Post-millennials have been through the wringer. Don't call them snowflakes.

I traveled to the "other" West Virginia panhandle last week to visit my family and celebrate my mother's birthday. I stopped on the way to collect my younger niece from her college campus, and savored a rare 90 minutes to chat with her on the last leg of the journey.

This is her first official year of college, although she started with nearly enough credits to begin as a sophomore, thanks to a program — similar to one between Hagerstown Community College and Washington County Public Schools — that allows students to take college-level courses while in high school.

She's an independent thinker, and I sometimes envy her because she can say things out loud that, because of what I do for a living, I can't.

And one thing she can't abide is having anyone refer to members of her "Generation Z" as "snowflakes."

As she pointed out, they arrived post-Sept. 11, as the world was changing for the worse. And at an age when my biggest worry was explaining my mediocre algebra grades to my dad, they faced down a pandemic that was killing millions around the world. And now they're dealing with the aftermath.

"We're resilient," she said.

She and her friends certainly are. So is her older sister, a member of the Class of 2020. 'Nuff said.

We're also hearing, however, that some of the young people returning to school after pandemic lockdowns have displayed more mental health issues, resulting from lack of socialization or difficult home circumstances, or both.

Related:Can Maryland public school enrollment climb above pre-pandemic numbers? What we know.

They're not alone; the Pew Research Center reported in December that about 40% of adults "had experienced high levels of psychological distress at least once since the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak," and that number rose to 58% for young adults aged 18 to 29.

It might be more accurate to say this is a "make or break" generation.

And if you think about it for a few minutes, it's easy to understand why this is true:

  • They don't know what it's like to board a plane without all the security measures put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks.

  • They've watched friends, family members and sometimes their own parents succumb to the nightmare of the opioid epidemic. Substance misuse certainly occurred when I was growing up, but we saw nothing then like the numbers we're seeing now.

  • Boomers like me have no idea what it's like to have to participate in "active shooter" drills in school. Or to have to put those skills to use. Or to have our schools locked tight while we were in class.

  • They're trying to navigate in a society where politicians, who are old enough to know better, more blatantly than ever prioritize party power over the best interests or even the wishes of their constituents. And they'll say or do anything to maintain control — no matter how much it erodes trust in the institutions that once served us rather well. It makes Watergate and Monicagate seem almost quaint.

  • For as long as they've been alive, the United States was engaged in its War on Terror, or dealing with the consequences of it.

Are some of them spoiled? Of course. Name one generation that hasn't had its share of kids who thought they deserved the world on a platter. But on the whole, those members of Generation Z who are determined to make it in spite of the hand they've been dealt are an inspiration.

To wit:

  • They're far more adept at technology than I'll ever be.

  • They care deeply about the planet, which is probably because we've left it in far worse shape than we found it.

  • They seem to be more accepting of people with other racial and economic backgrounds than the generations that preceded them.

  • They're not as interested in the political games our generation plays on every level of government, and some of them are plain fed up with it.

  • They've spent their lives having to manage despite all the "stuff," so they know they can.

  • Many of them are bent on cleaning up the mess we've made for them.

Call them Generation Z, call them post-millennials, call them young'uns if you like.

But don't call them snowflakes. We haven't walked in their boots.

Tamela Baker is a Herald-Mail feature writer.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Generation Z has weathered more storms than many generations prior