10 Highlights from On Our Minds’ Season 4 Researcher

By Simran Gupta

As Season 4 of On Our Minds comes to a close, I wanted to share the top ten things I learned from my time as a researcher and fact-checker, plus some helpful tips.

1. Gen Z is under great pressure to succeed

Gen Z is under greater pressure to succeed compared to previous generations, given today’s social and economic landscape. According to Jennifer Breheny Wallace, author of Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic—and What We Can Do About It, our generation has a more difficult time handling debt, addressing how to afford healthcare, real estate, and necessities, and managing mental health challenges that are more visible if not more frequent. Many of our parents unfortunately end up placing the burden of their anxieties about these troubles on their children, making it even more stressful. Some great ways to manage this pressure to succeed are listening to music (see our music episode!), temporarily distancing yourself from the source of stress, going outside, or doing something you enjoy.

2. Music acts as medicine for our brain

Music affects our brain in so many cool ways! For example, people who listen to music experience increased blood flow to the parts of their brain that process emotions and memories and release the neurotransmitter dopamine which is responsible for feelings of happiness. It’s probably not surprising then that people who listen to music report better memory, hand-eye coordination, and overall mental well-being.,

3. Writing music is a creative channel for life’s challenges

Clyde Lawrence from Lawrence the Band shares how he uses music as a therapeutic method of expressing the feelings of his past and the anxieties of the future. His sister, Gracie Lawrence, describes how she uses music to convey the nuances of her identity, which often includes contrasting ideas such as feelings of confidence and insecurity. She describes how meaningful it is to hear that their music, which consists of her thoughts, emotions, and identity, has resonated with her listeners.

4. Young men feel increasingly isolated amid society’s unrealistic expectations

Society places so many unrealistic expectations on men, particularly young men, for example: to be the main breadwinner of their family, find success in their career, be physically attractive, and be emotionally desensitized. Men are also experiencing what is being dubbed a “friendship recession” with 20 percent of single men now saying they don’t have any close friends. Young men can feel less isolated by connecting to others through their workplaces or hobbies, joining men’s groups, as well as seeking professional help.

5. The U.S. Surgeon General wants us to limit screen time

Technology is completely transforming the social landscape for our generation. Social media has resulted in the rise of cyberbullying which can be more persistent and long-lasting than in-person bullying. For this reason, it’s crucial that young people regulate the amount of time they spend online and designate time when they put away their devices completely. The U.S. Surgeon General told James and Bree, “There’s more and more evidence of harm to self-esteem in terms of how exposure to harmful content impacts sleep. So I’m really concerned about what has now become, I think, an extremely powerful and, in some cases deadly driver of the youth mental health crisis. And that is social media.” A fun way to tackle this challenge head-on is to make a pact with a friend to help each other keep screen time goals. 

6. Laws are tightening what can be taught in schools

The past five years have seen a rise in the number of bills affecting what can be taught in schools. In March of 2023, for example, the Republican-led North Carolina House passed legislation prohibiting public school teachers from teaching racial topics that would make students feel guilty for past actions committed by people of the same race or sex. A bill passed in Florida in 2022 bans teachers from “encouraging any conversation about sex and sexuality” and even requires them to report student conversations to their guardians even if the situation is uncertain or unsafe. For teens wanting to voice their opinions, it’s important to not underestimate their impact and reach out in any way possible, including through cold emails and calling up representatives’ offices.

7. We don’t have to sit back and accept worsening climate change

Following her personal experience in Iran, climate activist Sophia Kianni (22) founded the nonprofit Climate Cardinals to help translate resources from English into other languages to enable meaningful conversations about a better future. One of her biggest pieces of advice for young people wanting to make a change is to focus on the bigger picture of climate change and what we’re working towards, such as corporate climate responsibility, and not to shame individuals for small, personal choices. “I think that a lot of what has helped my climate anxiety has been learning from the climate movement just how much this is actually a systemic issue versus hyper fixating on individual guilt, shame or individual action generally,” said Kianni.

8. Gun violence and what young people can do about it

Young victims of gun violence are significantly more likely to experience psychiatric disorders, substance use disorders, and difficulty finishing high school. If a young person becomes aware of a potential gun shooting threat, they should immediately notify the social workers and administration in their school. If students want to remain anonymous, sandyhookpromise.org’s Say Something Anonymous Tip System is a website and app with a 24/7 hotline to call.

9. Writing can be a form of meditation

Poet Yung Pueblo shares how writing enables a personal and intimate expression, particularly during tough times. In addition to writing, meditation is a great way to achieve a balanced mind since taking care of the mind is just as important as taking care of the rest of the body. “This morning when I woke up, the first thing I did was meditate for an hour. That’s the way I primarily take care of myself,” said Pueblo. “I make sure that my mind feels good, feels sound, that my mind is balanced.”

10. Studying abroad and keeping up with international news broadens your perspective

Living abroad is a great way to become immersed in a culture and grow as a person. It’s natural to feel homesickness abroad, but, overall, studying abroad is a great way to become more open-minded and to better understand the diverse perspectives of those living there. Related to this, staying up to date with international news is so important because it enables us to understand and follow important events that are happening around the globe even if they are not being talked about in school. This helps us avoid being ignorant while developing tolerance and empathy for others, all of which are important for us to be better overall global citizens.

Overall, I’ve learned so much working on the podcast, including how to double-check facts and cross-reference sources for accuracy. For next fall’s special On Our Minds Election: 2024 season, I’m working on an episode about Real vs. Misinformation, including what’s happening with AI and deep fakes. Stay tuned for that season, beginning in mid-August!