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Twenty Years of Disruption Natives

Today marks 20 years since 9/11. My social media feed is full of people's memories from that day, and my boys (10 and 8) are full of questions. Where was I? Did I know anyone who died? What was it like? Could it happen again? Is that why airports have security lines?

I wasn't in New York, but I was close. A New Jersey native, 9/11 rocked my small commuter town. I was working at my hometown pizzeria, and all day long, people came in to eat, watch the news, and cry.

In "Making It," I talk about how today's kids are disruption natives. For older youth and young adults, their lives started in the days of 9/11 and its aftermath. Like their lives right now, those early years were shaped by fear, anxiety, and division.

Things were extra hard for children born into Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh households--especially boys--because of the intense racial and ethnic hatred they and their families faced in an "Age of Terror." Children born into military families experienced different hardships, like a parent overseas or one who was getting ready to deploy. Some children grew up without a loved one, lost on 9/11, or only knew parents and relatives traumatized by that day.

When those babies got ready to start school, the Great Recession happened. 9/11 babies became Great Recession kindergartners, meeting another major milestone during a period of national stress, upheaval, and hardship. Parents lost jobs, and towns lost businesses. At the same time, smart technologies showed up, bringing a new level of visible disruption to all of our lives.

Today, these 9/11 babies are finishing high school, starting college, or getting jobs. All in the age of COVID. Some struggle to get by, unable to figure out how to stay and succeed in school or work. Because of everything happening, this next major milestone--the transition into adulthood--is wrapped in just as much fear, anxiety, and division as their births and start of school.

The other day, I spoke to a high school in Virginia and asked: how are the children? A few days later, I asked a similar question to a community college in Illinois. As the pictures show, anxiety, worry, and hope for the future have followed these young people across their lifetimes.

As we reflect on the 20 years since 9/11, we should also consider the lives of those children born and raised ever since.

Soon we will hit two years of pandemic living and months of heightened tensions among neighbors and within families. Even as we endure the pandemic, extreme weather and global challenges test our resilience and optimism.

The past 20 years show us that today's kids will not have easy lives. Things are, have been, and will continue to be turbulent and challenging. Young people will keep facing unprecedented challenges and threats as they get older and raise their own children. Still, they will learn and grow. Still, they deserve to thrive.

We must take stock of how we parent, teach, coach, and counsel. It's time to accept that volatility and disruption will remain a strong and steady current in our kids' lives. We must believe that our kids can survive and thrive in this world, even when milestones and life moments are marked by disruption.

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