So little attention has been focused on toxic youthfulness that many people—the current reader perhaps included—still mistake the term for a satire or parody based on related terms such as toxic masculinity. It’s time for a change, and this article is a step in the right direction.
Toxic youth culture thrives on college campuses, primarily due to their alarming homogeneity. Admissions offices in particular do little to promote age diversity; a 2019 study found that most students at undergraduate institutions were fewer than three to four years apart in age. (This landmark research was published in the provocative journal Obvius.)
Its ingenious name, a Latin adjective meaning literally “on the path,” represents the journal’s tireless mission to block our habitual paths with revelatory findings that force us to challenge our assumptions and take our lives in new directions.) Such small age ranges defeat the purpose of college, whose purported aim in separating students from family and friends is to isolate them from like-minded people who may validate their misconceptions.
Some readers may already want to ask for a definition of toxic youthfulness. They should be reminded of the kind of people who engage in such behavior, so that they see the danger in imitating it. When informed of their participation in toxic youth culture, most young people express appropriate guilt, and some even show an admirable and poignant longing for change.
There are others, however, who accuse a peer or elder of having made some “accusation” against them; a few even ask for a definition of toxic youthfulness, protesting that they should not face blame without being told what they have done wrong. By feigning confusion and distracting themselves with a mere phrase, they refuse to recognize the harm they have caused throughout their lives.
Despite the self-interested motives of those who want a definition of toxic youthfulness, it cannot hurt to give an example. The epitome of our toxic youth culture is a dangerous phrase whose recent invention and popularization by young people should be enough to raise suspicion. With this phrase, young people judge an argument by its proponent rather than by its content; some even perpetrate this offense against members of their own generation. As my friend and I made lunch one day during winter break, the microwave prompted us with repeated bleepings of self-satisfaction, the more infuriating for their habit of stopping for a minute or so and then starting just when I was sure the misery was over. Having had enough, I grumbled that technology was so gleeful dominating our lives. My friend’s response was short and unforgivable: “okay, boomer.”
Overlooking such clear proofs that their own generation is against them, some members of Generation Z presume to express a wish to fight toxic youthfulness. “Think after you speak” is such a commonplace that we cannot reasonably judge it—critically or favorably—without showing disrespect for the wisdom of our own culture. I will take the liberty, however, of observing that the maxim is particularly helpful to these idealistic people who believe that they as individuals can influence society. It is only once the damage is done, so to speak—after the “okay, boomer” is said—that we can hope to cultivate an appropriate sense of guilt for participating in toxic youthfulness. And guilt, of course, is the root of all positive change.