Born in the late seventies, I am either one of the youngest members of Generation X or the very oldest of the Millennials. I entered my teenage years without an email account, and left for college without a cell phone. I had a beeper, and I remember the Gulf War. I was already an adult when the planes struck on 9/11, and dial-up Internet was a thing of the past by the time I hit my junior year of college.
I've read a million parenting articles geared towards making sure our kids enjoy the perks we knew and loved during our coming of age, but what are the shared experiences that make up parenting a Generation Z kid? After consulting with parents and educators, I've created a list of five Generation Z truths I believe are universal.
- We still don't know if we should let our kids play videogames, but we tend to recognize that we are denying our kids technology at our own risk. Studies are mixed as to the effects of technology on child development, but one study suggests that children who play an hour of video games a day are more social, less hyperactive and happier than their non-video game playing peers. The caveat -- the study also found that playing more than three hours a day is harmful.
- We want to go back to the days of free-range parenting, but we are scared. Some of us are scared because the world seems far more dangerous than it did 20 years ago, but many of us fear our overprotective government or the judgment of other parents more so than we fear the hypothetical evil stranger lurking at the park. Either way, we end up keeping the kids inside a lot. We seek a happy medium that alleviates our fears and empowers the kids to explore their world outside the shadow of our watchful gaze.
- We have so many choices with regard to how to nourish our kids. This isn't the first generation of kids to have organic options, but it is easier than ever for a parent to substitute traditional childhood foods for more natural, healthy varieties. Parents still feel torn over what to believe regarding GMOs and additives. We may get away with pleading ignorance for a few more years, but we are coming dangerously close to universal acceptance that "we are what we eat." Our responsibility to make wise food choices is becoming not only a smart move, but a parenting obligation.
- Our kids feel entitled, and we don't know what to do about it. This one isn't new. I bet our parents worried about this, too. But parents today are caught between trying to provide an idealistic childhood all while raising a generation of authentic, morally responsible citizens. In an era where my television can play anything the kids want to watch with a moment's worth of programming, it is hard to teach kids that the good things in life are worth waiting for. It's no wonder kids don't see patience as a virtue.
- We've entered a new era in public education and the effects of these widespread changes are not yet clear. We have amazing, competent teachers. School administrators are well trained, engaged and motivating. But unlike the educational system we grew up in, public schools today rely heavily on the private sector to create standardized tests that dictate learning outcomes in the classroom. As more time is spent on testing, less time is spend enriching brains and teaching kids to become creative and critical thinkers.
Many of us entered adulthood excited about the future. As we prepare our children to come of age, we need to focus less on our differences and more on our shared goals. We all may adhere to different parenting philosophies, but some parenting truths are universal. We all want our kids to inherit a world that is better than the one we were born into. Together, we can guide the next generation down a path of opportunity, success, and perhaps most importantly, a path towards personal and communal fulfillment.
What would you add to the list? I look forward to reading your comments!
Stacey Steinberg is a child advocate and professor trying to balance her love for the law with her unique ability to capture the beauty of everyday life. You can follow Stacey's photography on Facebook and read more of her posts on her website.