Some time ago I wrote an article for my daughter’s school magazine on today’s kids outlook on what would make their lives Happy and Successful. This after interviewing the subjects on what they mean by Happy and Successful, as parents and teachers are always clueless about what that will mean for them, since we didn’t grow up as them. We grew up with our parents dancing to a different beliefs tune based on the imperatives and struggles in the world they grew up in, and passing those beliefs on to us. We, in turn, growing up and shaped by a world that moved on from our parents’ childhood themes, form core values and beliefs that we pass to our children. And our children now grow in a different world still, and this world shapes core values and beliefs that are uniquely theirs.
Children of the 1960s, the Generation X, grew up in the superpower tensions of the Cold Wars – the East-West escalation and détente, rise of the conflicts in the Middle East – leading to an idea of individualistic success in life meaning personal status, achieved through power, money, Ivy League education, work and good connections.
Our children’s grandparents, growing up before, during and just after the WWII, plus the reconstruction after the devastation, believed and taught their children that the more you work, the worthier you are, the better for the family; and that education is a springboard must.
Somewhere in between, we got the Millennials, a bunch also referred to as “Generation Y”, “slackers”, “the boomerang generation, and “Peter Pans”. Growing up with the breaking down of the Berlin Wall, Solidarity, East and West embracing each other, Millennials are more liberal, less individualistic, more social and civic-minded than Generation X.
For kids my daughter’s age, the post-Millennial generation called Generation Z and born between 1995 and 2010, education is a way, not the way, to get there. Teaching means enabling, and learning is for life. Billionaire has replaced millionaire, and war correspondents have given way to unpaid iReporters. TV home has become social media, and TV Natives have given birth to Digital Natives. Being social is being me, a torrent of messages is normal, not an assault, and instant, real-time message merit discrimination is a basic communications skill. Z-ers are growing up with edited televised war narratives, unedited you-tubed war clips, ubiquitous social media, the pros and cons of globalization, a diluted sense of discrimination (as gender, age, skin and style don’t thrive online, where self-portraits are avatars of the moment), political superpower shifts (East has moved eastward, the Middle East has expanded south), and crazy weather with nightmarish geological shifts on top.
When measured up against the East-West escalation, the oil crisis of the 70s, the flower power movement, the dirty wars of South America and terrorism and kidnappings in Europe, the fear of superpowers going nuclear and the anti-war movements – climate changes aside, is what happens in the world today any tougher than it ever was? Isn’t it just – different?
Parents today have no more clue about the soul of Generation Z than our Veteran and Baby Booming moms and dads had about our generation’s. We say our parents were sooooo [eye rolling moment 1.0] hopelessly old fashioned. Our kids say that we are sooooo [eye rolling moment 3.0] on top of them all the time. And soooo hopelessly juvenile [eye rolling moment 3.0 version 3.1], tech-wise, fashion-wise and any other wise too sad to consider, as parents who fail to grow old never offer that chunky, meat-loafy safety of old fashioned parenthood.
Wait till they become parents. If we are helicopters, they’ll be drones – savvy and comfortable to constantly stream their love-rules mesh and hover all over their kids via uber-hi-tech proxies in the evolved version of today´s primitive Cloud, without needing to be near them in person except in cases where Cloud proxies don’t work well, like hugging and kissing and changing the bandage of a bad wound.
And why would they do that? Because they can. Call it the dream of Quality Time Parenting come true in Digital Native Z-ers, unable to feel guilty about not spending enough physical time with their kids, as in-person contact with someone is just one part of the whole relationship experience with anyone, including the near and dear. Our little Z-ers will be drone parents driven by the same motives of all parents in all times: keep the kids safe, and hopefully do a good enough job raising them to be happy, competent adults navigating a future that, as American singer and animal rights activist Doris Day famously put it, “is not ours to see“.