Parents sometimes make the mistake of assuming that the generational differences between them and their teens are akin to first contact between alien cultures.
While it’s true that there are generalized statements that are more or less true for specific populations – such as the difference between people born in the early 70s and people born in the late 90s – more often than not, teens are teens, parents are parents, and people are people. Your children are much more like how you used to be than you might think or care to recall.
Teens nowadays may be statistically less likely to drink, have sex early, or experiment with drugs, but their behaviors regarding risk-taking haven’t changed much. Most teens are still somewhat rebellious and will likely seek to push boundaries as they grow up. Teens don’t want to drive as much as their parents did, but an overwhelming majority of 70 percent still think having a driver’s license is essential as a teenager.
And yes, teens grew up in the age of the smartphone and can’t recall a day without the Internet, but they use it for much of the same things other technologies were used for by teens throughout all of history: recreation and procreation.
Understanding some statistical and behavioral trends that set Gen Z teens apart from the Millennials and most of their parents, Gen X adults, can help some parents better reconcile and recognize where their teens are coming from. But first and foremost, it’s important to dispel the myths and worries about grand intergenerational conflict or incompatibilities between today’s parents and the children they’re raising.
Spend Less Time Worrying
No matter what anyone else says, the facts support that for most healthy young adults growing up today, the greatest influence in their lives is their parents. Parents play a crucial role in a person’s every developmental stage, from infancy to late adolescence and early adulthood. Peers play more of a role as teens age, but a parent’s influence only wanes after a teen or young adult moves out.
As such, trusting in your teen’s judgment and how you’ve raised them is essential. Teens may have different interests than you did. However, you differed from your parents in many ways in your younger years while still sharing many of the same values and priorities, especially if your relationship with them was strong.
You don’t need to understand why your teen prefers to hang out with friends on Discord rather than learn how to drive to the mall to go see them every weekend in person to know that your kid is doing fine socially, given the way society has changed. However, understanding and accepting these differences can go a long way toward a stronger parent-child relationship.
Understanding Generation Z’s Formative Years
Generation Z refers to people born after 1996, including many young adults and parents.
The defining characteristics and unifying cultural experiences of Generation Z include the commercialization and global usage of the Internet, unprecedented cultural globalization, historic levels of economic recession, the explosion of portable personal computing devices and the Internet of Things, global warming, a swathe of armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War, and more recently, the COVID pandemic.
Many of these events and circumstances have made Gen Z more fiscally and socially reserved than previous generations.
More concretely, this means more teens are saving for retirement than previous generations, as many grew up watching their parents scramble for money or struggle under credit debts. As such, they’re generally wary of debt, and less likely to take on credit. Socially, Generation Z still likes to party – but will party less than previous generations.
This Is a Digital Generation
In addition to the financial downturn, the Internet is perhaps one of Generation Z’s most essential and formative factors. It means that today’s teens are more likely to spend time in front of a screen than previous generations and are more content to spend time with friends virtually.
Teens today grew up in the presence of social networks. This relatively new Internet-related invention allows people to form and cultivate relationships online through status updates, personal albums, image posts, and private messaging. Many long-lasting Generation Z couples met online, often across state or national borders, due to a common interest or shared online experience.
Video games are also surprisingly important to Generation Z. More than a fad, they have become an entertainment industry that surpasses Hollywood in grossing. Kids are less likely to go to the movies, and more likely to spend time on Fortnite or League of Legends.
Video games such as massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) have become their own social networks. Friend groups often stay in touch much longer than they would have in older generations through instant messaging, social networks, and online group activities such as gaming. Millennials are also familiar with this – the average age for a gaming consumer is closer to 34.
Kids and young adults today value their screen time. More than an idle source of infotainment, laptops and phone screens have become a view into a second world that exists parallel to the “real” one, filled with connections and people and friendships that are equally important as those made face-to-face. Understanding this can help parents value why their teens spend so much time online, and respect that the Internet represents a large part of their ongoing social experience.
But that doesn’t mean teens today should learn to devalue the importance of living in the real world.
Help Your Teen with Real-World Experiences and Interactions
One of the best ways you can help your teen cultivate better mental and physical well-being is to encourage and promote their real-world experiences without downplaying or judging them for their online social lives. Take your teen out often. Plan more outdoor activities with the family.
It’s not enough to passively encourage your teen to go out more. Why should they? Instead, take them with you on trips and experiences, take them to work with you to get a little bit of a taste of what it’s like outside of school or the home office, and help them get comfortable with various real-life tasks and situations. Expand their responsibilities, such as asking them to help in the kitchen, teaching them to cook, and eventually putting them in charge of groceries as they better understand how to prep and stock a kitchen. Help them develop their independent living skills, whether it’s navigating a tax return or going to the DMV.
This could also be an opportunity to cultivate your teen’s professional or occupational interests. Encourage your teen to spend more time at local conventions for their respective interests or potential professions. Be in their corner and cheer them on.
Teens today are justifiably worried about how the world is changing and their place in it. They are more academically pressured than ever while contending with a rapidly evolving marketplace, growing wealth inequality, rising prices, and the advent of new and volatile technologies in the workplace, such as AI-generated content and code.
Teens might feel more acquainted with the digital world and the changing pace of their environment. However, parents can still help them find a better balance between themselves and their obligations, health and professional priorities, and stress and calm. Between enjoying the bounties of nature and benefiting from our advances in information and communications technology.