know if any of these work. Americans are still spending lots of money on them.

Anything to find some control over our unsettled world. If we can purchase that control, all the better.

Fear is the driver here. Fear is marketable.

Purchasing and gifting survival kits is popular right now. A new industry has popped up to take everyone’s money. In 2017, the global market for “incident and emergency management” was valued at $75.5 billion. By 2025, Allied Research Marketing projects it will jump to $423 billion. After decades of such survival kits being relegated to the “survivalist” subcultures or extreme religious sects, you can now purchase versions created for weathering all sorts of storms at Costco or even Pottery Barn. Source.

Search for this topic on Instagram and you will see how Millennials are making this cool.

(photo credit: YouTube)

Think about this for a moment. To own a survival kit is now fashionably cool. To prepare yourself for the end of the world is fashionably cool.

Watch for masks to become a part of fashion. Masks. Because masks are becoming increasingly necessary. Not just for coronavirus protection. Masks are increasingly being sold for toxic air pollution. If a wildfire broke out near you, you need a mask. Masks are now being worn to counter facial recognition technology. Oh the wicked web of technology.

Check out Instagram again. This new generation is finding ways to make mask-wearing cool. And fashionable. (Note: This was originally published before Covid. Prophetic?)


Does that disturb you too? Fear being sold and is now cool?

A scientist has also noticed how teens are increasingly stressed. (We all are.) Her idea to help them? Create a robot that teens can share their feelings with. The robot hugs too.

Why would teens choose a robot to help them with their fear over a wonderful youth pastor or a parent? Because a robot cannot judge them or feel burdened by their problems. They can have their own Big Hero 6. Source.

photo credit: Disney Plus

One of the stressors teens fear is letting down their parents and/or causing worry. As one teen gratefully honestly told me,

“I feel like I have to be perfect for my father because I have to fill in his shoes and be a better version of him. I feel like if I don’t live up to those expectations I’ll be seen as a failure. Sometimes I feel like I have to beat myself up about it for every mistake I make. I think I put way too much pressure on myself.”

This is from a 12-year old. 12!

What sort of world are our teens growing up into? A world that will sell them something for fear and they will then Instagram it. Now fear is normalized. And they can share it with a robot to avoid the fear of letting down those they love.

Fear is not our normal. Especially not our normal as Christians. An oft-quoted verse is For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7.

We quote this verse while befriending fear as a means to control our world.

I’m okay with taking precautions for Covid-19 and preparing for emergency situations. This is wisdom. I’m not okay with making this cool.

And I’m sad that the Millennials are now being called the “worry generation.” I’m sad that our teens are so afraid to fail and are anxious with fear.

I’m choosing to live slightly braver. I’m choosing to still be a youth pastor to speak truth to my teens so they can live slightly braver. I’m choosing to speak this message of slightly braver to whomever books me to speak.

May this message be more contagious than Covid-19. (Is that a distasteful joke?)

I’m calling out fear for the liar it is. Fear keeps your world small. My wish, my prayer, is for more for you.

p.s. Brenda writes about her work with teens to pass on to parents at Brave Parenting.

(Photo by Portuguese Gravity on Unsplash)

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