Shame Through The Generations
Walk with me as I explore the nature of each of the seven generations that co-exist in America today, and how each may have uniquely contributed to the dysfunctional aspects of our today’s culture: The Greatest Generation > The Silent Generation > Baby Boomers (Early and Late) > Generation X > Millennials > Generation Z > Alpha Generation.
Every one of us – no matter our age, family history, or life choices – is faced with the decision whether to pass down the worst of what we’ve received from our ancestors, or to create a new generational legacy built upon the nature, character, and reality of Jesus Christ. We have the opportunity to be the generation that pivots our family tree from self-focused to Christ-focused.
The Greatest Generation
The Greatest Generation is generally defined as people born from 1901 to 1927, and their remaining members are the oldest generation still living today. I can’t even imagine what our society might look like had it not been for this generation’s selflessness and courage. You and I enjoy the freedoms every day that these brave individuals fought so dearly to preserve.
Objectively though, this was this generation that introduced toxic shaming into American culture. In spite of their great heroism, we cannot overlook the realities of what they introduced into life in America in the 1940s and 50s, and how that altered the trajectory of every following generation. The unspeakable inhumanity, tragedy, and death they witnessed fundamentally changed the emotional core of American society. From this generation came the “DON’T FEEL” rule.
The Silent Generation
Members of the Silent Generation were born between 1928 and 1945. These were the younger brothers and sisters of the WWII generation. These are the individuals who fought during the Korean War. The children who grew up during this time worked very hard and kept quiet. It was commonly understood that “children should be seen and not heard.” Leaders in Washington, DC passed legislation making it unacceptable for Americans to speak freely about their opinions and beliefs that might appear counter to the nation’s post-war narrative. Therefore, the people were effectively “silenced.” And thus the “DON’T TALK” rule was introduced.
The Baby Boomers categorization of Americans is made up of men and women who were born between 1946 and 1964 and is subdivided into two broadly defined subgroupings: Early Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1955) are those who came of age during the Vietnam War era. They were the direct recipients of their fathers’ harsh, shame-based parenting methods, and their lives became a reflection of what had been done to them – “DON’T TRUST.”
Late Baby Boomers (aka “Generation Jones”) were born between 1956 and 1964 (this is my generational group). We did not grow up with World War II veterans as fathers, and there was no required military service or political cause that defined us. We never lived in a world without television. We were raised in homes where “keeping up with the Joneses” was a cultural norm. This generational group introduced the presence of “entitlement” into American culture.
The generation to follow is known as Generation X, born between 1965 – 1980. Growing up in a time of shifting societal values, Gen Xers are often called the “latchkey generation,” due to reduced adult supervision compared to previous generations. They were the first generation to grow up in homes where their mothers weren’t there every day when they got off the school bus. As children born of the adult children of emotionally traumatized World War II fathers, this generation felt the sting of the emotional absence of both their father and mother.
Millennials, originally known as Generation Y, were born between 1981 to 1996. They are the children of the “Jones” generation. The entitlement of their parents contributed to this generation being overindulged as children. As a result, the concept of the “child-centered home” was born. Now parents built their lives and families around the preferences and whims of their children, doing whatever necessary to keep the kids happy. The Millennial generation is generally marked by elevated usage of and familiarity with the Internet, mobile devices, and social media, which also made them the first to have uninhibited access to pornography, violence, and immorality at their fingertips.
Members of Gen Z – born between 1997 and 2012 – tend to be well-behaved, self-controlled, and are risk averse. Having been raised by latchkey Generation X parents, they tend to live more slowly than their predecessors when they were their age, causing them to sometimes be perceived as lazy. They have lower rates of teenage pregnancies, and they consume drugs and alcohol less often, largely due to having seen the destructive results in their parents and older siblings. Having been raised either by divorced parents or a single parent, they are concerned about academic performance and job prospects, in hopes of being able to “take care of themselves” without the help of a family. This generation has the highest frequency of mental health problems, experts assume due to the lack of family stability and cultural morality during their developmental years.
The youngest generation living in today’s world are members of the grouping referred to as Generation Alpha. Researchers gave them this name because they are the first generation born entirely in the twenty-first century – with birth years from 2013 to today. In various articles about this generation’s future, authors anticipate Alphas being the best educated generation ever, the most technologically immersed, and the wealthiest. Yet they will be the generation more likely than any in the past century to spend some or all of their childhood in living arrangements without either of their biological parents.
Every Generation Is a Gift to Society
The effects of toxic shame on individuals, families, and American culture cannot be fit into a nice, neat little box. These are not one-size-fits-all. Each generation, family, and individual are distinctive in the way they process shame as it was imparted to them, and to what extent they convey it into the lives of those they influence. Nonetheless, I hope this generational overview has provided a snapshot of the ripple effects of toxic family shame that was birthed more than seventy-five years ago.
We Can Do This Respectfully
We need to be careful to not accuse or make assumptions about individuals, as if they shamed us or others intentionally or maliciously. Rather, our objective is to identify and acknowledge the toxic effects of shame in our own individual lives, and to take courageous steps to allow God to bring healing and wholeness to our hearts.
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