Floundering in the generation gap

Born between 1995 and 2015 Generation Z is the first to have 24/7 unfettered access to portable digital devices. The rise of technology and social media during their short lives has been mind boggling, writes Jane McCarroll.

When I had a sex talk in the spa with my Gen Z’s the other night I was the one asking questions. As a Gen X person I felt overwhelmed. I simply had no idea what they have to deal with on a daily basis, never mind the long haul.

Born between 1995 and 2015 Generation Z is the first to have 24/7 unfettered access to portable digital devices. The rise of technology and social media during their short lives has been mind boggling. And now they are entering the workforce. 

They live their lives online across multiple social spaces which no “generation” has experienced before. It is like their generation has been shaped by a smart phone and my role as a Gen X is to help my kids navigate these uncharted online waters. But how? I’m floundering.

We’ve had some eye-watering dinner table conversations. 

I have heard from a reliable source that one in four teenage girls in New Zealand has been asked to text a nude photo of herself. And I won’t even mention the terrible pressures they are under to comply. As far as I can make out it means they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Sexting + the teenage brain = chaos. No wonder we are seeing the rates of anxiety going through the roof.  

I never imagined I’d be sitting around the dinner table talking about nude selfies. But I am. My kids know about them, and my role (I gather) isn’t to say just don’t do it (which I hope they don’t) but helping them build a tool kit to support them and it’s starting from the conversations we are having at home.

I want to be talking about why teenagers are asking for nudes and sending them in the first place. This conversation (gulp) is ongoing. 

I have removed access to their phones in their bedrooms. Phone use is now out in the lounge or where we are. I have also put time restrictions on access on social media sites which we are monitoring.

My son’s handmade birthday card told me I had a warm heart (most of the time). At the time of writing he was experiencing one of his digital detox periods, hence the qualification. But I’ll take it.

We are also talking about the potential long-term consequences of the content they share. 

What will it be like when they are interviewed for a job? What will potential employers see when they do their research? With their capacity to create content faster than it can be consumed there could be of a lot of sharings they might regret.  

UNICEF produced a video to show the reality of growing up online. All the questions came from what was available from the children’s own public profiles in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and Whatsapp. 

The interviews were upbeat to begin with, but without fail each child became increasingly uncomfortable and asked the interview to stop. The message was clear. Think before you post and protect your privacy on social networks.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAKTF486eMY)

They see a picture come and go and think that’s that. But it’s not. And it’s important to think about that (which is hard for a teenage brain). But we’re working on it. 

And in the interests of full disclosure our digital reduction journey hasn’t always gone down a treat with our screenagers. 

But I do think my kids recognise the discussions we’re having are important, and while some of their questions cause my brain to nearly melt on the spot, I’m committed to having them and I hope they keep asking me.  

 

Jane McCarroll is the strategic partnership and sponsorship lead at The Skills Group, which the Institute of Management New Zealand is part of. IMNZ: Helping leaders stand up and lead since 1946. 

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