My Gen Z Kids Don’t Need Anybody Telling Them How To Live

I’ve noticed something about my Gen Z kids and their friends: they’re way more autonomous than I ever was.

In their younger years, for example, I watched them tell an adult “no” when asked for a hug from someone they didn’t want to hug. My daughter once walked into school wearing a blue sweatsuit on a day when all her friends had agreed to wear princess dresses. I’ll never forget her tone when her best friend asked her why she didn’t wear a dress, and she replied, “Because I didn’t want to.” Her friend smiled, shrugged her shoulders, and they ran off to play — full acceptance at its finest.

My youngest never liked participating in sports even though all his friends played. He wanted to go to the games to support his friends; he was very strong and tall for his age, not to mention skilled, but it was never his thing. He was always confident in his decision and never felt peer pressure to play.

I’ve always encouraged my kids to be themselves and think about what’s best for them. But even I didn’t expect them to be quite this sure of themselves.

While I was told from a young age that getting good grades and going to a good college were most important, I’ve always told my kids what’s most important is to be themselves, that following the crowd shouldn’t be their motivator, that who they want to be is up to them. As such, my kids each picked their path by deciding not to go to college after high school.

When I was in high school, if someone “came out,” it practically made the local news. It was all anyone talked about for a week. Boys were taught not to cry or show their emotions, and girls were taught if boys hit them, that meant they liked them. It’s totally different now.

My daughter is bisexual, and it’s not even a big deal to her or in her group of friends. She didn’t feel the need to explain herself when she started seeing a woman last year. I’ve heard her and friends around adults who feel the need to discuss someone’s sexuality, and one of them said, “Why are you talking about this? It’s boring, like not even a topic for discussion.”

I love that about this generation: they aren’t interested in the slightest about other people’s opinions about their sexuality.

It’s so much more than that. Gen Z kids are not afraid to stand up for themselves, question anyone if they don’t agree with them, or be different. You might think they are too confident. But I can say I grew up in a world where I was scared to speak up to anyone and was taught that I needed to fit into a box to fit in. I’ll take naive optimism over that feeling.

The whole thing is ironic, because so many of us Gen-Xers were forced to be independent before their time, if you ask me. Not only was I walking home alone in kindergarten, my mom left us alone in the car countless times when we were so young — picture me as a second grader with my younger sister still in diapers. If my parents couldn’t pick us up from an after school event, they simply told us to find a ride. At the same time, we were taught to never question adults.

Kids today have way more confidence than I ever did at their age. They speak up because they aren’t constantly being told to be quiet. They aren’t afraid to take a different path because we’ve taught them that it’s okay. It’s OK to put themselves first, create boundaries, and do what’s best for them instead of what everyone else thinks they should do. I am here to guide and empower them as a parent, not to make them think it’s okay to be molded into someone our society says they should be.

Sure, we can say that Gen Z is lost, and they don’t have the direction and discipline we had, but I think that’s totally wrong. They’re not following your path, but that doesn’t mean they have lost their way; it’s just different. Maybe we see it as laziness because we have difficulty seeing it anyway.

From where I’m sitting, Gen Z is figuring things out in their way, in their own time. And they’re doing it with confidence. Isn’t that the ultimate goal in life?

Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.

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