I offer my 9 month old a toy that is slightly out of reach for her and what does she do? Take it from my hand and toss it over her shoulder. After a couple of minutes she turns around to pick it up. If I offer it to her again, she repeats the behavior. The item in question is immaterial, the behavior is consistent. When something is offered, her immediate reaction is rejection. I have been watching this pattern for the last several weeks now and as a student of the behavioral sciences, I couldn’t help but correlate this to a lot of research I have done about the motivators of this wonderful genre of human beings who belong to Generation Z.. or Gen Z as it is more colloquially known. The god of all things “Wikipedia” provides this following definition of Generation Z.
Generation Z (also known as Generation M, Homeland Generation, the Net Generation, or the Internet Generation) is a common name for the group of people born from a currently undefined point in the last decade of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century.
A lot of us have children who belong to this Z Class of super humans and at the risk of sounding like I belong to a different generation (which I incidentally do, X to be precise!) I want to delve a little deeper into the inner workings of the minds of our progeny. This is not to reprimand, condone or abhor anything they do, but merely to understand so that we are able to be better parents, uncles, aunts and friends to this wonderful group of people.
Transitioning from a corporate role to now a full time a stay at home mom, has given me a very unique perspective into the way Gen Z seems to think, act, react and feel motivated. When you are thinking of this generation as an employee or an employer, there is an element of impersonality that comes in and there are lines you never cross. You read the various studies and reports and go through the communication classes and exercises that teach you how to talk to a team member who belongs to Gen Z, how to make an offer or train such an individual. While you are interfacing with human likes, dislikes, frailties and emotions in dealing with such situations, as a parent, you are thinking of your Gen Z offspring quite differently.
You are mom or a dad first before considering their generational differences and the corresponding quirks. You assume to be right (you are the parent remember?) first before being open to dialog with a pre-teen who has more questions about stem cell research than you can hope to find answers for. At the risk of being called “boring”, “not in”, “hard to talk to”, it is our turn to come off the “I am the parent and therefore am mighty and lofty and all I say is the law” bandwagon and open our minds to dialog and conversation. Over the years I have seen that parents who do this have the privilege of growing up with their children and teaching them in the process, as opposed to being left behind as the communication and emotional gaps widen.
Since I chose to have a child much later in life after fulfilling a lot of career aspirations, I have had the privilege of being “friends” with a lot of this generation, thanks to my friends and their lovely kids. So the conclusions derived from here on in the column are partly empirical and partly conjecture. I will have my Gen Z friends validate this for me for sure !
The Gen Z Milieu
Put yourself into their Skechers or flip flops for a change and look at the world around you. You have brought them into world of instant gratification. Speed, change and dynamism are at the core of everything they do and see. They have not seen the progression of all the changes they see around them. Television means a zillion channels to choose from. Electronics mean every conceivable gadget that makes our lives easier. Keystrokes are faster than learning the cursive form of writing. This generation came in at a time when the world ironically had settled into the fast pace of stability against the constancy of change.
The Gen Z Dilemma
So what has change done for this generation that causes them to think, act, react and focus the way they do? Change has given them the irrefutable multiplicity of options. The irrevocable plethora of choices that they sometimes take for granted not realizing if it indeed is a boon on a bane.
A friend was talking to me about her teenage son the other day and she made some very profound statements when she said, “….you know these kids have so much they listen but do not hear.” Then she went on to say while talking about this generation another astute comment, “…but I hope they figure out who they are…too much of everything is not good…they are far too exposed to everything without having the maturity to sort it out in their heads…”
I don’t disagree with her at all, but I wonder what is it that guides them to indeed “listen”, to be the shining example of the pre-teen child, a friend wrote about on Facebook today. The child didn’t want a bed time story read to him when his father said he was too tired to read. Instead brought a book to his dad suggesting, this might help the latter get a good night’s rest.
The Gen Z Motivators
Here we have a generation that has everything at their fingertips, literally! They don’t have to struggle much to get information. They have brilliant minds and are not afraid to speak them. Given all this, what makes some of them want to take on the harder courses in school, go the extra lap in the pool, find ways to take care of their family, help out with boring chores, ask the difficult questions or just show attitude more, than others?
From my limited interaction and the bit of reading I have done as a part of work related research, the first assumption we often mistakenly make about this generation is their desire to be “different”. Ironically more than the Baby Boomers or even the Generation X folks like yours truly, this group of individuals want something that is paradoxical to overt individuality. They want to experience an independent sense of belonging. Yes it sounds contradictory but it is a fact. If you look at the patterns of socialization in Gen Z, they identify themselves not only as who they are but also as a part of a larger community, be it a social networking site or a fan group of the latest rock band. They are not doing this to hide their identity, rather to prove they are an indispensable part of a larger entity, because of their identity.
They love recognition but they like to make a difference and have that be recognized. It is not enough for us to tell them, “good job”, rather take the time to see why they did, what they did. They look at life a little bit differently but they do have a desire to search of some sort of meaning in their actions. My neighbor’s daughter wanted her family to work with her and clean the yard on her birthday. She didn’t do this with a grand and glorious desire to be different but simply because she thought it would be a fun thing to do.
If they come across as lackadaisical about stuff, it is because that particular “stuff” has not appealed to them and they would rather not waste their time pursuing an subject of non-interest. This of course cannot be a fun prospect for parents because life entails we do the fun and boring stuff and enabling an Gen Z to see that even the boring stuff matters is where the challenge lies.
Bridging gaps… or at least, knowing they exist
Honest, upfront, direct communication is the way to go with this generation. They like to be recognized as individuals who can dish out pointed questions so it is only fair to assume they can take it, and if not then they are playing double standards and that is one thing they don’t like being accused of. Treat them as adults and they will be expected to respond such. Easier said than done I know but the old fashioned way of one way parental speak is not going to work. You can remain delusional that it will but frankly I rather have my daughter develop a mind of her own to ask questions than taking things just at face value. If we are not in a position to answer their questions, we have not seen the bridge, let alone cross it. My pre-teen niece asked her father to not stress about her exams. Her logic, these are her exams, not his, why worry?
You see unlike a lot of us, our children will not be asking questions that begin with a “Who” or a “What”. Their questions usually will start with a “Why” or a “Why not” and those are not the ones with the easiest answers. The more you cringe as a parent, the more you alienate the ability to be their friend with parental authority. Our children as nothing against authority, in fact they appreciate and respect it but they look for meaning in what forms the basis of such authority. They want to find reasons to respect a situation or a person. Name dropping doesn’t work for them. Their sense of communal identity often goes against taking something at face value without first having figured out the reason to do so.
As I watch my little Parijat take the toy time and again from my hand, toss it over her shoulder and then turn back to look for it and figure it out, I prepare myself for the years to come and the questions that will follow. I think back on Tennyson and a line from the Charge of The Light Brigade, and smile to myself.
…Their’s not to reason why, Their’s but to do and die…
This is the age of reason; let’s not kid ourselves by thinking otherwise. Your child is a better person for asking the right questions than not. And you are a better parent for answering them directly than not. Enjoy the ride… I plan to.
Submitted by Pritha on Mon, 07/30/2012 - 14:37