I didn’t know it until I read it in my local alternative paper, The Memphis Flyer, but I’m living with two members of generation Z. I’m not even sure my two Z sons knew it either.
As my oldest gets ready to start high school, the media has begun the group-clumping analysis of traits that became popular with the Baby Boomer generation. Presenting as a huge bubble in population stats, the Boomers influenced and even recreated societal norms for each life phase they passed through. The groovy sixties, greedy eighties and Viagra nineties are all courtesy of them. As world events happened to them, their collective energy responded and happened to the world.
They were followed by generations X and Y, neither or whom seemed to make nearly as huge an impression on history as their predecessors. So what about generation Z? (And what alpha demarcation will the next group get? Did we just run out? Is that a sign of the apocalypse?)
The article in the 6.12.14 issue of the Flyer was interesting and presented a list of possible influences on these kids, but it left me wanting to know more about how the outside influences on their lives will translate into their daily lives. As someone living in the trenches with two Z teens I decided I could at least anecdotally add to the story.
They may have been born into the ‘hanging-chad’ election, but I don’t see this as an influence on their lives. Unless a news story interrupted Blues Clues, it was a non-event to them. The one event that is pre-memory that has shaped their existence is 9-11. In so many ways it continues to define who they are and how they live. Air travel has always been a huge, ever-changing hassle for them. (Can I bring my favorite juice bottle on the plane or will the mean guy take it and throw it away again?) Dads, Moms and other adults in their lives have joined the military and went to war. A war that played in the background their entire lives. It is woven into the fabric of their existence. As teens I see them searching for black and white answers that aren’t there. They want to know how to prevent it all from happening again.
When mock elections in 2008 and 2012 were held at school they were asked to have an opinion on the wars. Most were happy to parrot what ever their parents or teachers told them rather than give their attention to the childish mud-slinging of TV politics. For them Hurricane Katrina was just another reminder that their government is inept and often useless.
Growing up in the digital revolution could be a huge influence in itself, but having that digital world play such a vital role in world politics through the war on terrorism has made it the rallying point of their generation thus far. They are much more likely to remember Edward Snowden than the attack in Benghazi. While the attack is part of the current war on terror, Snowden and his message are part of the movement away and out of that part of history. They want to make their mark on this world with their weapons of choice; cell phones and I-pads with cameras and instant messaging. They feel more connected with teens and young people all over the world because they communicate with each other in real time as events are happening and they influence those events. That is very powerful for a 14 year-old in small-town Mississippi.
They are as sex-obsessed as any teens in history (raging hormones still rule), but the influence of access to internet porn and over-sexualized main-stream media makes their conversations vastly different than other generations. The big questions isn’t “are you doing it?” it’s “Are you pansexual? bi? trans?” Their generation is more open to being and accepting once-taboo sexuality. But, that has not produced a free love comeback. All this openness has produced more confusion about how to interact and date than crazed free-for-all sex.
School shootings have been far too common in their lives and they are on a constant lookout for their peers who might be on the edge and about to go over. They reach out to each other through the anonymity of the internet to find others who feel disenfranchised and lost as so many do in adolescence. While this is positive and no one will ever know how many possible shootings have been averted, it demonstrates a gap in counseling that is being filled by amateurs.
As for their future, my kids know it is uncertain and they welcome it. The old standard high school, college, starter-job path is fading quickly and they are ready to fill it with fantastic innovative ideas at a pace that is guaranteed to make X and Y gen heads spin. They love the idea that they can move society so much faster than the old stodgy institutions. They want to self-educate and self-govern or at least move all this into microcosm societies that can keep up with their rapidly-firing, multitasking brains. It’s is truly exciting to live with these kids and watch them welcome and shape societal changes.
But they are still teens. It is still incredibly embarrassing that they have parents, especially ones that are so stupid and expect them to do chores. They still fall in love and pass all the physical milestones of first make-up or first time to shave that we all did. And while it is interesting to step back and look at their generation as a lump-sum whole, it’s more important to be there for them as individuals. I often have no clue how to handle some of the situations my kids present to me. I try to hide how much I wing it. The best thing I can offer them is my belief that they are awesome and will find their place in this world and that the world is a great place filled with more kind people than haters (who often just yell the loudest). That never seems to change.