Word on the street is that Generation Z is the most significant generation in modern history. As their parents, of course we know our kids are special. But what makes researchers and marketers also say Gen Z is so unique and important? And how have we, their Gen X parents, helped shape them into such fabulous people?
First, a quick primer on the two generations.
- Born roughly between 1965-1980; we’re the children of the 80s who sported big hair, conquered the Rubik’s cube and wore out our VCRs with “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles.”
- We practically raised ourselves as the first true generation of divorce and two working-parent households. We were forced to be independent at a young age and earned labels like “latchkey” kids, loners and slackers.
- We witnessed some tough times, like the economic collapse that caused our parents to get laid off in droves, the energy crisis, impossibly scarce jobs after college, and the housing bubble burst ‒ just when we were trying to buy our first homes.
- Our kids, born between 1995-2010 (give or take).
- The oldest Gen Zs are turning 21, graduating from college and entering the workforce. The youngest are just entering kindergarten.
- They are the largest generation, topping out at a whopping 69 million.
- They are the first all-digital generation. Their phones have always been ‘smart.’ Many learned to use a touchscreen before they could even walk. They have never known a world without connected technology, and they’re using it to their advantage (no, not just to play video games and SnapChat with their friends, but also to learn and explore, and connect with their peers across countries and cultures).
X’s Impact on Zs
Some of the following comes from the recent study: Understanding a New Generation, from The Sound.
Growing up during tough times turned Gen X into a generation of rebels and cynics (as portrayed in the movie “Reality Bites”). So it makes sense that, as parents, we focus on preparation over praise and teaching our kids to find their competitive edge vs. “follow their dream.” (After all, we want them to find a good job someday!) As a result, our Gen Z kids are independent and mature; they know they have to work hard for success rather than having it handed to them. In fact, 77% believe they will have to work harder compared to past generations to have a satisfying and fulfilling professional life (from “Get Ready for Gen Z” from Robert Half).
Gen X is a generation that tells it like it is. The same holds true in our parenting style. We don’t make up stories or excuses about what our kids see in the news or hear at school. Instead, we take a no-nonsense approach to educating our kids about what’s happening in the world and instilling a sense of empowerment to make positive changes. The result is a generation of realistic yet hopeful, socially-conscious young people who are already making a difference. Most are either actively volunteering or interested in volunteering, and 76% are concerned about man’s impact on the planet (JWT Intelligence). Recycling is a given. Standing up to bullies is cool. And standing out is the new “fitting in.”
Growing up with TV shows like “Different Strokes,” “Good Times” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” Gen X has always embraced diversity. Our Gen Z kids – the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in history – don’t just accept diversity, they expect it. In fact, they only notice diversity when there is a lack of it. They also are much more accepting of gender differences and shifting gender roles. Fairness and equality are in their DNA.
Finally, experiencing economic distress and financial difficulties most of our lives, we’re teaching our kids to “do more with less.” If they want something, we typically make them go out and get it for themselves (or at least pitch in financially). As a result, our kids are smart with their money. Some might even call them “cheap.” Most would rather save money than spend it immediately. They value financial stability and actually want formal financial training. Many high schools are filling that need by offering financial planning classes with lessons on investing and retirement planning.
So even though Gen X isn’t the ‘sexist’ generation – we’re smaller in both size and spending power than Boomers and Millennials – we can be proud of the lasting impact we’re making via our Gen Z kids. They truly are poised to change the world. Not too shabby for the former “slacker” generation.