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What Does the American Dream Really Mean to Teens?

Sitting through a basic history class or political speech, you are likely to come across the phrase “the American Dream.”

This phrase was coined during the mass immigration to America in the late 1890s and early 1900s, when people had to fight to survive. However, the notion has since undergone a facelift.

For refugees from the Irish potato famine, the American Dream pretty much meant getting out of squalor and ensuring your children would be healthy and have food on the table.

As society progressed and medicine and work conditions improved, the American Dream evolved into what Baby Boomers and middle-aged people of today consider the ideal: making sure your offspring are better off than you.

The Baby Boomer generation grew up in the aftermath of the Second World War and during the Cold War, when stability and continued growth were in favor.

Furthermore, as society expanded into the suburbs and marketing for superstores such as Sears and Macy’s cropped up, the ideals of a nice suburban life became the goal of much of society.

Take all of this and throw it out the window when you think about the modern American Dream.

Realistically speaking, major health concerns will never be an issue for this generation like they were for generations past.

Few American families have to worry about putting food on the table, and most earn enough to allow their children access to luxuries such as smartphones.

The majority of teens look toward the future with brainless ambition in the hopes of leaving a mark, achieving massive fame, or gathering a huge fortune.

Society has made an ideological switch from comparatives (more and better) to superlatives (most and best). It is no longer good enough to be a multimillionaire and drive a Ferrari; you need to found a billion-dollar empire and be the richest person on earth.

Furthermore, this generation has become tired of accepting the status quo. Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, the hype behind startups and dropping out of school, and the innate support of the LGBT community and cannabis legalization all indicate this is a generation that cares more about doing and acting on their beliefs than simply standing aside and accepting the way things were done in the past.

This generation views the American Dream in a new way. People in generations past wanted to raise the minimum standard of living, but today kids want to maximize life.

Phrases like “Do it for the Vine” and “F*ck it, ship it” exemplify the way in which Gen Z ignores typical rationale in exchange for action itself.

Rappers will spend half of their net worth on Lamborghinis and Bugattis, because the status symbol and experience itself provide enormous satisfaction, regardless of the price tag.

Gen Z knows what it wants, and it wants everything in the best form possible. The American Dream is no longer about surviving and improving from generation to generation, but rather about maxing out life’s opportunities regardless of the associated stigmas and costs.

Any discussion of Millennial ambition cannot leave out the fact that this is the first generation for many decades that is not expected to be better off than their parents.

Millennials have not grown up with a noticeable increase in well-being from parents to children. They have a much better sense of exponential increase and decrease in status, since lifestyle changes have become based on winning or losing big.

This idea of breaking through the ceiling capping their lifestyle drives the risky nature of Millennials. It will lead to their adoption of “moonshots” and an unshakable belief that they can implement wide-scale change.

Written by George Beall

George Beall is a student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has a deep admiration for true innovation and has been involved in multiple in technology startups. He is currently on the founding team of Everipedia and an angel investor in Waves Inc. In his spare time he enjoys horseback riding, discovering upcoming music, and binge watching Netflix.

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