Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University
(NATIONAL) – When 17
people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in
Parkland, Florida, it was just the latest in a tragic list of mass
shootings, many of them at schools.
Then something different happened: Teens began to speak out.
Stoneman Douglas students held a press conference appealing
for gun control. Teens in Washington, D.C., organized a
front of the White House, with 17 lying on the ground to
symbolize the lives lost. More protests organized by teens are
planned for the coming months.
Teens weren’t marching in the streets calling for gun
control after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. So why are
today’s teens and young adults – whom I’ve dubbed
my recent book on this generation – speaking out and taking
With mass shootings piling up one after another, this is a
historical moment. But research shows that iGen is also a unique
generation – one that may be especially sensitive to gun
People usually don’t think of teenagers as risk-averse. But
for iGen, it’s been a central tenant of their upbringing and
During their childhoods, they experienced the rise of the
helicopter parent, anti-bullying campaigns and, in some cases, being
forced to ride in car seats until age 12.
Their behavior has followed suit. For my book, I conducted
analyses of large, multi-decade surveys. I found that today’s
teens are less likely to get into physical fights and less likely to
get into car accidents than teens just 10 years ago. They’re
less likely to say they like doing dangerous things and aren’t
as interested in taking risks. Meanwhile, since 2000, rates of teen
binge drinking have
fallen by half.
With the culture so focused on keeping children safe, many
seem incredulous that extreme forms of violence against kids can
still happen – and yet so many adults are unwilling to address
“We call on our national and state legislatures to finally
act responsibly and reduce the number of these tragic incidents,”
Eleanor Nuechterlein and Whitney Bowen, the teen organizers
the D.C. lie-in. “It’s essential that we all feel safe in
with kid gloves
a recent analysis of survey data from 8 million teens since
1970s, I also found that today’s teens tend to delay a number
of “adult” milestones. They’re less
likely than their predecessors to have a driver’s license,
go out without their parents, date, have sex, and drink alcohol by
This could mean that, compared to previous generations,
more likely to think of themselves as children well into their teen
As 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg
it, “We’re children. You guys are the adults. You
need to take some action.”
Furthermore, as this generation has matured, they’ve
witnessed stricter age regulations for young people on everything
from buying cigarettes (with the age minimum raised
to 21 in several states) to driving (with graduated
Politicians and parents have been eager to regulate what young
people can and can’t do. And that’s one reason some of
the survivors find it difficult to understand why gun purchases
aren’t as regulated.
“If people can’t purchase marijuana or alcohol at the
age of 18, why should they be given access to guns?” asked
Stoneman Douglas High School junior Lyliah Skinner.
She has a point: The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, is 19. Under
laws, he could legally possess a firearm at
age 18. But – because he’s under 21 – he
couldn’t buy alcohol.
– with limits
At the same time, iGen teens – like their millennial
predecessors – are highly individualistic. They believe the
rights of the individual should trump traditional social rules. For
found that they’re more supportive of same-sex marriage and
legalized marijuana than previous generations were at the same age.
Their political beliefs tend to lean toward libertarianism, a
philosophy that favors individual rights over government regulations,
including gun regulation. Sure enough, support for protecting gun
among millennials and iGen between 2007 and 2016.
But even a libertarian ideologue would never argue that
freedom extends to killing others. So perhaps today’s teens are
realizing that one person’s loosely regulated gun rights can
lead to another person’s death – or the death of 17 of
their teachers and classmates.
demands could be seen as walking this line: They’re not
asking for wholesale prohibitions on all guns. Instead, they’re
hoping for reforms supported
by most Americans such as restricting the sale of assault
and more stringent background checks.
In the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the
teens’ approach to activism – peaceful protest, a focus
on safety and calls for incremental gun regulation – are
fitting for this generation.
Perhaps iGen will lead the way to change.
This article was first published at the The
Conversation and is re-published here with permission.
alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1"