TinTin Zhou from China at the International airport in Brisbane. Picture: AAP/John Gass
TinTin Zhou from China at the International airport in Brisbane. Picture: AAP/John Gass

No wonder kids are anxious, the disasters are non-stop

When I was a kid, the only time I can remember having any sense of impending disaster was when Skylab fell out of the sky.

If you remember, Skylab was the United States space station NASA launched in the early 70s to collect data as it orbited the earth, before it was abandoned in space in 1974.

In 1979, NASA announced that the space station was breaking up and would soon re-enter the earth's atmosphere, but the catch was NASA had no idea just where it would re-enter it.

All around, people - most especially kids and teenagers - found themselves constantly squinting at the sky, half fearful and half hopeful a giant piece of it would fall on their heads.

When Skylab did finally crash to the ground in Esperance on Western Australia's south east coast in July 1979, there was a rush to souvenir pieces of it, especially after an American newspaper said it would give $10,000 to the first person who turned up at their offices bearing a fragment.

This generation of young people are growing up in a world that must feel so unstable at times thanks to one disaster after another. Picture: supplied
This generation of young people are growing up in a world that must feel so unstable at times thanks to one disaster after another. Picture: supplied

All of which is to say the Skylab was seen as more of a lark than a real threat, and although I now know the world was full of darkness and danger when I grew up, the truth is that, rightly or wrongly, it never felt close enough to touch me.

I was thinking about Skylab this week when I heard some teens discussing the coronavirus, and heard one tell the other: "I've heard it's coming to Australia and lots of people are going to die."

Granted, I also heard his mate add excitedly: "I heard we are going to get heaps of time off school", but it seems to me that today's kids and teens have a lot to carry on their shoulders, don't they?

This generation of young people are growing up in a world that must feel so unstable at times, a world where - whether you believe in climate change or not, and for the record I do - one minute their country is engulfed by water, the next by flames, and in between the bony spectre of drought is pointing its finger at them.

If it’s not bushfires or floods, it’s now coronavirus. Picture: AP/Marco Ugarte
If it’s not bushfires or floods, it’s now coronavirus. Picture: AP/Marco Ugarte

Floods, fire and if not quite pestilence, then at least, now a pandemic to grapple with.

They are also living in an age where if they do make a youthful mistake, that moment can alter the course of their life forever.

I can't speak for the boys - although I suspect it is equally true - but I don't think social media is doing our girls any giant favours, do you?

They live in times where terrorism shadows the once rollicking rite-of-passage that is the gap year spent overseas - honestly it's a wonder our youth go anywhere.

Or do anything. Or see anybody. Because, what with the face masks and the terrorism attacks and the gun drills at school, and the fires and the floods, it's a wonder they're upright, let alone dancing.

But they do dance, don't they? And laugh and sing, and tell jokes that only they could possible ever understand because you had to be there, but you never would be, because you are old and don't understand anything.

 

A girl protests outside Kirribilli House in Sydney. Picture: AAP Image/Steven Saphore
A girl protests outside Kirribilli House in Sydney. Picture: AAP Image/Steven Saphore

This is not one of those 'things were better in my day' columns, but it is a recognition that our kids; our gorgeous, hilarious, beautiful Post Millennial (or Generation Z, or the iGeneration) kids don't always get the credit they deserve.

For tackling - after already being the guinea pig generation for Prep, and starting high school in Year 7 - the new ATAR ranking system in school, and continuing to turn up.

For turning up in all those places they are being told are unsafe. Schools. Work. Airports. Outside their front door.

For still turning up. For still dancing. For still laughing. And singing. And falling in Love. And now, in this time of the coronavirus, sanitising their hands, and holding each other's anyway.

PS Memo to NASA. You still haven't paid the $400 fine the Esperance council sent you in 1979 for littering. Pay up, space litterbugs.