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A message to Generation Z: Be courageous

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Boomer Grandpa — Loren Else column sig

I was watching the local news recently, and a segment was introduced with the question, "Do you remember being a teenager? It wasn’t always easy."

KIMT reporter Isabelle Basco interviewed three high school students who were part of a town hall meeting at the Olmsted County Government Center. The event was hosted by the Minnesota Youth Council and the Rochester Olmsted Youth Commission.

One of the questions the students were asked was, "What are the biggest issues facing their generation today?" The students did a nice job in the interview. It’s not easy to be asked a question with a television camera aimed at you. Their responses were mental health concerns, climate change and gun control.

What got my attention is when one student said a lot of students are scared of the future (climate change). A second said some students are afraid to go to school (gun violence). These expressions of fear got my attention.

Since the anchor asked the question, "Do you remember being a teenager?" I thought about that.

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I remember, sort of. I recall that my hair color was black. I felt good and had no aches and pains — sorry, I digress.

I decided to ask a couple of high school classmates what they remember. I asked, "Do you recall being scared of the future?" My first thought was that baby boomers were not fearful of our future.

I asked Paula first. She remembered one of our school plays that was titled "Alas, Babylon." The story, a 1959 book by Pat Frank, was about nuclear holocaust. Paula remembers that storyline frightened her. She believed, like many baby boomers, that she may witness a nuclear war in her lifetime.

After high school, Paula moved forward with her life with a college degree, marriage, career and three children. The 1983 movie titled "The Day After," about survivors of a nuclear war, reminded her of those fears.

When the Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War ended, she lost that fear. Paula had confidence in our government, whether Republican or Democrat, that peace would continue.

But she understands why many students have fears today. The negative impact of social media, violence, depression and bullying. It’s hard to determine what is true and what is not. The state of politics is not a good example.

Along with the daily double of disasters and division, all of this contributes to deeper worries than our generation had. At this moment in time, our students now have to think about the coronavirus.

My friend Jerry said his only fear in high school was the next math test, or he might get nervous about a game coming up. Although the 1960s were turbulent, I am surmising most of us did not fear our future.

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Jerry remembers his dad always saying, "Things will work out." The focus he witnessed was family, faith and community.

Jerry is saddened that many kids today can’t leave their front yard unsupervised. He experienced the "Mayberry life" growing up. He would occasionally check in with mom by poking his head in the house, hollering "Hi!" and heading back outside.

Jerry and his wife, Donna, have been married for 47 years. They have 11 grandchildren, and he knows the grandkids observe what he and Donna say and do. The example of how to treat people with kindness, to live a good life and having faith are important lessons they model.

This Generation Z will soon take the wheel. They are a remarkably smart bunch, with the world’s information at their fingertips. However, they have more uncertainties than our generation did.

We can help. We need to lead by example, show strength in character and give them advice when they allow us.

Let’s tell them to be focused on their dreams. They will seek exactly what we did — peace, happiness and love.

We need to tell them to be excited about their future. Let’s remind them to soak up this time in their life. Tell them to focus on school, friends, and not to put a great deal of pressure on themselves. Hopefully they will look back and have good memories.

We can articulate to them to think critically and to never stop reading and learning about what they believe in and what they don’t. In the long run, our country emerged better after each crisis our generation faced.

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As grandparents or mentors, it is important to say, "Surround yourself with diverse and positive people." The more good friends they have in their lives, the better.

I can remember being a teenager. Those years shape who you will become. So, Generation Z, be courageous.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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