Witnessing the American dream get “kicked in the teeth,” watching their and peers’ families struggle for basic necessities like food, healthcare and homes, Gen Z is reimagining what school and career should look like, two new national polls reveal.

Kids, teens and young people, who researchers say are historically more likely to be optimistic than older generations, are overwhelmingly concerned about peers’ and their own mental health, as well as their futures and the nation’s political environment.

“Gen Z is a group of people who care and have gone through a kind of collective trauma — I think we see it,” said Amanda Lenhart, lead researcher with Common Sense Media, which has just released a report on the state of kids and families in America. “They’re kind of fed up. They’re worried about the future and they really would like people to pay attention.”

When asked what would improve life for children in the United States, Gen Z said a better education system. They and voters point to a need for increased mental health care offerings and affordability, job preparation classes and free after-school programming.

Here’s a recap of four key findings from the nearly 3,000 12-26-year-olds surveyed late last year by Common Sense Media, Gallup, and the Walton Foundation.

  1. Mental health & gun violence are the most concerning issues for kids and teens right now.
  2. Most of Gen Z are interested in STEM careers, but less than a third plan to pursue them.
  3. Most of Gen Z believe better education is the key to improving lives of children in the US
  4. They’re still optimistic: 70% of young people think they’ll be about the same or better off than their parents in adulthood

“The more we can help create a functional adulthood for our teenagers and our young adults,” Lenhart said, “where they’re not worried about meals, health care, their own safety, their ability to take care of their families when people get sick … if we can make that better, then people will feel better.”

Read the full article about gen-z education by Marianna McMurdock at The 74.