There is a moment in parenting when you realize that you no longer have the advantage, and you now know absolutely nothing.
For me, it was when I was schooled by my kids on the new word for "cool," which is now "savage." (Savage? Really?) What followed were daily lessons in new social rules and slang.
Trying to figure out the current world of pre-teens and teens is like my first few years as a new mom. I second-guess everything and worry they are going to hit their head on every corner or, in this case, be emotionally rejected on a daily basis. How do our military kids cope?
Generation Z, born from the mid-1990s to around 2012, is already swinging the pendulum like every generation before them. According to my interview with Gary Allan Taylor from Axis, this group would "rather lose their sense of smell than their digital device."
Now before you freak out (I did), we adults aren't doing so great in that department either.
Unlike the Millenials before them, Taylor said Gen Z kids value the importance of family even more than career. That could be, he said, because they have watched their parents live out a heavy work ethic to secure the house, career and status (maybe even our social media status).
Considering it is their parents' "work ethic centric" generation that is running the academic generation, is it any wonder that anxiety and depression is on the rise for these students? High school graduation requirements look more like college and grades/SAT scores are no longer enough. "Family" sounds like a good direction for the pendulum.
Even bullying has changed for Gen Z kids. Both civilian and military parents have told me their Gen Zs have started to disconnect by putting in their earbuds to avoid interaction with aggressive kids, much like adults do on the subway. I think I would put my earbuds in too.
When it comes to military kid Gen Zs, most adults I've spoken with agree that much of their character has been shaped by overcoming difficulty and rejection, resulting in more mature and confident kids. Many are often more comfortable around adults than kids their age.
But that doesn't mean they don't need connection with their peers. All kids gravitate toward peers developmentally, which makes our military teens even more desperate for it. Yet as I've experienced and heard from other military parents, that's especially challenging in a civilian school where peer groups have formed over years of neighborhood cookouts and team sports.
Understanding and parenting our Gen Z kids is no cakewalk. Perhaps you are like me and need encouragement (in most cases, every week).
Here is what I have heard from reaching out to parents and experts in my current "Raising Gen Zs" series on the LIfegiver Podcast.
4 Tips for Generation Z Military Parents
1. Don't underestimate the value of family. The fact that Gen Z kids value family more than ever makes it easier to plan intentional family time where you can -- what else -- talk about being a Gen Z military kid. As much as they are connected to their devices, they will likely not complain after you have agreed to set all devices down for a game night. Expect full tantrums beforehand though.
2. Point them toward wise connections. Experts I've interviewed have suggested that perhaps the answer for our kids isn't assimilating the way we would "back in the day." In a culture in which bullying and meanness are ramping up, why not encourage our kids toward smaller circles? A few close friends is not only realistic, but models what adults do.
3. See the leadership potential. One civilian parenting expert I interviewed pointed out that our kids' intensity while assimilating into the school system is a sign of their leadership potential. That really encouraged me to redirect my kids' emotional energy toward leading rather than following as a means of fitting in. This next school year, we hope to have the boys be military kid ambassadors for incoming students.
4. It really will be OK. The other day, I spoke with a military brat who is entering her senior year of college. She is brilliant in her social skills and maturity. She told me how prepared she was not only for the academic load of school, but more so for the rhythm she developed over the years to assimilate while civilian students around her fell apart. Even better, she described detaching from an unhealthy peer group because she realized her maturity made her a better leader than a follower. Wow.
I've looked forward to this season with my kids for a long time. I enjoy the dialogue, the jokes around the table, and watching them evolve into awesome bigger people.
While parenting the next generation has been a lot harder than I expected, especially with the challenges of the military lifestyle, I know every parent in the history of the world has said that. But I now see the importance of educating myself, even if that means my kids will be the ones to school me -- memes and all.