Stolen Innocence: Children of the 90s

I was 9 on September 11th, 2001. They played and replayed footage of 2 planes crashing into the world trade towers in my elementary school class. One could hear the screams in the street in the recordings as the towers representing peace crumbled into the street, burying thousands of New Yorkers at ground zero. It was a harrowing moment that shaped the childhood of almost every American born in the 90s.

Americans born before the 2000s joke around about how in their mind, the 90s were 10 years ago. When people say “30 years ago”, I automatically think “Oh yeah, the 70s”. The awkwardness seems new every time I realize they mean the 90s. It’s a laughable cultural phenomenon that everyone born in the 90s and before can’t keep track of the last 20 years. When we count the years, we do it like it’s in the early 2000s. No matter how many times we are reminded, it seems “too soon”.

As someone who has been in trauma therapy for 2 years, I can say that this happens to people with PTSD. When someone can’t keep track of the years, it is often due to trauma. It isn’t surprising that an entire generation would experience such extreme trauma. Most 90s kids were under 10 when we watched the 2 towers fall. We were children when the longest war in US history began and adults when it ended. I was a teenager when the housing market crashed. The “recession” has been going on for as long as I can remember. And though the United States has always pushed extreme forms of institutionalized racism, anti-muslim sentiments grew to such an extreme that it reshaped the country, the media, and all forms of regulated security that millenials experienced. All of these things either started or were heavily exacerbated in the early to mid 2000s.

Another cultural phenomenon is the obsession people born in the 80s and 90s have with the 1990s. The music, the fashion, the toys and videogames, and the films that became cult films by millennials and gen x. That only scratches the surface. Every millennial I know has something from the 90s they deeply miss and think about more often than other generations might think is healthy.

The 2010s and now the 2020s are almost worse than the 2000s at this point. Many millennials have blocked out entire years from the last two decades. This is normal. We are bitter and angry because the things our parents and teachers promised us as children were ripped away before we could have them. To make it worse, they have been blaming us for things we were too young to reasonably influence for our entire lives.

The outright gaslighting is absolutely ridiculous. We watched our parents do terrible things and then immediately blame us. Most of us laugh about the things baby boomers blame us for. And it’s because they can’t take responsibility for the things their generation did to their own children and grandchildren. We know this and in the end it hurts that they can’t help themselves. They lit these fires and they blamed us for the burned buildings. Statistically they still run the world and still blame us for the things they continue to do.

But in the 90s, it was different. Most of us don’t remember any of the terrible things that happened in the 90s. It was the last time many of us felt safe. Even those of us with awful childhoods still think fondly of the world back then. Because whatever happened at home, the actual world seemed a little less bad.

So now those of us who listened to our parents and went to college are saddled with lifelong debt that will not be forgiven by bankruptcy. We are the most overqualified and underpaid generation. Many of us will never be able to afford houses because baby boomers drove up the costs of the housing market in one way or another. Most of us will never retire and will probably never reliably have health care. And we are blamed for everything. American millennials often think about what it might be like to live in other countries with healthcare, unions, vacation time, sick days, and fair wages. We dream about the world our parents convinced us we’d live in. The world they had access to and destroyed before we got to experience it. And we miss the 90s, the last time our generation felt safe from the neverending fire that is the modern world.

I don’t have a pleasant end to this article because that isn’t the world we live in. There is no happy ending in sight. It’s the harrowing reality we face. And most of us will be mocked by people older than us by escaping this hellscape with vapid social media, Netflix, immersive video games, and any other easily accessible way we can dare to dream about a different life.

I just hope we can be kinder to ourselves in a world that is cold and unforgiving. I hope we can find peace in the happy memories. I hope we can let ourselves off the hook every once in a while for being human.