Each generation has a watershed moment when they are young – a sudden plunge toward uncertainty they all remember vividly all their lives. These moments crystalize the frame of mind for a whole generation of kids.
For months, Gen Z kids have sheltered in place, worn masks, socially distanced and learned online. They listen as authorities argue about solutions. Summer vacations are uncertain, as is school in the fall. How will all this change them?
In Gen studies, we can predict by looking back at previous Generational Cycles. Consider the Silent Generation. Children during World War II, they watched parents struggle with bread lines and war. In turn Silents learned to work hard, grew frugal and became patriotic. They became so compliant that they earned the name Silent. We can expect similar traits to play out in Gen Z.
1. Big Crowds, Big Anxiety
Gen Z knows the risk in church services, basketball games, and simply breathing in enclosed spaces. Being with groups of people equals risk.
Prediction: Gen Z may avoid crowds, not just now but for many years. Concerts and sporting events that trigger exhilaration for older generations may prompt stress in Gen Z.
2. Expression Masked
Like Millennials before them, Gen Z already cocooned under headphones in public. Now people wear masks, blunting identity, expression and interaction.
Prediction: Gen Z will be less able to read facial expression and physical cues about the needs of others. They will feel more detached and anonymous in public. They may create new signs and signals for relating from behind masks.
3. Hero Parents
Parents are working and parenting full-time, essentially doing the impossible. If they lose jobs, they must still support families – another impossible task. Gen Z is keenly aware of this stress.
Prediction: Gen Z will be less coddled than previous gens, able to put their own needs on the back burner for a while for the sake of their families.
Will Zs become patriotic, detach in public,
abandon cities, vote for change in November?
4. Votes and Voice
Before the pandemic, Gen Z voiced dismay about climate crisis and gun control. They sought action on both, but encountered government inertia and denial.
Prediction: Gen Z already wanted government to do more. Come November, they will vote for change.
5. Staying Home
Home is Z's cocoon of safety. Close to their Gen X parents even before the pandemic, they were fans of puzzles and board games. Now they are helping their families by planting gardens, doing housework, raising chickens and learning to cook.
Prediction: They will value the security of home even more deeply than other generations. Many Zs will choose to learn, work and socialize from home even when they can go out. This behavior will be reinforced if communities repeatedly open up, encounter danger and close down again as the virus mutates and reoccurs.
Gen Z was already a DIY generation. Digital existence has been their everyday reality, making them hungry for hands-on learning and tactile tasks. In addition, their parents now have less disposable income.
Prediction: Zs will learn to make do with what they have. They will save money and make things themselves, often on their own with little help from adults.
Gen Z was already accustomed to giving up privacy for the convenience of online services. Now communities are using contact tracking to stop the virus.
Prediction: Gen Z may give up privacy older generations expected.
8. Country and Countryside
Gen Zs have often been called Globals for their inclusive, world-wide outlook, and they have always been a fundamentally urban generation. That will change.
Prediction: Gen Z will travel less and see fewer foreign countries. Many will leave the city as parents work from home and move their families to less crowded open spaces. Finally, if the country develops effective policies for caring for families and stopping the pandemic, Gen Z will be more patriotic than recent generations.
There are many impacts we cannot predict, many questions we cannot answer. But this much is certainly true.
Gen Z looks to us as parents and grandparents, as educators, community leaders and policy makers. We are their bedrock during this uncertain time. It is up to us, to Gen X, Boomers and Millennials to model resilience, create community, and to protect them.
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How will this crisis impact your generation?
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Generational Cycles. Where Do You Fit?
Cycles play out in four predictable stages. Which stage shaped your generation?
Unity A stage of expansion and relative prosperity that follows a Crisis. For example, from the 1940s to the 1960s (after World War II) when the economy grew, the market was strong and jobs were plentiful. The Silent Generation built careers, businesses and families and gave birth to Baby Boomers.
Awakening A period following Unity when the economy remains strong, but culture is challenged. For example, from roughly the early 1960s to 1978, when President Kennedy and Doctor King were assassinated, the Civil Rights Movement, the Peace Movement, Women’s Movement and Gay Rights Movement sparked protests and violence. Boomers witnessed and participated in these growing divisions. Meanwhile Gen X was being born.
Unraveling A series of years when big problems go unsolved. The economy, the government and even families do not function as well as before. For example, from roughly 1978 to 1995. Gen X came of age during these years and witnessed the oil crisis, the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Challenger Explosion and globalization. Meanwhile, Millennials were being born.
Crisis A generational stage when dysfunctional systems, institutions and economies are disrupted and reshaped. For example, from roughly 1995 to 2020. Millennials came of age during this time, witnessing 9/11, Enron, the 2008 financial crisis, school shootings and terrorism. Gen Z was born during this crisis.