My 15-year-old strolls into my room. “You need a haircut,” I observe, noting his overgrown sideburns and rogue cowlick.
“OK Boomer,” he says with a grin, then spins on his feet and is out the door before I can protest. It’s his favorite retort to just about anything I say these days.
“I AM NOT A BOOMER!” I yell at the space where he stood just moments before. My parents are Boomers. I am most definitely and very proudly GenX, thank you very much.
I admit I think the trendy phrase is bemusing; I have a few things I would like to say “OK Boomer” about to my parents, in fact –– like when they ask if I must post every second of my life on “the Facebook” (clearly, yes) or why I pay my babysitter using “Ven-whatever” or that no, I don’t think it’s weird that my 12-year-old son has painted his fingernails blue.
But I don’t say “OK Boomer” to my actual Boomers. Because, you know. They might ground me and my 45-year-old impertinent self.
So why is it OK for my teenager to use the hottest put-down of the moment on me? It’s not, said child development and parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa. Even if I think it’s maybe a teeny bit funny too.
“Gen Z is telling anyone a minute older than them that they have no bandwidth or energy to justify or explain things to you that you are clueless about,” Gilboa explained. The youngest generation is trying to take action, she said, for causes they care about –– social good, the environment, and financial inequity, for example.
Gilboa said members of Gen Z are dealing with stressors that other generations didn’t have to deal with, and they just want to be left alone to play their video games in peace sometimes. That’s when it’s easier just to say, “OK Boomer” and roll their eyes at their elders, mostly out of exhaustion and frustration.
“That said, respect still matters,” said Gilboa. Even if you understand the point of the “OK Boomer” message and you respect it, she said, parents don’t have to accept being disrespected by their teens –– and they shouldn’t.
“The rest of the world won’t put up with it,” said Gilboa. “And we want to teach our teenagers that we don’t treat the people we love disrespectfully.”
But respect needs to go both ways, she reminds us.
When your teenager throws the “OK Boomer” at you, there are a few things you can point out:
1. Believe it or not, Boomers once had a lot in common with Gen Z. In fact, the anthem of what became the Baby Boomer generation was, at one point, activist Jack Weinberg’s mantra: “Never trust anyone over 30.” The human experience is more universal than we sometimes perceive it to be, even across generations.
2. Try saying, “Thank you, Boomer” every once in a while. After all, it was the Baby Boomer generation that championed causes like women’s rights and self care, brought down the Berlin Wall, and changed social discourse in this country.
3. Remind GenZ that if they are lucky enough, they will live long enough to have their own children and grandchildren roll their eyes at them too. It’s hard to believe that my generation –– now busy helicopter parenting in between running marathons and making impulse purchases off of Instagram ads –– was once the Slacker Generation, shrugging the denigrations of our elders off our plaid-flannel-shirted shoulders and turning up our Sony Walkmen to drown them out with a little Rage Against the Machine. Now, we’re the machine, and plaid flannel shirts are in style again (along with everything else we wore in our 20s).
Of course, as with all things when it comes to teenagers, this may all fall on deaf ears, and that’s OK (Boomer). The important point is that you correct their disrespect, you model respectful discussion, and, by dissecting the phrase and the memes it has generated, you all but guarantee your kids will never use it again anyway.