Would you ask an 80-year-old woman living in Paris to describe the typical day of an 8-year-old Texan boy? I don't think so.
Following this logic, I feel more informed than, let's say, a 50-year-old scholar to tell you what it's like to come of age in this generation.
Comparing the hardships of various generations often comes up in the media and even the classroom, so I recently considered which generation had it harder to come of age: Gen X or Z? I interviewed my Gen X aunt, Jennifer Dush, who grew up in the 1980s and has daughters who are Gen Z, like myself.
After discussing with her the challenges of her generation's childhood compared to my own, I've concluded that Gen Z has it harder, for several reasons: the 24-hour news cycle and exposure to social media; a greater pressure to meet societal expectations, resulting in increased anxiety; and intense busyness, leaving today's teens with far less time for reflection, as they are having to choose the direction of their life path much sooner.
Teens coming of age in this generation are pounded with media and news every moment of every day. We constantly hear about terrorism, such as recent tourist-aimed bombings in Europe, mass shootings like the large-scale one in Las Vegas, and economic insecurity, as the media relentlessly circulate these issues. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 30 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys have had an anxiety disorder. When asked about this condition, Dush said that during her childhood, anxiety wasn't an issue most kids talked about: "There were kids with difficult family issues or school and peer struggles, but it wasn't all this big stuff kids are so aware of today." This only strengthens the idea that kids are more anxious today, and it's certainly not because of the variety of Starbucks drinks to choose from.
"We grew up with Cold War worries," said Dush, "but it was all sort of distant from us. You guys are pounded with it every single day."
Not only has this access to the media increased global anxiety, but there's also an ideal image and expectation that the media depicts. Whether the idealistic expectation is about teens' physique, grades or even relationships, they affect teens' lives and how they view themselves.
"This generation has it harder," Dush said. "This generation has pressures on them that I didn't have. Like with social media -- there is this expectation that you are always going to be in contact with people. And the selfies -- there's so much focus now on how kids look and dress."
According to a Dove study, negative feelings toward how they look prompt eight in 10 girls to opt out of important life events, and seven in 10 girls put their health at risk or stop eating. While this may not seem like a big deal to some, self-confidence is a major problem to those coming of age in this time, as we are bombarded by Photoshopped images of the "ideal" woman.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, "Numerous correlational and experimental studies have linked exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal, and disordered eating among women." Generation Z has it harder to come of age than Generation X because of the greater exposure to media and news and the relentless focus on image and perfection, creating insecurity about ourselves as well as about the safety and goodness of the world.
Kids today are comparably deprived of time to reflect and are having to choose the direction of their life path much sooner than those who came of age 40 years ago. Whether it be through sports, school or relationships, teens are feeling more overwhelmed and are getting busier.
"If we wanted to play a sport in high school, we just showed up and did our best," said Dush. "There were no travel teams. It was the same with school; we followed one track if we were going to college, and another if we weren't. We didn't think about honors, AP or IB classes. Our schedules didn't vary that much, and we weren't so busy."
Schedules today are so jam-packed, there's less time to sit down and reflect; like many students, my time after school is spent doing homework, practicing for sports and grabbing spare moments of downtime with my computer.
Buddhist scholar Thai Nguyen said silence, rest and solitude bypass burnout, heighten sensitivity, dissolve stress and increase self -awareness, ultimately resulting in "A-Ha" moments and emotional cleansing. Quiet time is important -- but when is there time?
When teens today plan their high school classes, they do so with college and even post-college life in mind, and Dush said this comes from the increased difficulty of "making it" in today's society.
When they enter high school at age 14 or 15, many students already are having to decide whether to take AP classes and when to start to get in as many as possible. As a freshman in high school, I am very aware of the hard work I must do to get into an excellent college. Last summer, as most of my family went hiking out west, I attended a daily geometry class at my high school so I could bypass it this year, accelerating my progress to AP math.
Most students know that the number of AP classes one takes greatly affects one's GPA, which is crucial in college admissions. Thus, some 14-year-olds are having to make crucial decisions that could potentially affect their entire futures. Talk about stress.
"I went to college and just assumed I'd get a decent job that would give me a good life -- and it did," Dush said. "My parents never went to college, and they have good lives. Yet it's much harder now, and so much more competitive -- and you guys, sadly, know this at a young age."
Not all students experience this kind of stress and busyness, and in many ways exposure to media and the internet is a choice. Yet the norm, which many teens gravitate toward, is to strive and succeed for the sake of a solid future.
As adulthood has become more complicated and stressful, so have the lives of teens preparing to enter that world.
After observing the way I am growing up and having heard perspectives from articles and my aunt, I can confidently conclude that technology -- including increased media and the internet -- has transformed society. Not only has it changed the way we learn and receive information, but it has shaped the process in which teens try to find themselves.
One thing both generations share, however, is this: While we have learned more about the global challenges many in this world face, we are very lucky to live in a country that gives us freedom and opportunity -- and for that I am deeply grateful.
Signe Slaughter is a freshman at Grandview Heights High School.