The Daily Telegraph
Yes, I was wrong about ‘Generation Snowflake’…
‘Remarkable”, “powerful”, “resilient”… When Generation Snowflake woke up yesterday (circa 11.30am…) to hear themselves described this way, even they must have choked on their cruelty-free, ethically sound, and locally sourced vegan puffs.
As I’ve just proved, certain assumptions are made of “the young adults of the 2010s” – the Collins English Dictionary definition of “snowflakes”– and they do not fit the description made by Sally-anne Huang, High Master of St Paul’s School in south-west London, in a speech to the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference yesterday.
No, the traditional assumptions made of Generation Offence are: an insufferable piety, desperate sensitivity, bottomless need for attention, hypocrisy and fragility. After all, this is the generation that sealed itself off in a bubble of safe spaces, identity politics and trigger warnings.
These are the people who are intimidated by full-stops (signifying, as they do, an “abrupt or angry tone of voice”), offended by Friends (the Nineties sitcom they saw for the first time when it was released on Netflix), scathing about their parents’ dirty capitalist incomes (while happy to accept those dirty handouts), and adamant that history books should be pared down to the size and jollity of bath books, with nasty people who did nasty things replaced by a gurning emoji-faced super race who have love hearts in the place of pupils.
Well, all those lazy assumptions and preconceptions must stop, says Huang. “I, for one, am tired of hearing the young described as snowflakes,” the chairman of HMC told the virtual conference, which represents 296 leading private schools. “I cannot think of a group of young people, out of wartime, of whom more has been asked or from whom more has been taken.”
And here’s the weird thing: I agree with her. I’ve enjoyed mercilessly ribbing snowflakes for the past five years. Revelled in it. As a columnist, they were the gift that kept on giving.
But if the old family friend who was fond of saying “what that generation needs is a war” were still alive today, she would agree that Covid-19 has invalidated the snowflake slur.
They got their war. “Anyone who was with 18-year-olds in March when they suddenly learnt that not just their chance to prove themselves in exams, but also all those joyous rites of passage at the end of their school days had been taken from them,” points out Huang, “anyone who saw them pick themselves up, move on, adapt, they would not call them snowflakes.”
Add to that the killing off of any real university experience – with lectures and tutorials expected to take place online in many places until summer 2021, thousands forced to self-isolate in their halls of residence cells and any socialising kept to a minimum – a whopping student loan left to pay off at the end of that virtual purdah, and the devastated economic and job market they’ll be moving into, and this is genuinely upsetting stuff.
As a stepmother to three boys in their early and mid-20s, these are no longer just labels and demographics to me.
I now see how easy I had it, and if someone had stolen what really were the best years of my life, forced me to kill off all spontaneity and robbed me of the light heart that characterises that youthful period, I would forever remain aggrieved.
But whether what young people have gone through this year is enough to turn them “into a remarkable and powerful generation,” as Huang believes it will, still remains to be seen.
Because snowflakes have one of two possible destinies. They can either harden into ice crystals – and prove their resilience – or dissolve into slush, and allow themselves to mire in their own victimhood and self-pity.
“I think they’re going to be uniquely prepared for this,” concluded Huang yesterday. “I have faith that they’re up to it.”
And I hope she’s right. But we should probably drop the scathing label long enough to let them prove themselves, one way or the other.
What young people have gone through will harden them up – or turn them to slush