Generation Z

I’ve poked some fun at the Boomer/Millennial relationship. They are the two loudest generations that don’t seem to get along all that well. A lot has been written about those two generations, but not much about the relationship between Generation X and Generation Z. Gen X are the parents of Gen Z. I am a Gen-Xer with two Gen Z kids. My son is 18 and my daughter is 24.

On a trip home from visiting my daughter and her family at Christmas, I had a conversation with my Gen Z son, and learned a lot of things about his generation. He sees my childhood as being idyllic. He said, my generation was free to roam the streets till the streetlights turned on, didn’t have to worry about school shootings, terrorists blowing us up, or dying from a pandemic. When he put it that way, I understood where he was coming from.

What started the conversation was a disagreement about gun control. I am for common sense gun control, such as background checks, keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, violent criminals, and those with serious mental illnesses. I’m not a fan of assault rifles, but I fully support a law-abiding citizen the right to own a gun for protection. I just don’t think we need guns as much as my kids.

My kids want no restrictions on guns. They are both much more conservative than I am. Likewise, they both supported Donald Trump, but I think I understand why now. They want to feel safe, and liberal policies don’t make them feel safe.

Gen Z has grown up in a world that taught them to be afraid of everything. Nowhere is safe from gun violence, not even their schools. While neither of my children remembers 9/11, they grew up in a world greatly affected by that terrible day.

I was born in 1970, and have to agree that my childhood years were idyllic, in comparison. I did roam the neighborhood freely until dark. My friends and I rode our bikes like the whole world was ours. My parents allowed my brothers and I to be home by ourselves after school, and all day long during the summer. I had no fear of being killed at school or being blown up by a terrorist in a tall building.

We went door-to-door in the dark on Halloween, knocking on neighbor’s doors without much worry. My parents followed behind and kept an eye on us, but they didn’t feel the need to call on the National Guard for support. Neighbors knew each other pretty well back then.

Gen Z had to go to “safe” locations to collect candy on Halloween because every neighborhood was apparently filled with evil people wanting to kill them. I took my kids through the neighborhood in protest to that notion. To Gen X, neighborhoods are magical places for kids. I cringe at the thought of lame trunk-or-treat events in parking lots.

Yes, we were told to stay away from strangers and my parents were very strict about me being home at a certain time. But they had no way to know where we really were, and they couldn’t contact us. Today, if my children, who are now adults, don’t text back within two minutes, I’m fearing they’re dead somewhere.

How was it that our parents weren’t pacing the floors when we were gone for hours? I can’t even imagine that as a parent.

My best friend’s mom had a big bell, like the type one-room schoolhouses used, in her backyard that she rang when it was time for him to go home. We could hear it throughout the neighborhood. She would just casually step outside and pull the rope a few times, and then go back inside and finish cooking, without a fear in the world.

Gen X grew up before a lot of today’s technology. In a lot of ways, our childhood wasn’t that different from Baby Boomer’s, if I am to believe Kevin Arnold on The Wonder Years. However, we didn’t grow up with war and tremendous social change. There were no drafts, and nobody our age was marching in the streets demanding civil rights. Really, when I was a kid, I thought the issue of civil rights had been settled.

My parents, especially my mom, were very much about equality. Blacks were equal to whites, women were equal to men, poor were equal to rich, and everyone should be treated fairly and live with dignity. There was no question about it. I remember one time when I was in grade school and I said something about black people that my mom didn’t like. That was the last time I said anything like that! She set me straight in a hurry.

My parents didn’t try to be my best friend. They were parents in every sense. Yet, I lived with a lot of freedom, and, boy, they must have had a lot of trust in the world.

Contrast that with Gen Z who have grown up with a lot of uncertainty and fear.

Our schools are much more segregated than when I was growing up. They are now deeply segregated by race and socio-economics. I attended public schools with the kids of lawyers, doctors, business owners, and factory workers. Rich, poor, black, white – we were all there. Today, kids go to school with others only like them. It’s no wonder the country is so divided. That only adds to the fear.

What happened? How could the generation, who had the most freedom as children, turn around and raise their kids to have so much distrust of the world? I didn’t let my kids roam the streets like I did. I had to know where they were at every moment, because I was always fearing the worst.

Our conversation led to the question of needing a gun everywhere you go. I told my son that I don’t want to live in a society that makes people believe they need to carry a gun to go grocery shopping. To me, that was a clear sign that society had failed completely. He told me, I was being too idyllic, and that good people need to carry guns everywhere, just in case.

So, this is where society is.

We both agreed that the answer wasn’t more guns, but people simple knowing right from wrong. Call it good old-fashioned fear of God. I added that Americans need to have more trust in each other, and far less fear. That was laughable to my son. Beyond that, the answers weren’t coming to us.

Gen Z is a unique generation that is still coming of age. I think they’re going to be much more conservative in many ways than previous generations. I sense that they want to return to an idealized version of America that they didn’t have the privilege to grow up in. That’s why, “Make America Great Again” resonated with many of them so much.

The thing is, America is still full of great people. We’re just led to believe that nobody can be trusted and that nowhere is safe. The news only reports the bad stuff, and politicians capitalize off of it. Most kids aren’t watching the news, however. They’re watching people with extreme views on YouTube and other social media platforms. Knowing world history, this should cause alarm.

Well, before I write a book, I’ll end it here. I just found it fascinating to learn what my kids’ generation is thinking and why. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this in the future.

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