3 Things Your Gen Z Needs This Summer Instead of your Opinion
I was silent for once. My Gen Z teenager and I were talking about vaccines and going back to school in the fall. I was also grateful and reflective.
"Oh yeah, Mom! I know that. A lot of it is just opinions. People are desperate to label them as facts but I don't make any big decisions without researching and talking to someone I trust."
Ten minutes ago, I was ready to spew my data points and hard-earned wisdom.
I suddenly had become very humbled and aware that I was the trusted ‘someone.’ The fact that we were talking at all was a win. More "facts" would definitely be collected for and against the point I was trying to make. No matter what. That’s just the way this generation is. They hear it all, they google most of it, and they believe it in moderation.
As a teacher at Valor Global Online and Valor Christian School International in Portland, Oregon, as well as a mom/stepmom to six teens, I hang out with a few dozen Gen Z kids a week. I want to be a trusted voice in their life, so I've started paying more attention to how they think and make decisions. Most of them are very critical thinkers with a small loyal inner circle of companions and BIG dreams to make an impact in the world.
They get a bad rep sometimes because they are also bold, experience driven and dismissive (and sometimes defiant) to adults that are continually throwing unsolicited judgment, advice and opinions in their DM’s.
Gen Z is defined as kids born late 1990s thru 2010. They are currently 10ish - 25 ish. Most have never worn hypercolor, purchased a bedroom set or stood in line for a concert ticket. Millennials and Gen Y are raising them, hiring them, teaching them, coaching them... and assuming the poor quality of their character quite often.
Thinking about my own teen years, I consumed, attended, advocated for and bought a T-Shirt representing a lot of stuff I actually knew very little about. From JOLT Cola to Milli Vanilli, Monica Lewisnky, OJ Simpson and Days of Our Lives, I thought I knew a lot about a lot because Arsenio said so.
I didn't spend a lot of time with Dewey Decimal researching what Madonna's song was really about. I just sang it. Today, because they can, and they care, kids are researching.
“Because I said so!” worked really well for parenting in the 80’s and 90’s. In 2021 “Because Google said so!” stands a better chance at getting your kids to listen to you. My parents told me things and I just did them (most of the time). Their opinion was fact in my world because they were my world. That doesn’t work as much in parenting today.
My kids listen to a lot of my advice with a big ol’ dollop of “maybe” on it.
The even bigger concern in parenting today is that they can find just about anything on the internet to support any theory they make up, about anything. The world is flat. Saturn’s rings are made of dinosaur bones, sloths are smarter than us and I can make $63 million dollars a year making stop-action videos of the squirrels in my backyard. “No really. It says so “RIGHT HERE!”
If you ever want some insight into what your kids are thinking about, go look at the last things they googled.
I will never forget doing this once to discover “How to feed a dog in my room when my stepdad says I can’t have one.” Very insightful about what was keeping my kid up at night.
It’s clear we are not going to win at the parenting game with the same deck of cards our parents played with. I began asking God (and my kids) for some insight on how to really love and lead this generation well. It’s a critical summer for them as the world opens back up and becomes their oyster again. How do we equip them to step confidently back into it with positivity, faith, excitement and goals?
“Just listen to us.”
“Ask us what we are doing on our phone instead of accusing us.”
“Stop acting like you ever had to grow up with the weight of the world screaming at you through a device that has to go everywhere with you if you want to have any friends.”
It’s true. Gen Z is highly influenced by genuine adults who offer a safe, judgment free zone for them to share, debate and try on all their research in search of truth.
They especially want to be around people who have evidence of good things in their life. Things that they can observe and test. People who care more about their words, dreams, joy, creativity and unique contributions than their pink hair, short attention span, and what their rainbow bracelet might mean. People who listen, see them and value their originality and passions. People who treat them like Jesus would.
Here are three ideas you can try this summer to relate and connect better to your Gen Z .
1: Listen to Understand
I've been good at asking questions for a few years now. I need to work on actually listening to their responses to find our common ground and see things from their view point. In the past, my questions were usually angling for more ammunition to prove my point. I still do this at times, it's definitely a hard habit to break.
Here are a few good questions I like that are helping me listen without judgment:
- What was your objective with that (thing, outfit, post, person, statement)?
- Why is that valuable to you?
- Is this part of a goal you set for yourself?
- What are you willing to sacrifice to learn more?
- How did that choice impact what you value?
- What do you think I think about that?
- Is that a fact you can prove in a lab or an opinion from someone's experience?
- Who will help you manage the risks/rewards of that choice?
- What are your expectations? Have you communicated them?
- Why do you think that person did/said/shared/posted that?
- What did you hear from God about it? Have you prayed about it?
- Can you prove or disprove that in the Bible?
- Have you talked to anyone with that experience?
- What are the next things you will need to decide?
- What can I do to support your journey?
- How can I love you well as you navigate this?
IMPORTANT! It’s necessary that you tell your kids that empathy and endorsement are not the same thing. Your listening ear is love because you want to understand and connect to their heart - not approval or agreement.
If their younger sister said she was going to drink gasoline so she can run as fast as a car, they would say NO - because they know better. It’s harmful.
There are times parents simply need to say no.
This type of analogy is a great way to help older teens understand how time and experiences do teach you things of value to help keep younger people safe. It's OK to remind them you are their parent, not their friend, and you are going to continue to strive to lead them down paths that your life (the Bible, science and history) have shown work well for humanity. Especially when we are trying to help our kids make their faith their own, they need a hard line of truth. I suggest lots of storytelling, analogies and researching together, while acknowledging that you have never been in their shoes. Teach them to think with humility and compassion.
2: Go Where the People are.
Fifteen months of a mask and/or a weird isolated vibe everywhere you go can really take its toll on a person's ability to woo a room, especially a child. Their friends are everything to them and they are craving opportunities to get their groove back in being around them with confidence. Having basic conversations, sharing social space, watching for cues, thinking of others over ourselves, crowds and lines and all the things.
This summer I suggest you get your Gen Z an extra helping of:
- Backyard BBQs
- Babysitting gigs
- Trips to the mall
- Help at the store
- Church events
- Farmers markets
- You get the idea… if there are people there - GO
Seven magical words you can say all summer long: “Do you want to invite a friend?” If the answer is constantly “no,” ask why (see Tip #1) and look for ways to understand and help them. Share with them why community and who you surround yourself with is such a critical part of living an abundant, healthy life. They won’t want or need a lot of friends, just a few solid ones they can count on to be nice to their family, share their reels and keep their secrets. They may even want to roleplay with you how to have conversations again and what to talk about in the awkward pauses. We can all benefit from that!
3: Fund their Creativity
According to theharrispoll.com*, Gen Z considers creativity at the top of their list of strengths and importance. That probably explains why they are sometimes called “Gen Create.” They hold the values of innovation, entrepreneurship, originality, inspiration and passion in high esteem. The poll of 5,000 students aged 18-22 reported that 63% said that they try to do something creative every day. Listening to music, photography/videography and cooking were the top forms of creativity they chose. Many of them also took up reading, crafting, musical instruments and starting a business this last year. They are also incredibly passionate about social justice, change, saving the planet and putting the right leaders in positions of power. They are dreamers and doers who want to right the wrongs in the world and create beauty and meaning.
Here are some ideas of how you can support the creator mindset in your teen:
- New experiences: Go somewhere or try something not usually on your family's calendar. This could be visiting a senior home, taking up tennis, camping, surfing, hiking, yoga, a pottery class or an Indian restaurant - anything that is new and stretches you. Make a list and let them choose, or better yet, give them a budget to plan the outing for the family.
- Encourage them to share: As we know from Gen Z’s love of TikTok, SnapChat and YouTube, this generation likes to watch and be inspired by others. Look for things your teen is particularly good at or interested in and encourage them to look for ways to learn and share their gift, either a new Instagram account about it (you can supervise it) or even just at a family dinner one night. It's very valuable to them to be an expert in something and learn to share about it with others.
- Help them find ways to earn money: Gen Z are actually very hard workers. Yes, they do bounce around a lot in their interests and jobs but they are not very content just doing nothing. They want to contribute because they want to be heard. Even the video game junkie is doing something all day. Look for something they enjoy and help them brainstorm how to earn money with it. Even if it's YOUR money. If they love cooking - make them your chef; if they love taking pictures, hire them to create a photo album of your summer memories; if they love video games or social media, how can they teach others or promote a business online? Some of the middle school students in my class at Valor are already making hundreds a month doing things they love: baking cookies, teaching golf, mowing lawns, training horses. There are so many great courses online your kiddo could take to help them get started. There are also many creative ways you can encourage them in your home, community, church etc… to be useful and make bank.
If we had to define parenting as a candy, it would definitely be a Now or Later. You can invest intentionally NOW with your child's growth and development, or pay the price in frustration LATER when they take the car keys and miss curfew. Gen Z really needs to be supported and heard, they need to be in community, create and see their unique value serving the world. They need less opinions and more optimism. They need to be reminded they are enough just the way they are. They need to know that just like the Millennials before them and the Gen Alpha after them, they have a difficult set of circumstances in history and culture and they are going to triumph through them with their brilliance and God-given destiny.
Gen Z is an opportunity for parents, not a burden! You got this.
Love & Serve,
Mindee is a teacher and facilitator at Valor Global Online. She leads our entrepreneur classes among many other hats she wears. You can find her cheering her students and family on, snuggling with her labrador, or out on a solo run for her QT with God.
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