We live in an era in which, for the most part, the generations do not mix frequently. Grandparents are visited occasionally; young people seek the freedom of independent living as early as possible. On social media, intergenerational warfare is commonplace, as members of gen Z (those born between the mid-90s and the early 10s) criticise older people for hoarding wealth, while baby boomers bemoan the perceived sensitivity of the younger generation.
But what would happen if baby boomers gave the TikToking young adults of today an insight into their thinking – and threw some life advice into the bargain? To that end, we assembled a panel of baby boomers – Tayo Idowu, 64, a marketing director from London; Liz Richards, 68, a retired nurse from Derby; Paul Gibson, 63, an accountant from Arundel, West Sussex; and Maggie Tata, 65, a carer from London – to answer gen Z’s questions (even the tongue-in-cheek ones).
What do you admire in younger people today?
Caitlin, 22, Norwich
Idowu: I admire them for their tenacity.
Tata: And also for their adaptability. I don’t know how they do it. They can suck everything in and still manage to cope. And they’re willing to take risks. Their courage is just amazing.
Gibson: I admire them for their confidence in IT. They’re probably the first digital natives, aren’t they? They’ve embraced all the possibilities of technology.
Richards: For me, it’s how they’ve coped with the pandemic. I think they’ve had the worst time of any group, really. Obviously, not from the sickness and death point of view, but the fact that when you’re young your life is going out, meeting other people, doing all of that. They’ve had to do without a lot of it.
Do you think young people are overly sensitive and privileged?
JD, 21, south Wales
Idowu: It depends how you define sensitive or privileged. I know some young people and for them the thought of going out to work in the summer holiday is like: maybe after I’ve rested for a long time. In our day, the idea of getting a paper round was the norm. So, definitely in terms of privilege, for some of them I can feel that.
Gibson: I think they’re much more aware and have a greater empathy and understanding of people’s journeys. So I use words like sensitive in a positive way, not in a Piers Morgan snowflake way, because they’re not snowflakes. They’re resilient and adaptable and more aware of their world’s issues.
Why do you hate selfies?
Bethany, 22, London
Richards: I don’t hate selfies! I love them. Some of the best pictures I’ve got are selfies. But sometimes it’s constant selfies – and then it gets a bit tedious.
Idowu: We don’t hate selfies per se. It’s the volume of them.
Would you have chosen to live your life differently if you were born in our generation?
Diana, 19, Aberdeen
Gibson: If I were starting over, I would take more risks. My early life was fairly risk-free. I wanted to go to Cambridge, which I did. My father was an accountant and it was expected that I would become an accountant, so I did. I would take more risks with my life and with my career, seek out more diversity. I think I lacked that in the earlier years. And perhaps I wouldn’t have one linear career, which is what I’ve done, but several different careers. Because inside I feel like a writer, but on the outside I look like an accountant. If I were starting over, I’d give that writer a little bit more space and that accountant a little less space. I think I’d be a richer person for that.
What is your best advice for how to achieve financial security?
Judith, 23, Barcelona
Tata: Oh God, that’s a good one. Invest, invest, invest! Multiple streams of income. That’s it. You can’t just have a nine-to-five job any more. You have to do lots and lots of different things.
Idowu: As early as you can, get a life insurance policy. Make sure it’s a whole-life insurance policy, because that way, if something happens to you, you have something substantial to leave to your offspring. Also, look outside your main career for income. I think it’s called a “side hustle” now, right? I used to go to police auctions – this was way before eBay – and buy things, then advertise them in the classified ads. If you can, get on the property ladder as soon as possible.
Gibson: For me, saving has always been very important, but I went to university at a time when there was no student debt and housing was affordable. But – and it’s a huge “but” – if you can, start a pension early. It’s called compounding. If you start a pension at 21 and retire at 65, that pension has been going for 45 years, and a very small sum can become a substantial sum. The state pension isn’t enough to live on, sadly. But I recognise how that advice is just not practical for so many people who are paying eye-watering amounts of rent.
Why do you always get to the airport so early?
Jamie, 20, Southport
Idowu: Because the tyres might burst. What I mean by that is that we have to think ahead and plan for possible eventualities. A lot of generation Z, they leave everything to literally the last minute and don’t think about the possibility of anything going wrong. But we were brought up in a generation where things could go wrong. Technology wasn’t reliable. Cars weren’t as reliable. Electrical stuff wasn’t reliable. So we had to leave plenty of time in case things didn’t go right. That’s carried over in our attitude.
How do you even use a paper map?
Nic, 23, London
Tata: I don’t even have a clue, because I just go on Google and type what I have to find. That’s one advantage with technology for me, because I can’t see properly anyway.
Idowu: We had A-Zs and they were very simple. Say for instance you’re going to Grange Road in Croydon, you would look up Grange Road at the back … [Idowu patiently explains how to use an A-Z.] It’s not that difficult.
What mistakes did your generation make – and what can gen Z learn from them?
Hayley, 23, Northampton
Richards: When I was younger, the attitudes towards women who got pregnant out of marriage were awful. The world sort of fell in on them. It was also hypocritical, because there would often be illegitimate children in families, but everyone pretended that wasn’t the case. Another big mistake I lived through was how we treated gay people. People had to pretend and it caused such pain and distress.
Idowu: Another mistake we made was listening to everything our teachers and parents told us and believing it. Because half the time they were saying things knowing full well they weren’t going to happen. I think today’s children are a lot more challenging of what adults tell them, which is a good thing.
Tata: Yes. We didn’t have a choice, really. But they can find information out for themselves. I’m grateful for their free spirit, because we were just told that we had to do as we were told.
Gibson: For me, it’s our generation’s failure to act on climate change. We know what we need to do, but we lack the individual and political leadership to change the way we live and protect the environment. Our failure will be felt for generations to come.
Why do all boomers find windfarms so ugly?
Louis, 23, Glasgow
Idowu: Well, I wouldn’t want to live next to one, put it like that. I wouldn’t say I find them ugly. I think I find them intriguing. I actually prefer windfarms to solar panels. They look a bit more elegant, if I may say. Having these massive solar panels looks strange in the beautiful countryside.
What is the difference between pennies, shillings and pounds?
Jonathan, 24, London
Gibson: I think the question might be getting at the fact we hold on to old ways of doing things. When I’m in the car, I can’t do litres of fuel per 100km, because I don’t know what those numbers mean. I still use miles per gallon.
Have you changed opinion politically since you were a young adult?
Atila, 17, London
Richards: I have definitely got more conservative, with a small C, as I’ve got older. [She laughs.] I had some fairly radical thoughts as a young person. You try not to, but you do harden your opinions on certain things – and sometimes that’s a good thing, because you won’t be swayed by other people. But some people think whatever they think is absolutely right and they sort of keep on at you, until you agree with them.
Idowu: I’ve softened. I’ve gone from more of a Marxist-Leninist stance to a soft-left stance.
Gibson: I’ve not changed. I was a great supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and I think I would have been as a young person. Obviously, it didn’t go well, but a lot of the ideas he came up with were ahead of their time and, in the next five years, we might begin to follow them.
Do you believe that gen Z aren’t able to buy homes because we are lazy and don’t work hard enough?
Rebecca, 21, Lincoln
Richards: Absolutely not! [She looks horrified.] My sons aren’t gen Z, they’re in their 30s, but they can’t buy homes. House prices have been crazy over the past 20 years.
Idowu: I bought my first house for £23,000. Nowadays, that would probably be £300,000 – and instead of finding a £3,000 deposit, you’d need £30,000.
What is your generation’s obsession with Facebook?
Hannah, 23, Cambridge
Tata: I am on Facebook, but I’m not obsessed with it. I just use it to connect with my family and friends worldwide. I don’t really go and post things in it, unless there’s an occasion like a family wedding and some people couldn’t come.
Much divides us, but one trend unites our youth cultures: can we agree on platform shoes?
Caroline, 22, Washington DC
Idowu: I love my platform shoes. I had beautiful patent leather and suede ones that I bought from a shop called Ravel. I don’t know where they are now, but platforms are definitely a big thumbs up from me.
What is your view on TikTok?
Shriya, 24, India
Idowu: I think it’s a massive and amazing tool for creativity, because you have to encapsulate so much in such a short space of time.
What do you think of the rising awareness of mental health – and do you wish you had the same awareness when you were younger?
Grace, 20, Exeter
Tata: Definitely! Definitely. It was taboo for us growing up. We couldn’t even talk about mental health. People would be locked up in what we used to term “mental homes” and that was it. It’s so good that mental health is being addressed now and it’s not a taboo.
Do you still like boiled sweets?
MJ, 23, London
Idowu: I’m still partial to cola cubes. There’s a sweet shop in Greenwich that sells old-fashioned sweets. Whenever I pass it, I go in to buy some cola cubes.
What is the one thing you wish you had known before you were 30?
Abbie, 22, Bristol
Idowu: If I’d known before 30 that as you get older you have less energy, I would have had my children much earlier. Because what you don’t want is when you take your son to school and people say: “Is that your grandad?”
Richards: Getting your foot on the property ladder if you possibly can is a good idea. Paying into a pension. It’s awfully boring and, of course, when you’re at that age, you never think you will need it, because you never think you will be old, but age does come. And travel. Meet new people, educate yourself about different cultures. That will set you up for being a decent, balanced person.
Gibson: I think I would say to an under-30, or myself at that age, to be bold. When you look back, failure isn’t a terrible thing. It’s actually quite often a positive thing. You can learn from it, you can grow from it. When I was under 30, I was very anxious about failing and I think I missed out on some of the things we’ve been talking about – travelling and meeting new people and getting new experiences. I wouldn’t worry about failing. I would be bold.