A Woman Breaks Down What She Calls "Boomer Panic" — but Is It Really Age-Specific?

A woman describes a phenomenon she is calling Boomer Panic but it kind of sounds like an older person having a bad moment. Is it boomer-specific?

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Oct. 9 2023, Published 1:42 p.m. ET

As someone who has historically had difficulty regulating their emotions, I understand what it means to panic. When I have felt this way, my response to a situation often didn't match what was actually happening. Unfortunately when I was able to see myself out of it, I felt deep shame over how I acted. With therapy and a lot of work, I am now able to manage myself better.

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This is why I'm a little wary of a younger person on TikTok broadly describing an older person's over-the-top actions as "Boomer Panic." I'm 43 years old and am not a boomer, but I've definitely freaked out in public. Is it fair to say someone's lack of emotional regulation is related to their age? Absolutely not. Let's get into what this person is weirdly diagnosing as generation-specific anxiety.

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Boomer Panic isn't real but panic sure is!

A woman who goes by @existentialbread on TikTok, but who I'm calling Kathy, was recently faced with an uncomfortable situation while shopping at Lowe's. While at the self-checkout, Kathy had an item that was sans price tag. I hate when that happens.

She ran back to where she got the items from and snapped a photo of the price tag, then returned to the line. (I have to assume this was the last item available, otherwise why not grab a new one with a price tag?)

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While walking back toward the older woman who was assistant customers at the self-checkout, Kathy was holding up her phone with the photo she took. Before I get into what happened next, I think it's important to point out two things.

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Firstly, Kathy describes this woman as old. Obviously she doesn't know her exact age, but "old" as a descriptor is very subjective. I've been called old by a snarky teen who clearly doesn't understand that aging is the great equalizer. I would love to know this woman's actual age.

Secondly, I don't think taking a picture of a price tag is common. If I was working at a cash register in any capacity, and someone sauntered toward me with phone in hand while showing me a photo, I too would be deeply confused. Was Kathy hoping this woman would manually enter the item's SKU number? Was she supposed to scan it from Kathy's phone? This is very bizarre.

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A woman pays using self-checkout
Source: Getty Images

Use self-checkout but also check out yourself once in a while

According to Kathy, the woman then says, "Well I don't know which one that is," but in the reenactment, the woman's voice is raised. Kathy describes her as "panicked." Maybe she wasn't panicked.

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I'd love to point something else out using a personal example. I am pretty emotive and by this I mean, when I feel something I speak plainly about it. I don't hide my feelings because that is very bad for my brain. I've noticed that people less in touch with their feelings tend to process any sharing as "too much." Who knows if this is what's happening here, but I am very curious about Kathy's opinions on emotions in general.

"I've only experienced this with boomers," says Kathy, "only old people." There is that word again, old. Now I'm very suspicious. Kathy doesn't know a single person who has lost their proverbial s--- for seemingly no reason? When I hear things like I this, it makes me wonder if the other person is simply too self-involved to clock what others are doing.

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I know asking for critical thinking on social media is wild, but what if Kathy and everyone in the comments stopped to ask what might have been going on? What gives me pause about this TikTok is Kathy's use of a Karen hashtag. This woman is not a Karen. Unless Kathy skipped out on a deeply problematic exchange, it sounds as if this woman was distressed and unable to express it in a more healthy way.

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"Karen" has been co-opted by some people to describe "a woman doing something I don't like or understand" and when I see that in action, I think it makes the user less trustworthy and credible. How can I believe any of Kathy's story if she can't even use Karen correctly?

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I know that boomers can be anything from difficult to downright awful. They were raised by the Silent Generation who taught them to stuff their feelings into a box never to be seen again. This is not an excuse for bad behavior, but it does provide context. Who knows why that woman panicked, and I don't think Kathy should have engaged in a deep conversation find out. However, did it warrant this TikTok? It did not.

In the comments, Kathy was a bit more understanding when a few people threw out ideas as to what was happening. "From conversations with my mother, they weren't allowed to make mistakes and were harshly punished if they did," said one person. "A lot of people have mentioned this and it breaks my heart," she replied. "I think you’re right."

All of my goodwill went out the window when I saw one of Kathy's responses to a comment. When one person suggested that older people are "fearful of being made fun of or seeming like they don’t know what they’re doing," Kathy responded with some cognitive dissonance. "I wish they knew that the younger generation would never make fun of them for not knowing something," she said. Kathy, the ridicule call is coming from inside the house and you're the house.

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