The Daily Telegraph

Yes, I was wrong about ‘Gen­er­a­tion Snowflake’…

- Saint Paul · London · Netflix · 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

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