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Generation Snowflake, or Snowflake Generation, is a neologistic term used to characterize the young adults of the 2010s as being more prone to taking offence and less resilient than previous generations, or as being too emotionally vulnerable to cope with views that challenge their own. The term is considered derogatory. It is one of several informal examples of usage of the word snowflake to refer to people.
The term snowflake has been used to refer to children raised by their parents in ways that give them an inflated sense of their own uniqueness. This usage of snowflake has been attributed to Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel Fight Club, and its 1999 film adaptation. Both the novel and the film include the line "You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake." In January 2017, Palahniuk claimed credit for coining snowflake, adding that the young adults of the 2010s exhibit "a kind of new Victorianism". An article published by Merriam-Webster stated that Palahniuk was not the first person to use snowflake metaphorically, saying, "It's the stuff of self-help books and inspirational posters and elementary school assurances. The imagery before negation is lovely; we are each unique snowflakes, each worth treasuring because each is uniquely beautiful."
The term "Generation Snowflake", or its variant "Snowflake Generation", probably originated in the United States and came into wider use in the United Kingdom in 2016 following the publication of Claire Fox's book I Find That Offensive!. In it she wrote about a confrontation between Yale University students and faculty Head of College, Nicholas Christakis. The confrontation arose after Christakis's wife, Erika Christakis, a lecturer at the university, had suggested students should "relax a bit rather than labeling fancy dress Halloween costumes as culturally insensitive", according to Fox. Fox described the video showing the students' reaction as a "screaming, almost hysterical mob of students". Fox said the backlash to the viral video led to the disparaging moniker "generation snowflake" for the students.
"Snowflake generation" was recognised as one of Collins Dictionary's 2016 words of the year. Collins defines the term as "the young adults of the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations". Similarly, in 2016 the Financial Times included snowflake in their annual Year in a Word list, defining it as "a derogatory term for someone deemed too emotionally vulnerable to cope with views that challenge their own, particularly in universities and other forums once known for robust debate" and noting that the insult had been aimed at an entire generation.
"Generation Snowflake" and snowflake have been used in relation to purported generational differences; snowflake and similar terms have also been used more broadly.
According to Claire Fox, members of Generation Snowflake "are genuinely distressed by ideas that run contrary to their worldview"; they are more likely than previous generations of students to report that they have mental health problems. Fox and journalist Bryony Gordon described these traits as being coupled with a strong sense of entitlement. According to an article titled "The 'Snowflake' Generation: Real or Imagined?" from the John William Pope Center reasons proposed by researchers for the reported increase in mental health problems among university students differ. They vary from increased pressure on students, reduced self-reliance resulting from overuse of mental health services, to university authorities' expectations of student fragility.
Fox argues helicopter parents created Generation Snowflake, and argues the emphasis on self-esteem in childhood resulted in adults "tiptoeing around children's sensitivities" to avoid "damaging their wellbeing". In the UK, Tom Bennett was recruited by the government to address behaviour in schools. He commented Generation Snowflake children at school can be over-protected, leading to problems when they progress to university and are confronted with "the harsher realities of life". Bennett argues being sheltered from conflict as children can lead to university students who react with intolerance towards people and things they believe may offend someone or toward people who have differing political opinions, leading to a phenomenon called "no-platforming", where speakers on controversial topics are prohibited from speaking on a university campus.
In 2016 some law lecturers at the University of Oxford began using trigger warnings to alert students to potentially distressing subject matter. This drew criticism from Fox and GQ writer Eleanor Halls, who related the phenomenon to Generation Snowflake, and questioned how well law students educated with trigger warnings would function as lawyers. The university had not adopted a formal policy on trigger warnings, leaving their use to the discretion of individual lecturers.
The negative connotations of the term Generation Snowflake have been criticized for having been applied too widely; Bennett also commented: "It's true that, for some of these children, losing fast wi-fi is a crisis and being offended on the internet is a disaster.... But then I remember the other ones, and I reckon they all balance each other out." Richard Brooks wrote in The Daily Telegraph that "students have always been instrumental in turning the tide of public opinion", and Mark Kingwell, philosophy professor at University of Toronto has objected to the use of the term to characterize political protesting as "whining", in response to protests by Millennials following Donald Trump's election as president of the United States.
Historian Neil Howe, who has written multiple books on generations, describes the term "Generation Snowflake" as part of a wider societal pattern of criticizing Millennials. Howe says this includes the 2013 article from Time titled Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation and The Millennials skit from Saturday Night Live which was shown in 2015. In a three part series written for Forbes titled Generation Snowflake: Really?, Howe, who is known for Strauss-Howe generational theory, disagrees with the negative characterizations of the term "generation snowflake", but he says it is based on "kernels of truth". Howe says "snowflake conjures up specialness and risk aversion" and he asserts "Millennials manifest a good deal of both." Howe attributes this to being raised during a time of moral panic over children, when protecting children was an increased societal priority. He says this cohort grew up with a "family fan club protecting and supporting them" resulting in high self-esteem. Howe says the term generation snowflake implies having high self-esteem is a negative quality, while he argues it is a positive quality associated with a reduction in youth violence and reduced young adult violent crime rate, as well as the reduction in CDC monitored youth risk behaviors such as: not wearing a bicycle helmet, not wearing a seatbelt, having sex, drinking alcohol, and smoking cigarettes. Howe says risk aversion extends to older Millennials as well, citing a reduction in gambling, reduction in investing in the stock market, and reduced attendance at bars/nightclubs. Instead of being a negative as portrayed by term "generation snowflake" Howe argues "one of the many benefits of having a high self-esteem is more prudent behavior".
Howe notes that "generation snowflake" is also used to criticize young adults for living with their parents at higher rates than older generations. Howe attributes this partially to the Great Recession, but says "that's clearly not the whole story, because the share of Millennials living with their parents is still rising eight years later". He attributes this to young adults being closer to their parents than previous generations saying "Millennials are emotionally much closer to their Boomer parents than those Boomers ever were to their own parents." Regarding the criticism associated with the term "generation snowflake" Howe says "Every generation is shaped differently by history. Every rising generation brings with it new and different priorities. And every older generation feels threatened when they sense these new priorities could push their world in an unfamiliar direction."
In her syndicated column, Michelle Malkin criticized the provision of the Affordable Care Act which requires employer-based health coverage to extend to adult children up to 26 years of age, describing it as the "slacker mandate" and calling these young adults "precious snowflakes". Malkin argues the provision has "cultural consequences" in that it "reduces the incentives for 20-somethings to grow up and seek independent lives and livelihoods".
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- Are schools producing Generation Snowflake? - Panel discussion from WORLDwrite featuring Claire Fox