Both generations were raised during tough times. My youngest was born amid chaos – shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9-11. And now she’s coming of age amid more disruption, as part of the graduating class of 2020, who actually won’t get to graduate because of the COVID-19 coronavirus and the upset it’s left in its wake.
Like their grandparents, what doesn’t kill Gen Z makes them stronger. They are more focused, ambitious, hardworking, and traditional than their millennial elders. Gen Z has also been raised by a generation slightly less self-absorbed than the boomers who raised the millennials in their own feckless image. I’m right on the cusp of being a boomer and had my kids later in life, so I count myself among the self-absorbed boomer club.
In spite of that, I managed to be a father to two amazing children, and for that I credit my own dad, whom I seem to have inadvertently channelled. From Dr. Mike, as his students called him, you picked up values and lessons by virtue of his lived experience, not from a syllabus. As I think back to our last few conversations while he was losing his battle with cancer, I can envision him verbalizing the lessons that he taught me through his life.
You have to support mom, in the complete sense of the word. It doesn’t matter if everyone’s under one roof or what the living situation is. Gen Z kids demand their parental figures work well together. If you undercut mom in any way, you’re undercutting yourself and your own choices, which undercuts your own cred as the role model the ambitious nature of this generation expects.
You have to live and pass along enduring values. Gen Z sniffs out inconsistency, weak thinking and relativistic values. There’s a reason enduring value systems endure: they’re awesome. Pick one you agree with, and pass it along. And beware, whatever you choose, if it’s not at least 1,000 years old, it’s probably not going to pass Gen Z’s finely-tuned BS radar.
Focus on humanity over technology. Gen Z is hungry for human connection and an analog life, and their tech consumption reflects that. Like the generational DNA they share with their family elders, culturally as well, Gen Z prefer doing things in packs: group dates, group activities, group fun. Demonstrate respect for groups and friends and support this any way you possibly can, so tech can be an enabler and not the means to the end for your children.
Get them into skill-building activities. Real life is about tackling challenges, improving, and applying new knowledge as you mature. Activities that model that process while they’re young pay off in big ways. Martial arts, dance, music, sports and other skill-builders allow them to skip the participation trophies and get to real self-esteem that comes from hard work and incremental accomplishment.
Be the parent. So much of the challenge we see with millennials is rooted in their parents’ reluctance to say No to anything. Part of your job is to make sure they can cope with what life throws at them. Succumbing to their own emotional responses to life is not going to serve them well. When the world runs counter to their interests, you better hope they have learned how to say No.
I’m nowhere near as good a father as my dad was. My kids turned out awesome in spite of me, not because of me. I think my biggest contribution to their development might have been to not interfere when others were having the right kind of impact on them.
Not the least of which was my own dad.
Mark Szabo has a PhD in Conflict Management and is The Director of Insights and Engagement for Anstice Communications. His research includes behavioural insight and Gen Z psychographics.