Teenagers today are probably the most observed and analysed generation ever. So it's ironic that we're unable to come up with a definitive name for them. Not one that refers to their parents or elder siblings. Nor one that changes weekly. But something that references the distinct era they grew up in, that sums them up - and that shows them some respect.
It used to be so easy. Baby Boomers grew up in the '60s and '70s and Generation X in the '80s and early '90s. But since then things have got complicated.
'Millennials' is used a lot but it's a nebulous term that often crosses over with Generations Y and Z. Even the US census bureau admits "there is no strong consensus about how to define Millennials." They themselves define them as people born between 1980 and 2005. So, anyone currently aged between 10 and 35. That's a pretty big group.
Wikipedia is even more vague. "Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. They are also called Echo Boomers ..." As for Generation Z: "Generation Z refers to the cohort of people born after the Millennial Generation. There is no agreement on the name or exact range of birth dates. Some sources start this generation at the mid or late 1990s or from the mid 2000s to the present day." Oh okay, that's clear then. Today's young people are either Millennials, Echo Boomers, Generation Y or Generation Z: with each term covering about 20 years and all overlapping.
It's further complicated by a desire among many in the media to come up with new definitions every week. Recently I've seen 'Generation Rent', 'Generation YouTube', the 'Entitlement Generation' and, erm, 'Generation Green' (nice try, British Gas).
As any sociologist will tell you, a generation is a group of people born around the same time and broadly influenced by the same events (though they might use fancier terminology to say it). The Baby Boomers were born during a 'baby boom' - due to soldiers returning home to their partners after the Second World War - so have the self-confidence of a large group. Generation X-ers grew up in the fallout from the heady '60s/'70s. The 'X' in their name therefore stands for 'anything we want' or 'blank', depending on how optimistic or nihilistic you are: but either way it works.
If the term Millennials refers specifically to those who came of age around the Millennium, then it works too. Those growing up at a time of 'possibility' are likely to have a greater sense of entitlement.
But what does it mean when referring to those born in the '00s? And what about Generation Y and Z? Did whoever thought those up believe Generation X was so called because it was following Generation W? Meanwhile, what do we call the next generation? Generation AA perhaps?
Such names are not only confusing, they're insulting. Calling those who followed Gen X, Generations Y and Z is a little like calling someone after their father and grandfather. None of us wants to be known as simply an extension of our parents or grandparents. Ask anyone who's called 'X Junior' or goes to the same school a parent did. My father's name was Norman, so I'm going to be even less inclined to want to share his name, wonderful as he was ... But the point's still valid. We all want to forge our own destiny.
So let's park the Millennials as a generation that stopped being young in the mid-00s - and come up with a new name for today's teens. If people insist on analysing them, let's at least give them a distinctive voice.
I suggest the 'Recession Generation' or 'Generation Real'. Unlike the 'genuine' Millennials - who grew up at a time of young Dotcom billionaires and overnight celebrities - today's teens do not expect something for nothing. As children, they were hit hard by the global downturn, so have a more realistic, do-it-yourself mindset and a greater sense of civic duty.
But I'm happy to go with the consensus. So, if there are any teenagers (or parents of teenagers) reading this, what do you think we should call them?