Today’s youngsters are a unique breed and are having unique challenges that are leaving their parents reeling, and grappling with a way to help. Marketers have coined the term “Generation Z” to describe this special bunch, ranging in age from 2-19, but that title hasn’t become permanent yet.
Another contender is the term “iGen,” pointing at the Apple product boom, or maybe even just the fact that our children have never known life without an electronic device in their hands.
I’m liking “iGen” personally, although perhaps for a different reason than the marketers. The “i,” to me, completely encompasses our kids’ sense of entitlement and impatience. It’s all about the “i.” What they can get, should have or think they deserve. And they are wanting it now.
We are responsible for that. The financial struggles of today’s parents, and with more of us living in poverty or having to work 2-3 jobs to keep food on the table, has forced us to place these electronics into our kids’ hands as babysitters. Because who can afford childcare, right? Not to mention that our bosses know we are accessible instantly, that we are always checking our email and text messages, and they regularly use those tools to contact us. Which is severely impacting our attention to our children outside of normal work hours.
It leaves us feeling guilty and we compensate for that guilt with things, which is increasing their sense of entitlement.
Everyone’s been talking about it, about how our children “expect” things and expect them now, growing up with all of the information in the world available at the touch of a button has made our childhood fairy tales a part of their everyday life. Children today know everything, and experts will agree some of that adult information is coming way too soon.
Too much of anything can be bad, and now that it’s happening so early, we are left with a multitude of mental health issues, behavioral problems and the guilt of those issues that have us parents running them to the nearest mental health clinic. After all, it’s our decreasing time and attention to these kids that has caused it, and they are looking at us to fix it. Like NOW.
We are experiencing exponential increases in anxiety, depression, self-harm, and even suicidal tendencies among our children, pre-teens, and teenagers. Social media has made bullying and harassment and just plain old “mean” a part of their lives 24/7. All of the depressing stories and shocking details in the news are right under their noses. Kids are growing up alarmingly fast, how could they not, submerged in the adult world such as they are?
The repercussions are staggering, and as a single mother of six kids, four of whom are in this “iGen” social grouping, I’ve gotten firsthand knowledge and experience by working with today’s often overwhelmed mental health professionals. Even school officials are furiously paddling to stay above water, and keep our children safe.
But the focus has shifted. What used to be safety issues stemming from schoolyard bullies to online predators, has now realigned and we are finding ourselves with the insurmountable task of keeping our children safe from something much more dangerous: themselves.
And so: The Top Ten Things Parents should be telling Generation Z, specially tailored to fit their anxiety-ridden, self-destructive, and entitled needs.
10. There is no shock value in what you do.
We know you’ve tried drugs. Same with cigarettes. And alcohol. Also, you know that one night stand? Yep, we’ve done those things. We skipped school and failed subjects. We borrowed a car once, and also stole change from a neighbor. If you haven’t done similar things yet, you may in the future. Does that make them right? Hell, no. There were consequences for all of those things, and we paid them. You will, too. We promise.
9. You can’t buy love.
Buying or giving your crushes/boyfriends/girlfriends THINGS is not going to make them love you. Being good, caring, attentive and kind young people is what makes them love you. Period. And we, as your parents, realize this as well. We cannot buy your love and we have no interest in trying. So please stop trying to get us to. We will always provide what you need.
8. Your perfect partner IS out there, don’t settle.
You are young. You and your friends are going to go through lovers like you are trying on clothing, or shoes. What fits you one day, may not fit in a month. Maybe after a while you decide that you no longer like that certain color or pattern, or something gets a hole in it. Teenage love is not meant to be permanent, it’s teaching us valuable lessons about ourselves and others, and how to care for someone outside of US. The perfect one, meant just for you, may not happen for a while. Like after you’re an adult. Don’t settle for something that doesn’t feel right on you. Or isn’t comfortable or flattering. Or, most importantly, is painful to wear. Please.
7. Life is never fair, you get out of it what you put into it.
Somebody is going to get something that you don’t have. Someone is going to win something that you don’t win. Another someone is going to take something from you that you think should be yours. That is life and it really sucks sometimes. The key is to realize that it’s not the end of the world. You will have other chances, other opportunities. You will never ALWAYS be the loser. As long as you remember the next point on our list:
6. You have to work for it.
You have to work for that top grade, for that admission into nursing school. Or medical school. Or top list university. And eventually, you will have to work for that top job, for your perfect career. There will be failures, keep your chin up, and keep trying. Just because someone else seems to get what they want so easily, doesn’t mean that you never will. They don’t ALWAYS win either, they just aren’t posting their failures to Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.
5. You are never stuck.
This is a biggie. Nothing makes us feel more anxious/depressed/hopeless as the feeling that there is no way out. There is ALWAYS A WAY OUT. There is always another way to get something that you want, or get out of a bad situation. You just need to find help to see the way. Another perspective, another way of thinking. Or a different attitude about it. Don’t be afraid to ask, no matter how big or small the problem may be. Ask for help.
4. You have every opportunity, what you do with it is up to you.
Parents, teachers, coaches, therapists, doctors….we all have the same goals. To see you become happy, healthy, productive adults. We will give you every opportunity to become those things. It is your responsibility to take advantage of those opportunities. To use them when they come your way. They are there for you. Do not throw them away, discard them like trash. And if you do, you need to realize:
3. Your mistakes are no one’s fault but yours.
Listen up, please. You will make certain choices. To do something, to not do something. We hope that you make good choices, and as in number 4 up above, we will give you the tools and opportunities to make those good choices. But REMEMBER THIS: in the end, they are YOUR choices. You are the one directly responsible for them. If you make a bad choice, and have to deal with bad consequences because of it, that is not our fault. If your life is unpleasant, or difficult because of something that YOU did or didn’t do, that is not our fault. You need to own that, to realize that. Because they WILL happen. That’s how we learn, how we grow. And because we know that, please see the next point:
2. We will always have your back. You just may not know it.
Making mistakes and bad choices occasionally are all a part of growing up. They will be made, there’s just no getting around it. It is our job as your parents to help you get through them and help you learn from them, which sometimes means nothing more than helping you deal with the consequences. It may not be your most ideal solution at the time, but as long as you realize that we know what we are doing (see number 10), and that we CAN HELP (see number 5), you will be okay. And as long as you remember that this one thing always stands: we do not do bail.
1. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
This one cannot be stressed enough, and that’s why it tops this list. The chances that you are experiencing something that no one has ever experienced before is exactly, well, zero. Deep stuff–may it be self-harm, suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, bad breakups, sexual identity, drugs, trouble with the law, whatever!!, you should realize, and take comfort in knowing, that you are not the only one EVER who had to deal with whatever it is that you are dealing with. You know how we know that you are not the only one? Because words exist to describe all of those things. Scores and scores of helpful information is available to us to help you deal with those things. They are all very real things, and you are not alone in dealing with them. We all love you and will help you, with whatever words that you find yourself needing help with. You are not alone.
It is important for all of us adults to note and recognize that our children are dealing with these above issues. Technology and financial difficulties have taken our focus away from what really matters: our children. As we are using electronics and the internet in our lives, we are throwing the same at our kids and personal interaction is falling by the wayside.
These tools should be used as tools, not babysitters, not educators. Tools to help us raise healthy children. Not do it FOR us. We are seeing the fallout all around us, with increases in ADD, ADHD and mental illnesses like depression and anxiety disorders that are directly related to the absence of adult attention and caretaking. The scary fact is that all the gritty details of life are thrown at them every time they hit their “home” button; scars on wrists and thighs are InstaFamous, and the prescription of anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications give bragging rights.
As the parents of the “iGen”, we have an increased responsibility to our kids, not a decreased responsibility. The technology they now have access to is causing real harm, and starting vicious cycles of entitlement and “too much information”, leading to self-destructive behavior for them; and overwhelming guilt, and the over compensation of that guilt, for us.
It is time to change how we are using our technology, it is not going to go away, but will only become more accessible and advanced. It is no longer optional as to whether we use it, only HOW it’s used.
Because of this technology, and what is rapidly becoming an around-the-clock workday for moms and dads around the world, parental involvement in our children’s lives is more crucial than ever. Our kids are hiding, free-falling, spinning, and weightless….in Cyberspace.