Is Generation X — the legion of latchkey kids for whom the waning Cold War still forced futile school drills — better able to self-soothe under the confines of a coronavirus quarantine than Gen Z, millennials and baby boomers?
Such a theory found social-media traction over recent days, with many posters in their late 30s to early 50s recalling hours in basements or bedrooms: hours with books and board games, movies and music and, yes, joysticks, before good parenting was measured by how crammed the extracurricular calender is. #GenX went outside, too; they just weren’t scheduled to.
For sure it’s Gen X–ers and young boomers who grew up to become those helicopter parents. For them it’s the inherent cynicism of glossed-over autonomy, shrinking reliance on democratic institutions such as schools or places of worship, or perhaps the sometimes-necessary chaos of divorce that gave way to being a different kind of parent than their own. For many, though, as they dig in at home and limit their outside interaction right now because of COVID-19, they’re telling themselves they’ve been here before.
All generations are reacting in their own way to the public health crisis as restaurants and bars in major cities were ordered shut, gyms powered down, school districts and universities went on hiatus, and some corporate offices allowed their ranks to work from home.
When self-quarantine can’t be maintained, social distancing in public is seen as the broadest and potentially most effective defense right now. Among other things, it champions keeping at least 6 feet between people. Large, even medium-sized gatheringsare now to be avoided, and that means birthday parties and weddings are being postponed. Pop-up anything is over as we know it for now. All that harkens back to a few decades ago when meet-ups and hookups took more coordination than just a text (sometimes long enough to change minds).
Arguably, baby boomers and their free-range, pre-technology childhoods are even better resourced when it comes to making do with less structure.
But here’s the issue, say Gen X–ers social shaming their own families: Adult kids are having trouble convincing boomers and Silent Generation grandparents to heed the public health measures of isolation. Americans have been digging in on personal liberty versus public good for a long time, and change doesn’t come easy. “#GenX, we are going to have to get real comfortable with grounding our parents,” said one tweet.
Its role as sandwich filling between two major, influential generations arguably leaves a reflective Gen X best positioned to react to this calamity: news-consuming and social-media-savvy in a way that honors the gravity, self-reliant enough to cook and tackle big cleaning projects, to create and write and read and stream diversion after diversion. And, patient enough to, sometimes,wait and see what’s next.