If you’re painfully aware anxiety can destroy your Gen Z child but not sure how to help, read on. Answers to questions and what you need to do differently.
Tired of the silent treatment? Print this list of 50 texts your kid will answer.
My bouncy second grader came home humming the tune to “What a Wonderful World”. “Mom, we learned the coolest song in music class today!”, he exclaimed. Satchmo had drawn him in. For months, he retold all the facts he’d learned about Louis Armstrong and the meaning of this iconic song to whomever would listen.
I see trees of greenLouis Armstrong
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Those were the days.
Life in elementary school had its dramas. The lunch lady was a control freak, a rainy day meant boring inside recess, and your favorite pencil always ran out of eraser.
But, looking back on those days from my Empty Nest perspective, I realize what a cake walk those problems were compared to my Young Adults’ current struggles.
Why Anxiety Can Destroy Them
If you’re into generational demographics, this run down will sound familiar:
- Baby Boomers (born between 1944-1964)
- Generation X (born between 1965-1979)
- Millenials (born between 1980-1994)
- Generation Z (born between 1995-2015)
While Baby Boomers, Gen X (that’s me), and Millenials have been well-defined, Gen Z is a demographic in the making. They are the first cohort to grow up with the constant threat of terrorism post 911.
Each generation label serves as a short-hand to reference nearly 20 years of attitude, motivations, and historic events.Kasasa
They are the guinea pigs of the information age, the first to have constant access to social networks and research. Theirs is the last American generation to be predominantly Caucasian.
And, unfortunately, their parents (us) were completely unprepared for any of these factors.
I have to confess, I have more questions than answers when it comes to my kids’ generation. Payback, I suppose, for thinking my parents were fuddy duddies. After some research, I now realize the odds of my truly understanding Gen Z are about as good as my kids learning to use a rotary phone.
Perhaps the first step you need to take in understanding why anxiety can destroy your Gen Z child is gaining humility. Instead of scoffing at “the anxious generation” as a bunch of coddled softies, we would do better to admit our ignorance.
Sure, my generation had the Cold War and nuclear decimation to worry about. But those concerns seem esoteric compared with the possibility of getting shot in a movie theater.
What Is Anxiety, Anyway?
When I think of the word “anxiety”, daily annoyances come to mind. The stress of finding a parking space in the Walmart parking lot or trying to get a stubborn stain out of my favorite T shirt.
Anxiety is the mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations.Anxiety.org
In contrast, true anxiety is a physical reaction to situations our mind and senses register as dangerous or threatening. It’s the “flight or fight” feeling designed to protect us from eminent death.
As a result, heart and breathing rate may increase, and our brains become hyper-focused on finding a way out of the perceived threat. According to Harvard Health, unresolved anxiety can produce a host of physical side effects, including:
- Stomach pain and bowel changes
- Skin irritation
- Muscle tension
- Generalized pain or weakness
Our generation has no way to identify with the early impressions of physical danger our children were forced to confront. The footage of the Twin Towers toppling was horrifying to me, but I was able to filter this pivotal event through my lifetime of experience.
I can easily remember television scenes of SWAT teams surrounding a high school and police leading elementary children to safety. But I saw those images through the eyes of a parent. Gen Z realized their personal safety would never again be a sure thing.
Who Is Gen Z?
The more I learn about my kids’ generation, the greater my respect for their resilience. Sure, many numb out with substances or shopping. But one quality is consistent-these kids want to make something of themselves.
Cara said she “keeps raising the bar for myself”, and when she cannot reach her goals she feels a sense of inadequacy and insecurity.Healthtalk.org
Just when I worried my kids weren’t taking their future seriously, I realized they often put more pressure on themselves to “be somebody” than I do. But my outdated paradigm of success no longer fits their generation.
Graduating High School, attending college or learning a trade, getting a job and starting a family was the formula put forth by our parents. But this one-size-fits-all plan is failing miserably for our kids.
Advanced education has become unaffordable for many families. As a result, enormous pressure to get sports or academic scholarships often begins in elementary school. Many Gen Z kids spent every weekend at an away game and every afternoon at a tutoring session.
The message was clear. Without sacrifice their is no college. Without college there is no success.
How Is This Different From Our Generation?
Anything was possible in our era of space exploration, Star Wars, and Title 9 sports. But Gen Z saw all the absolutes of our society come crashing down, quite literally. They may not verbalize their fundamental fears, but you better believe they have them.
Our teenage concerns, free of the weight of social media “likes”, … the overarching academic pressures, and the wildly unreasonable body-image demands, are artifacts of an era gone by.Dr. John Duffy
When I polled some of the young adults in my life about what makes them anxious, I found their answers pretty underwhelming. Typical life situations-homework deadlines, financial worries, and friendship drama seemed unreasonably ramped up on the anxiety scale.
Perhaps the simmering undercurrent of societal danger and “always on” connectivity magnifies the challenges we think they should be able to navigate without the help of a counselor or prescription.
My family were the proud owners of a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica, the modern homework help back in the day. Smoking was an annoying habit, but no big deal. If you didn’t wake up early enough to see cartoons on Saturday morning, you were out of luck for a week.
It’s easy to forget just how much has changed since we were young adults. Maybe we wish we could undo Flock of Seagulls and big hair, but, we must agree, life was a lot simpler. Our generation thought more options would equal more happiness, but those endless choices have brought anxiety that can destroy your Gen Z child.
Are You Hurting or Helping?
Now that we’re aware of all the depressing statistics, what, exactly should parents do differently?
Do Your Research
Although there’s an abundance of information on parenting the anxious generation, choose resources worth their salt. Instead of googling your way to experts, start with some of these excellent resources.
Under Pressure and Untangled, both by Dr. Lisa Damour, examine the unique effects of today’s culture on girls and young women. Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety by Dr. John Duffy breaks down the differences between our teen years as contrasted with today’s young adult struggles.
Author and Speaker Mark Gregston, founder of Heartlight Ministries, provides real-life tools for parenting Generation Z kids. With 40 years of experience counseling teens and their families, Gregston offers incredible insight into what makes them tick.
Set An Example
“Do as I say, not as I do.” That parenting philosophy has never cut it, but especially not for Gen Z kids. Their pragmatic approach to life puts parents under the microscope.
I, for one, have been guilty of texting at stop lights, binge-watching reality shows, and neglecting nutrition and exercise. And yes, I’ve hypocritically lectured my kids not to do the same.
Perhaps we would get our kids’ attention and respect if we stopped texting them reminders and started letting them know what we’re doing to move toward our own goals.
Be a Constant
We, as parents, are only human beings. The pressure of “doing it right” is exhausting and emotionally draining. But, even if we screw up royally, we can win by simply remaining in our kid’s life.
No matter how crummy they have treated us or how far off the path they have wandered, we can let them know we aren’t going anywhere.
It goes without saying that boundaries and consequences are vital for a healthy relationship with our children. We may not agree with their choices or like their friends. We very well may be on their bad list just for caring.
But, no matter how strained the relationship with our Gen Z kid, they must know we will always love them and always want the very best for them. In this crazy world where anxiety can destroy your Gen Z child, that simple knowledge will take them a long way.
Encourage Them Meaningfully and Regularly
Let’s admit it, most of us feel we’re pretty good at giving our kids “atta boys”. We send fun care packages, call frequently, and make their favorite comfort foods. But do our efforts hit their mark?
Print the list of 50 Texts Your Kids Will Love.
Last summer, I took one of my kids to Dollar Tree and asked them for insight on what they loved most in a care package. In return for my efforts, I received specific instructions on candies and prank items they thought were wonderful.
Guess what? Most of them came as a complete surprise. I was still operating on outdated assumptions from his childhood. Treats and toys I thought he’d love were falling flat. But, once I gave him permission to speak truth, we both knew he’d be getting something that would brighten his day.
Lower the Bar
Tell your Gen Z kid regularly, both verbally and in writing, they can take a “plan B” at any time. Actions that appear lazy and irresponsible can sometimes be a way of shutting down from unrealistic goals and expectations. Yes, even if your child is the one who has set up those expectations for themselves.
If possible, offer incentives for them to take personality and career assessments. Encourage your Gen Z child to consider many options for their future, instead of pigeon-holing themselves into one path.
Take advantage of outside resources, as your Gen Z kid will most likely think other adults are smarter than their mom and dad. Anxiety can destroy your Gen Z child, but with some outside help it could also make them extremely resilient.
A Wonderful World
As we know all too well, their sweet and simple elementary days are in the past. If we can see beyond their shrugging shoulders and off-putting eye rolls, we’ll come face to face with their neediness for that which only we can give.
After all, as complex and daunting as the social landscape can be, it IS a wonderful world. And it’s up to us, the parents of this anxious generation, to remind them of that, regularly and often.
Disclaimer: By writing this post, I am not claiming to be or acting as a mental health professional. Please pursue a licensed medical or mental health Provider for specific guidance in your situation.
Really interesting concept, even though I am not a parent but I am a teacher I can definitely see the effects on my students. Love the reminder to be mindful
Thanks so much for your comment, Laura! And thanks for teaching our kids. You are a very valuable asset.