By Tracey Lipsig Kite, LCSW, JCFS Educator and Trainer
"Parenting is a Journey, Don’t Take it Alone” is the theme that runs through the programming JCFS offers for parents, and one of the key questions being asked this year is “who are these kids – this GenZ or iGen?” Just as travelers always take certain things with them – smart phones, identification, fuel, food, directions - so that their trips can be smooth, they also want to know as much as possible about their fellow-travelers. You are raising a GenZer if that child doesn’t remember a time before 9/11; they may have been alive but it isn’t part of their consciousness. That event, however, has an enormous impact on how they see the world. They also don’t understand a world without smartphones.
Here are some characteristics of GenZ, and what that means for the adults around them:
- Today’s teens follow a slow life strategy – they do almost everything later than previous generations, from walking alone to the store to going out on dates. This slow developmental speed is common in cultures where families have fewer children and “cultivate” each one longer and more intensely. While that might sometimes seem like a negative aspect of kids who are “coddled” it also results in kids who experiment with sex, alcohol and drugs later, which is a big boon to their developing brains.
- This is the diversity generation – they are many and they are diverse, and for this generation diversity is the norm – they expect diversity and inclusion in their lives. They have been coached to challenge norms about ability, beauty and body image and to accept themselves for the people they are. They take for granted things that continue to bewilder older generations (gender non-conformity, multiple races, etc.) The teens whose voices have been elevated by the Parkland shootings were eager to share the net of attention to all kids, of all races and socio-economic levels, impacted by gun violence. The United States citizenry that is changing color (Caucasians will no longer be the majority) looks normal to Gen Z.
- GenZ is characterized by their use of digital technology. They spend much more time online and texting, using social media apps; they spend less time interacting in-person, or reading books, magazines, or watching TV. While adults around them worry about the amount of time they spend online (Instagram, snapchat, Spotify), in reality much of their work as adults will happen in a digital format, and they are learning skills they will need for the future. For kids who have good relationships with others, online activities layer on more ways to interact with friends. It is kids who don't have at least one or two good friends who are more likely to see social media as yet another place that they are "left out" or worse, bullied.
- GenZ is very focused on safety, and worried about their economic futures. These are the kids who sat in booster seats in cars until they were seven, and who experienced the recession in their families. The good thing is that they won't get into a car without wearing a seatbelt and know not to drive with someone who's been drinking (thanks MADD). They also worry about their own and others' emotional safety and reputation and focus on protecting others from being distressed. The downside is that they have less experience coping with personal challenges and building up the "muscle" that adults use when life doesn't go their way.
- Lastly, iGen's curate their lives in photos, not words. If an iGen created this blogpost, it would include far more pictures (including pics that they had altered, because they know how to do that) and far fewer words. They are much more likely to compare themselves to the "improved" photos they see online, and less likely to remember that they, too, may have edited their photos before posting them. This is a great opportunity for adults to remind them (repeatedly, because that is how we all learn) not to compare their insides (how they feel on any given day) to other people's outsides (the edited photos they see online).
Like all generations, iGen will be criticized by their parents, and will feel that they are discovering a whole new world on their own (that is what adolescence feels like, after all). The adults in their lives have opportunities to learn from them and guide them, as multiple generations have done before. L'Dor V'Dor (from generation to generation).
8 Amazing Things You Need to Know About the Gen Z Kid You're Raising, September 27, 2017 by Eileen Hoenigman Meyer.