The current teen and young adult population are Generation Z. They have grown up in the era of smart phones, social media, inclusive classrooms, and they are keenly aware of issues such as climate change and how their world is different than that of their parents.
I will focus on the older teens and university age students, those that are ready to cross over into being an adult. I have worked with university students for more than a couple of decades and have gone from being just a few years older than the students to being the age of the students’ parents. When I first began working with students, there was an unspoken code that if the landline rings, I don’t answer it because this is a sacred space for therapeutic conversation. Now, there is often a phone trying to steal attention away or it becomes part of the session as I am shown text conversations.
Gen Z have their own language and understandings. We parents are sometimes invited in on the workings of it, and often not. I have three Gen Z kids, ranging in age from 14 to 19. It is helpful to try to keep up with the various social media platforms but also challenging when you realize that keeping up means that you have to daily take a photo of what you are doing at any given moment of the day when randomly alerted. Fun at age 17, 19, 21…not quite as entertaining in your 40’s or 50’s. For those that would like to try to keep up, feel free to download BeReal.
I have listened to many students of these ages whether they are Gen Z or the generation before them, the Millennials. One of the topics that arises when they are expressing frustrations with parents has to do with boundaries. Many of these youth talk about how they are not able to choose the career that they would like, or there is a lot of pressure to get high grades; they are not able to date who they would like to date, and there is pressure to conform to parents’ expectations. My observations, as I have participated in hundreds if not thousands of these conversations, are that students are often making good decisions; they are attempting to practice “adulting” and trying to steer their own lives. However, they are being held back by often well intentioned parents, who are continuing to do hands-on parenting, even though their child has crossed the threshold to becoming an adult. I am aware that there is diversity in cultural backgrounds and understanding of parents’ roles. This discussion is a broad brush stroke and may not appeal to every family.
Parents often take longer than their child to notice that they have grown up. Maybe this is an ongoing challenge for parents to allow their kids to tie their own shoes when in elementary school, to do their own laundry as they get to middle school and high school, to make their own lunches. We feel that our 19 year old child still desperately needs to be steered in a proper direction. Many of us fear that we have left our kids ill prepared for life.
It is true that students often leave things to the last minute, they procrastinate, they spend too much time on social media, they forget to eat meals, they stay up too late and drag themselves around the next day, or days. Learning from trial and error is still learning and Gen Z has plentiful resources to figure out how to change unhelpful patterns.
We do not need to do the kind of hands on parenting of older teens and young adults that was required when they were young, but they can still benefit from parental influence. Here are some thoughts to help guide a shift in job title for parents.
- Listen and show respect for their opinions, career plans, thoughts about life issues even if they differ from how you raised them. It is ok to ask questions from a place of curiosity but not so helpful when it comes from a place of judgment and critique. Notice where your own messages come from about the proper and correct way to do life.
- Notice your own dreams and ambitions that are possibly unrealized, and be careful about living out your own dreams through your child.
- Notice when you are continuing to do things for them that they could do themselves. Adulting takes years to learn and parents can offer support. Just as youth often learn how to drive with parents in a supportive passenger role, your place is to stay as a passenger and not to take over the wheel to direct your kids’ future.
- Trust them to make good decisions and know that there are many other supports that can help them.
- Let them try things and learn from mistakes. Learn from your kids also. Our youth have so much to teach us about how they view the world. They are not an empty container that we have to fill with our wisdom. We do have life experience and ideas to share, of course, but some of our ways of doing things could use some tweaking. If we are willing to listen to a younger generation, the kids we have worked so hard to raise might surprise us with the amazing adults they have become.
My oldest kid told me when she turned 13, “I’ve heard that teenagers can be a lot of work, good luck with that.”
And so I shift this statement to fellow parents of Gen Z, “Letting go of your adult child and letting them make their own decisions, steering their own future can be hard, but you might just enjoy being in the passenger seat.”
Angela Post provides counselling to adults, adolescents and couples. She has experience with a variety of issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship issues, workplace stress, trauma, victims of crime, family of origin issues, cross cultural adjustment, self esteem, personal growth, boundaries, building resilience, grief, academic performance and stress management. Angela also enjoys working with individuals on career issues and uses assessments such as the Strong Interest Inventory and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator for career development issues. Angela's approach with clients is eclectic and she draws from brief solution focused therapy, client centered, cognitive behavioural, psychodynamic therapy and creative approaches. She is also trained in EMDR. Angela has worked with students in higher education settings for over 15 years including UBC, Kwantlen, University of the Fraser Valley, and currently SFU Health and Counselling Services. Angela grew up in a small Yukon mining town populated primarily by new immigrants. She has worked with clients from at least 50 different countries. In 1996, Angela received her Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology, and in 2001, she received her Ph. D. in Counselling Psychology from the University of British Columbia. Angela is a member of the College of Psychologists of BC and the British Columbia Psychological Association.