When life gets a subject line

Generation Z moves one’s own growing up more strongly than the topic of generation conflict, which is more difficult to manage today than in the past.

Today, Generation Z often lives in a sheltered gaming paradise until the mid-20s: they experience a full supply and over-supplied life more than previous generations. Parents are usually tolerant and caring. They not only give their children a say in leisure activities or holiday planning. Most young people are therefore unaware of the lack of experience and authoritarian restrictions in the analogue world. And in the digital world with its games and social networks, they can playfully let off steam 24/7 of their creativity.

There is often a close connection to the parents. The young people usually do not question the parental values. Rather, they cultivate the ideal of a healthy family that understands itself and holds together constantly, precisely because they always see the danger of their own family breaking apart in a fragile world.

“Family is the most important thing.”

Although the young people like their parents, they also experience them as joyless and compulsive. They see them as a “grey suit instance” that regulates everything, fulfils, procures, but lives and works without fun. The life of the parents is, so to speak, determined by a subject line, by a constant purposefulness: it always has to be about something specific, something that is determined beforehand, then prepared for a long time and thus has to be pursued consistently. They always concentrate on a certain goal, value what they have and want to hold on to it. Even the mails of the parents always have a subject and thus a defined cause and a topic. To simply post an indefinite hello to the circle of friends and wait and see what develops from it seems to be strange or suspect to the parents.

“They always have to have a theme to write about, too. We often just say hello.”

Growing up therefore means for Generation Z a radical change from a sheltered game paradise to the dark purpose of life. Especially since your own demands on this life are extremely high: in any case, you want to be successful and earn a lot of money; preferably as a startup millionaire or as an influencer with countless followers. But the way there is unclear to many young people and little practiced. The fear of failure on the way is correspondingly great. In the in-depth interviews with young people, in addition to the success stories, the horror pictures of impoverishment, loneliness and drug abuse repeatedly emerge. Thus, moving out of one’s parental home is often experienced less as liberation than as an inevitable expulsion from paradise.

In this dilemma, Gen Z develops various strategies:

Strategy 1: I'm an adult after all.

The 17-22 year olds are demonstratively different from their younger siblings in particular. In comparison with them, the 12-16 year olds appear to be underage and dependent on the smartphone. By criticizing the younger ones for constantly hanging around on the net without any deceit, they are claiming for themselves the already adult position of reason and instruction. Sometimes they are even more parental than their parents when they ask them to discipline their younger siblings more.

“The younger ones always used to hang on their cell phones and never go out at all. Parents should limit that.”

Strategy 2: Big wide world instead of world of the big ones

Before the ultimate step into adulthood, many young people want to take a longer trip around the world. This moratorium is presented as a kind of maturity test, because it is important to be as far away from home as possible and to confront the ‘harsh reality’ in e.g. Africa, Australia or New Zealand. It is often ignored that the parents have an important back-up position. They should co-organise and co-finance the trip, always be available via Skype and, in an emergency, start a return action.

“For the older generation it’s completely new that someone sits in front of the camera and just talks, the younger generation doesn’t have this view anymore, that’s completely normal for us.”

Strategy 3: Chill as inpatient daydream trips

Chilling is particularly popular with young people. It relieves them of all duties for a while. The carefree phases of blissful idleness also convey a feeling of cuddly upliftment and security. And in these cosy spheres the young people can dream with pleasure what they will become great when they get up and grow up.

“The older generation can’t chill.”

Strategy 4: Eyes closed and through

But the fears of adulthood can also be met with a sinister determination. They really tunnele in, focus on their goal and develop an undreamt-of straightforwardness. In order not to be deterred from the road to success, they look neither to the left nor to the right. Asceticism and control are intended to ensure that one can keep up with school, studies, internships or training. The actual life is postponed until later.

Strategy 5: Influencers as development workers

Influencers often assume the function of a big brother or sister. Through their role model, they show how one can make progress in life. Above all, their imperfection, their shared failures and failures make them not only honest and authentic, but also exculpatory and encouraging for Generation Z. This is because they convey the confidence that, despite partial failure, something can succeed in the long term.


Die rheingold Expertin

Ismene Poulakos

Ismene Poulakos leitet den Bereich Kommunikation und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit beim rheingold Institut, Köln. Sie ist die Ansprechpartnerin für unsere Medienpartner.
Tel.: +49 221 912777-44
Fax: +49 221 912777-55
E-Mail: poulakos@rheingold-online.de