As an observer of all things Gen Z, I come across many conflicting labels of this emerging generation: from technical, intelligent and frugal to lazy, anti-social and overweight. Trend and brand agencies release these huge reports on Gen Z, trying to squeeze all Gen Zs into the same consumer box before many can read or write. Gen Z is hard to pin down: many are as young as 4, many don’t come out of their playrooms, and as children, they are figuring out who they are themselves. So let’s keep observing.
Over the holidays, I did some major Gen Z observing and experiencing at popular restaurants full of families, often the best kind of research. What I noticed was an enormous difference between Gen Zs of Gen X parents (Gen X kids) and Gen Zs of Gen Y parents (Gen Y kids). I view Gen X and Gen Y like night and day…and their kids are the same way.
Like most kids, Gen Zs are a reflection of their parents and this is clearly evident in the offspring of Gen X vs. Gen Y. (Before you read on, let me preface that of course I realize some of this behavior is normal for age and some kids may have social or behavioral issues.) At restaurants, Gen X kids sat with their parents politely, not using technology and using polite manners. Gen Y kids sat at a “kids table”, i.e. running around or screaming with the latest iPhone or iPad, and the parents pretend not to know them. But children misbehaving in restaurants has been trending up for a couple years, with much debate over how to handle it – for example Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago asked a child to leave his restaurant.
Many Marketers, including myself, have defined Gen Z as those who are born between 1995 and 2010, making them age 4-19 today. But within that age span, Mini Me Gen Zs need to be segmented based on the age and behavior of their parents: ages 4-10 are largely products of Gen Y and 11-19 are products of Gen X, give or take a few years. Some labels overlap both segments within Gen Z – technical, resourceful, socially challenged – but behaviorally, there are more differences than similarities.
Mini Me’s of Gen X
Gen X parents tend to be frugal, realistic, driven and balanced. Gen X parents are working 2-3 jobs, worried about paying for college, willing to say the word “NO” to their children yet proud of their kids who do every sport and get good grades due to their encouragement. For example, as a Gen X parent of two Gen Zs, I instill boundaries, assign chores and expect respect, just like our parents did. However, they are the center of our universe, driving them to every sport or activity, giving them encouragement and opportunities with a lot of tough love.
As a result, the Gen Z Mini Me’s between 11 and 19 are generally very disciplined and respectful, having had a rigid daily schedule since age 3, and many used to fending for themselves with 2 working parents. This age group was old enough to witness or experience a lot of hardship and that makes a huge difference in how they expect to be treated. Some Gen Zs have experienced this already.
But Gen Y and their kids are very different than Gen X and their offspring. We all know that Gen Y can be “lazy and selfish” so it’s not surprising that they approach parenting the same way they approach their boss: not very responsibly. They sit back and let their kids dominate them more than Gen X or Boomers did. Little Gen Y kids scream endlessly for what they want and the parents turn away, with the Gen Y kid disrupting everyone but their parents who think it’s cute (let me tell you, it’s so not). Being accustomed to “ME ME ME”, Gen Y parents also find parenting more demanding than previous generations.
Gen Y parents seem to be afraid of their kids and do anything they can to avoid them – hire full time nannies, enroll them in endless activities and avoid volunteering at the school. Maybe Gen Y is “overly qualified”, maybe it’s their sense of entitlement or spoiled childhood, or maybe they are waiting for their helicopter Boomer parents to swoop in and help them out again. Whatever it is, it is scary to think what Gen Y kids may become. For these little Gen Z Mini Me’s, it will be a harsh awakening to learn that the world does not revolve around them. Gen Y parents are still trying to figure that out themselves!
Same Generation, Very Different Brand Expectations
So Marketers, segment your Gen Z consumers into two very different segments: The motivated, altruistic Mini Me’s of Gen X and the Selfish, Confident Mini Me’s of Gen Y. For Gen Y kids, target the child because the parents will buy whatever the child wants which should be customized, instant and better than their classmates. For Gen X kids, target the Gen Z strategically yet gently because they will make a thorough and educated decision to see if your brand is credible. THeir time and bandwidth is precious, make it worth their while.
My opinion in this piece is based on observations in my area and my 15 years experience as a parent / marketer. I’m sure there are many exceptions to the above but as a consumer trend seeker, I am observing and reporting on patters and seeking explanations. But some trends are booming, especially misbehaving in restaurants. So remember, if you go to a restaurant and see a kids table, RUN and ask for one across the room!