In my practice, I have the privilege to work with every shape, size, and age imaginable. Lately, I’ve been working with a lot of 14-24 year-olds and seeing a common theme. First, I didn’t know what to call them. We all love blaming the millennials for being lazy, I’m an X’er, We’re all bitter and cynical and the baby boomers were the savers, so what are these kids? Well, I looked it up and if you were born between 1995-2012 you are considered Gen Z. If I had to use one word to describe Gen Z kids it would be Anxiety!
Let me preface my next few comments with the fact that I have a Gen Z’er, My son is 18 and just went away to college, so not only do I have first-hand knowledge of these kids as clients, I lived with one for the past 18 years!
Why do I define these kids as anxious? From birth, we have told them that this is a dangerous world and they should be scared of it.
“Don’t go outside in the yard because someone will abduct you!” “Wash your hands and put Purell on after you touch anything because if you don’t you’ll get sick and die!” “Don’t go to public places because there might be a mass shooting“ “Don’t stress them out or push them, because they are sensitive.” Don’t ever let them fail, because we don’t want them to feel pain” “Everybody gets a trophy” but at the same time. Make sure you are in every activity possible while being perfect at it because if you don’t, you won’t get into college. Take all AP classes and anything under a 4.2 is unacceptable. None of them went down the street to play with Johnny, they instead had “play dates”. Everything was scheduled, everything was structured, with no room for creativity, exploration or failure. We’re surprised when they are addicted to video games, social media or their phones, but what else did we expect them to do? Socialization can be hard because they are used to the safety of being behind a screen.
We were so scared that our kids would have negative experiences or feelings that we accidentally made it so they had almost no life experience at all. Now we send them off to college and say, fend for yourself! Explore, fail, push your boundaries even though they’ve never done that on their own in their entire life! So, what happened, they are all having panic attacks, anxiety and immense amounts of crippling fear. This fear is stunting very smart kids from trying and experiencing life. They have been labeled the “therapy generation” because almost all of them are in therapy!
So what do we do? I don’t have the answer but I do have a few ideas…
When I was young, I used to follow the mailman around while he did his route asking him questions, bugging the crap out of him. I did this because I was trying to keep myself occupied but secretly liked pulling the brake on the mail cart…I know I needed more hobbies.
Why I tell this story was because when I was growing up we had to find creative ways to keep entertained. If I wasn’t bugging the mailman I was building a fort with chairs and blankets or riding my bike around the neighborhood looking for other kids to hang out with. This was all acceptable behavior, as long as I got home before dinner, my parents weren’t concerned. I had to be creative but also had the freedom to explore and try new things.
Today everything is overly structured, kids don’t explore anymore because they don’t have the freedom to nor want to be curious. Why go outside and play when it’s easier to look at their phones, text with their friends, feel FOMO from looking at social media all day, or immerse themselves in video games that provide an alternate reality that has no consequences.
My thoughts will be controversial I’m sure but that’s the joy of opinions, we’re all entitled to have them. Keep computers and phones away from them for as long as you can. Let kids be kids. Stop being afraid that everything in this world is going to kill them or make them sick.
Allow them the freedom to explore, fail, fall, get hurt and have their hearts broken. Allow them your trust, that they will do the right thing, and if they don’t they’ll have to learn from those mistakes. Stop with all the pressure to have a 4.5 GPA and put more focus on how they relate to others. What did they fail at today? Instead of vilifying them for those failures commend them and ask what they will do differently next time? Talk to your kids with no electronics present, that includes yours!
It seems simple, but it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
Thanks for listening.
Holden Zalma LMT, Founder MetaTouch Body Balance