Bringing Up the Next Generation Jan ’16
Are you raising a ‘sun’ or a ‘moon’?
By Tricia Ferrara, MA
If you stop and listen closely, you can hear the first stirrings of Generation Z. Right now it’s barely audible, but give it a couple of years and this generation will be the equivalent of a sonic boom.
Sometimes called post-Millennials, an official name for this group has yet to emerge, but their impact is starting to be felt. These are children who are digital natives, born into a world that already had smart gadgets and Google. They are weaned on self-selected input—from their iPads, not their parents—and they’ll change the nature of just about everything.
Many of today’s parents came of age in a patient, linear story, relating to promotions, marriage and family in order to measure personal markers. Baby boomers learned from their parents, absorbing input and information, then shaped it into their own visions. Generation Z doesn’t need input from parents; they are getting it from technology. This self-selecting input will influence a generation that builds its own structures, and doesn’t integrate into existing ones. It will turn the stalemates of religion, politics and sexuality upside down. We are already seeing this with sexuality: kids today fall in love with personality, not body parts. They have homosexual relationships without even classifying them that way.
As youngsters, previous generations were positioned like the moon, a celestial body wholly dependent on the sun for its ability to shine. They could wait inside the box for dependable outcomes that would occur simply by following the prescribed social, educational and cultural rules. Social structure and basic skill sets naturally propelled them forward to earn degrees, get promotions and reach retirement.
Today, societal structures that supported that forward motion are in decline. Jaded by broken institutional promises and blindsided by the acceleration of change, the children we know today will grow up to thrive on structure they’ve created, not one created for them. The most prepared and adept in the crowd will become their own sources of light-giving sun. Armed with information and tools at their fingertips, digital natives will not wait for the sunlight to shine on them. They will be able to generate their own energy.
This demographic will be far different than the current crop of energized young adults who are still willing to join the corporate ranks , even as they’re busily branding, bending rules and building bios on social media. Generation Z has no intention of joining that workforce. Instead, they will create a force that we will need to learn to work with.
Who will tell the children?
While technological advances are creating a tide that will lift many boats in our society, it won’t lift all of them. Many of our children will feel lost in this unstructured environment where they must create their own paradigm. They will need help learning how to swim in order to keep up and thrive alongside their peers. The waters will be rough. Without a personal vision, freedom can be a prison. Many will be faced with pursuing virtual happiness and status while struggling with actual stressors, disappointments, depression, anxiety and isolation. Their snarky, fragmented digital world will offer little or no respite from their internal demons.
Helping our kids remain energized and moving forward is more than a goal in this environment. It is a moral imperative.
Caretakers must build a robust mental template for their children. In other words, bolster their capacity to integrate their life experiences and constructively adapt. The ability to conserve emotional energy and create mental stamina for the next encounter will be key to stay on track and thrive.
Raising a child who intends to be energized and shine on his or her own terms, there are numerous meaningful opportunities in our daily interactions to help children on their way.
Here are three key areas to consider as we prepare our little stars for the journey:
Dependable, Nourishing Relationships: Social experiences play a critically important role in physically shaping children’s brains and, in turn, their minds. Healthy relationships provide the necessary comfort and connection we all need during our journeys through childhood and adolescence, and they provide a window into the emotional experience of others. While fostering empathy, relationships make us visible to the world and therefore less vulnerable. Being in a relationship says, “I’m alive, I have value and I matter.”
Language of Connection: Language is the key to a child’s ability to share internal experiences, describe emerging personal needs and thus create a meaningful identity. The ability to communicate a vision for the future builds a bridge to that future. Move with your child beyond pop language. Develop, model and encourage language that captures the nuances of their experiences.
Emotional Regulation: Emotion is the raw material of life and can be jarring to children of all ages. Emotional energy puts us in motion and fuels our growth through everyday ups and downs. But getting beyond the surge of feelings that fuel “fight or flight” mechanisms requires skill and reinforcement. The hallmark of a resilient person is the ability to summon positive energy in the face of emotional stress. Kids are learning all the time. Be mindful of how you handle your own stress, as kids will pick up your lead automatically unless otherwise directed.
Effective relationships, communication and emotional regulation are a revelation to children whose instinct is to turn to technology before human beings. The children who can maintain their humanity in an age where technology comes first will come in first, too.
Tricia Ferrara is the author of Parenting 2.0; Think in the Future, Act in the Now. A licensed Professional Counselor and Behavioral Health Specialist, she holds a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, lectures and writes widely, and has a private practice in Chester County, Pennsylvania. She is the parent of teen twins. www.triciaferrara.com.