There are some pretty great kids from Gen Z or the iGeneration (those born after 1996) getting it done, but there is a trend among them. Apparently, the earful I got the other day was pretty par for the course and explains why this group is also known as the Anxiety generation. As a Gen X’er – the Slacker generation – that’s nearly a foreign concept, since we were lucky to get our cynical selves off the couch, collect a college diploma, and morph into optimistic people who founded the tech startups and small businesses.
Last weekend in a college library I caught one side of a conversation that was a big ball of sad, shocking and a bit horrifying rolled into one. I quietly sat on the opposite side of the computer table from a young Dude clad in a typical college attire, a baseball cap and sweatshirt. He did make me laugh a bit when a girl who stopped by and asked if he had fun last night. His reply of holding up a Gatorade bottle confirmed it was a good night, and that simple gesture took me back to my college days when orange Gatorade and Diet Coke’s were the hangover cures of choice.
Then the Dude told the girl he was working on job search letters. I thought, wow, he was way more ambitious that I was on Saturday’s in college. My Saturdays were filled with watching sports on campus, reliving the escapades from the night before with friends, sitting on people’s porches watching a volleyball game while listening to music, or lounging in someone’s living room watching Steel Magnolia’s for the umpteenth time. Job searching was reserved for AFTER graduation or maybe something to think about a month or two before graduation, not a Saturday afternoon in October.
When the girl wandered away, as if on cue his phone rang, it was Mom. I love technology, but it has made people way too accessible and I am just as guilty of buying into it now. My parents called us once a week at college to make sure we were alive. If they didn’t get us, someone left you a note on the dry erase board, or taped a note to your bedroom door in a girls dorm or house. Boys were a totally different story. My brother wasn’t at his house in college when my Mom called one day, he was down the street at a friend’s house. His housemate gave my Mom the phone number to the friend’s house and said just call him there. I guarantee the housemate passed on the phone number because he was too lazy to get off the couch, find a pen and write the message on the wall, pizza box, or empty beer box. When my unwitting Mother called my brother he LOST his mind that his Mommy tracked him down, and it wasn’t a family emergency. That was the first and last time she called him anywhere but at his house. Now parents and students can find each other anywhere, anytime, Saturday’s in the library, immediately following exams, in classrooms. One person I know who teaches at a university was handed a phone and the student said, “My Mom wants to talk to you.” College was the time where the umbilical cord was cut, or stretched super thin to the point of being almost invisible. Now it’s just lengthened with the help of texts and phone calls 24/7.
Back to the Dude. He proceeded to tell Mommy he was working on his cover letter for a local company called, Eeeee- Ton. Oh Dude, it’s called Eton. Mommy must have been doing her research on Cleveland companies, because she suggests another place for him to apply. How do I know? He says, “Okay, Parker, can you spell Hannifin I haven’t heard of them, should I apply?” As a friend of mine joked, if he can’t pronounce or spell either place, he doesn’t deserve to work there.
Then the Dude says he doesn’t feel great because he didn’t take his Airborne the other day and maybe because he forgot to bring a blanket for his bed and the temperature dropped last night. I looked around for my 5 year old nephew talking about his blankie. I wanted to ask the Dude, why are you talking to your Mommy about your blankie? Then the conversation takes a turn. They are now looking at his credit card bill together, going over his Uber and Lyft charges. At this point, he might as well just Facetime with his parents from every bar or party since they know his every move according to Mastercard. And just when I think it can’t get any worse or infantile he ends the call by saying, “No I’m not going to drink tonight that was rare last night, I don’t drink every night.” Now I am only hearing his end of the call, but I think, okay, it’s 2:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon so either three things happened:
1) he has spoken to Mommy already to report in, by what, like Noon?
2) he was getting his stomach pumped at the hospital last night and had to call for his insurance information or,
3) Mommy has his phone low-jacked and knows exactly which bars and parties he is at and maps his route.
Option 1 & 3 scary, 2 not good, because Mommy would move from low jacking his phone to an electronic ankle bracelet at that point.
This is too sad for me to listen too. Wow ! At this point I want to grab the phone and tell Mom,
“Listen lady, I went to a fun college, back when things were, really, really fun. Trust me, I have the low GPA to prove it. So mail your kid his balls, cause right now this 40 something year old grad student is going to go home have a few beers, watch the OSU game, do her homework and probably go out later tonight. AND If I thought there was any hope for your kid I’d teach him how to do a keg stand, light a couch on fire (or just watch the degenerates do it), dance on the roof of a house, cheer for the Buckeyes in the ‘Shoe, party with 10,000 people on St. Paddy’s Day, road trip to OU for a legendary Halloween party, and party like a rock star ‘til a bar opens at 5 am.
Sadly there probably is no hope for the Dude. His Mommy has helicopter parented the fun out of him, or the new phrase “bulldozer parenting” meaning, every obstacle is cleared out of the kids way, and takes away their ability to learn how to make their own decisions, and it won’t end with college. It never does- and is now extending into the workplace. A friend just told me a coworker received a call from a 23 year old interviewees Dad, who wanted to discuss the salary offer that was made to his son. Needless to say Daddy’s phone call made the job offer disappear, immediately.
I left the library feeling grateful for the lack of technology and micro management by my parents in college, it gave me the freedom to have fun and to fail. And believe me there were epic failures along the way, and I somehow picked myself up, figured it out and kept moving forward, as did my friends. Parents were not obsolete, but they weren’t solving our problems, removing all obstacles and managing every aspect of our life; we knew when to seek their advice, or if they were writing they check follow their expectations and rules. The anxiety just wasn’t there – it was a time when I made more friends and laugh filled memories than one person deserves in a lifetime and, like Vince Vaughn said in Wedding Crashers,“get hopped up and make some bad decisions” – and we survived it, even without the bulldozers and low jacking.
This insightful read was sent to me that explains how Gen Z has become so fragile – watch this clip of Real Time with Bill Maher, where Johnathan Haidt discusses his book, “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKW3vKpPrlw