“How are the kids?”
I get asked some version of that question pretty much every day and I find it surprisingly difficult to answer. In part that is because I have 5 children and on any given day a couple of them are probably doing very well and at least one of them is likely to be struggling. All of my children fall within the demographic typically referred to as Gen Z (born 1995-2012). My wife and I are both Gen Xers (born 1965-1979) which means we often feel like we are speaking a completely different language and living in a very different world than our children.
Parenting is hard!
It is probably harder now than at any point previous in living memory. You won’t find many people presenting themselves as experts on parenting Gen Z. Everyone is trying to figure this out. We’re still very early on in the process and about the only thing we know for sure is that we all need help. To be absolutely clear: I’m not writing this because my wife and I have somehow figured out the magic formula.
Far from it.
This is more collaboration and catharsis than instruction manual. Every time we get together with couples our own age the same questions and concerns are being raised. We’re all working without a map here and we need to get better at sharing what we’ve learned. Toward that end, here are a few encouragements based on our experience so far of parenting Gen Z.
Trust the things you know are true
Things are changing so fast right now that it is tempting to think that everything we’ve ever been told about parenting is suddenly irrelevant.
But that’s not true.
It is still true that children need to be loved, protected, taught, encouraged, played with, prayed with and corrected.
None of that has changed, none of that ever will change.
There will never be a day when it will be unhelpful to say bedtime prayers with your child.
There will never be a day when it will be a bad idea to eat dinner together as a family.
There will never be a day when reading the Bible together will fail to produce results.
Parenting is more complicated right now, but the same basic principles still apply. What this means is that you can still learn a great deal from talking to older and more experienced parents. Your parents, who are probably Boomers or Silents, may not have had to deal with the internet or Smart Phones, but they knew how to set limits, how to encourage responsibility and how to handle disappointments and those things still matter, so talk to them. If they aren’t believers, then talk to older parents in your church.
And read the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom is about knowing how the world is ordered so that you can work with those principles of design as opposed to working against them.
All of that was helpful 50 years ago and all of that is helpful today and all of that will still be helpful 50 years from now, should the Lord tarry.
Focus on foundations
When everything out there is falling apart, it’s the centre that really matters. When the dam breaks and the waters rise you need to have a firm foundation. Our children need to be taught truths they can build their lives upon.
As you do that, you will want to begin at the beginning. Our children need to know that: “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). They need to know that “male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). They need to know about the fall (Genesis 3) and they need to know about the promise (Genesis 3:15). It is often said that the seeds of the Gospel are in the Garden, so that’s probably where you should start. You need to build a foundation that can withstand the chaos and confusion that are coming.
And of course, you need to lead them to the person and work of Christ!
He is the new Adam!
He is the Seed of the Woman!
He is the Child of Promise!
He is the Rock!
He is the Cornerstone!
He is solid ground!
Teach your children the storyline of the Bible so that they can recognize and put their trust in the Christ of Scripture. If your children take hold of Christ then they will receive in Christ all the grace and mercy they need to face the challenges that lie ahead. No matter how complicated parenting gets there will never be anything more important for a parent to focus on and pray towards than that.
Another one of those things we learn in the Book of Genesis is that: “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Human beings were created for community, and that’s a problem for Gen Z because they tend to spend less time in face to face contact with other human beings than any generation in modern history. Since 2012, the first year that more than 50% of teens had a smart phone, young people have been doing the majority of their interacting online. Given what we know about human nature, the results have been entirely predictable. Jean Twenge, in her book Generations, reports that:
“Every indicator of mental health and psychological well-being has become more negative among teens and young adults since 2012.”
Young people need community. They need friends. They need mentors. They need aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandpas, nieces and nephews. They need face time. Actual face time. They need the church.
Wise parents right now are going to do everything in their power to encourage their children to connect with a local church community. Many Gen X parents will need to re-evaluate their own approach to church as they have modelled inadequate commitment levels over the last two decades. Going to church one weekend a month wasn’t enough for you and it certainly will not be enough for your children. You need to be there every week. You need to be there multiple times a week. Church needs to become a second home for your kids, given all the negative community they are immersed in on a daily basis.
Our children are not the independent thinkers they like to believe they are. They absorb the thoughts, convictions, norms, attitudes and emotions of their environment. As the Bible says:
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV)
Who they’re with is who they will become so do everything in your power to encourage Christian community.
Play the long game
Many observers have noted that children seem to be growing up slower now than ever before. Jean Twenge, cited above, speaks about the “slow life strategy” that is characteristic of our age. Kids are getting their licenses later than we did, they are taking longer to finish school, they are waiting longer to date, they are more cautious about traditional adolescent rites of passage such as drinking and having sex – and some of that is good! Fewer kids drinking and driving means fewer kids dying in car wrecks. Fewer kids having unmarried sex means fewer babies being aborted. But at the same time, they are also waiting longer to move out of the house, they are having a hard time choosing a career, they are dragging their feet when it comes to assuming adult responsibilities and they are waiting much longer in order to get married – the average age for marriage now is 28 for women and 31 for men. The bottom line is that everything is taking longer for Gen Z and therefore, our expected timeline for parenting will need to be adjusted as well.
We need to stretch it out and we need to slow it down.
Previous generations had the advantage of common ground and common cause. Parents, church, school and club were all working together and pulling in the same direction, and so of course children grew up faster! In addition, there was less confusion and fewer options. When I was a teenager there were only two genders talked about in school, church and locker room – now we are running out of letters to describe all the different ways that children and teens are choosing to identify. Kids take longer to move forward because there are more off ramps and more detours than ever before.
I still believe it is true, in a proverbial sense, that if we raise up our children in the way they should go, when they are old, they will not depart from it, but I think it is likely to be a much longer and more painful journey than it was in generations past.
Gen Xers love to tell stories about our free-range upbringing as children. We road our bikes all around town, we built forts in the woods, we shot birds with pellet guns, caught fish with our mothers’ panty hose and we somehow made it home for dinner by the time the streetlights came on.
We were living the vida loca and we never even knew it.
However, as a consequence of all that freedom, Gen X parents are perhaps not as watchful as they should be. It is interesting, but not surprising to note how many Millennial parents (born 1980-1994) are going strictly no tech (or at least aggressively low tech) with their children. Unlike Gen Xers, who were the last generation to enjoy an analogue upbringing, Millennials are digital natives. They were the early adopters, and now as parents, they are far more wary and watchful when it comes to technology. They know what is out there in the dark, so they are standing guard, and they are setting limits and we older parents need to learn from that.
In her recent book The Genesis Of Gender, Abigail Favale shared that, “In all the transition stories I’ve heard, the internet played a key role.”
We cannot allow our children to explore the internet the way we explored the woods next door. The devils in these shadows are real and the lies they are telling lead to death and destruction. As hard as it will be – and believe me it will be hard – we need to set limits and establish boundaries on the internet use of our children. Taking the internet from a teenager is like taking drugs from a crack addict so prepare yourself for some nastiness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Dumb phones are coming back. Parental controls are getting more sophisticated. We can do it! For the safety and sanity of our little ones, we need to do it!
Don’t chase, compromise or coddle
Should our children wander from the path of faith and wisdom, we need to be strong enough to wait for them back up on the road that leads to life. If you want to help your child find their way out of the dark then stand your grand, raise your voice and shine your light. We all probably need to expect that a certain percentage of our children are going to be lured away into the shadows.
Do not go with them.
If they tell you that they feel like a boy trapped in a girl’s body what they need from you in that moment is not affirmation. What they need is compassion and truth. They don’t need body altering hormones or sterility inducing surgeries. What they need is wisdom, stability and faith.
In more than 70% of cases feelings of gender dysphoria in children naturally resolve themselves provided that parents do not participate in soft transitioning practices, such as using new pronouns and names.
The Book of Proverbs says that:
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12 ESV)
One doesn’t have to wander too far from the path of life to realize that a wrong turn has been made. We are really only a decade or two into this new sexual and ethical revolution and the chickens are only just now coming home to roost.
Wait it out.
Don’t chase, compromise or coddle.
Hold your ground.
Shine your light.
Leave the door open.
And of course, pray like crazy.
Two things in my life have changed the way I pray: having a sick wife and having a straying child. Prayer is no longer a spiritual discipline for me, it has become a personal necessity.
There are things in my life I cannot control. There are outcomes I cannot secure. Understanding that drives me into the presence of God in an attitude of humility, faith and desperation. When I see all the forces of evil marshalled against me, I need to spend time with the one who is eternally for me. When I consider the schemes that have been deployed against my loved ones, I need to see again the one who sits in the heavens and laughs. I need to be reminded that:
“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” (Proverbs 30:5 ESV)
The Bible says that God answers the prayers of his children (Matthew 7:7-11); the Bible says that sometimes we have not because we ask not (James 4:2); the Bibles that the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man, or woman, availeth much (James 5:16). Therefore, in the righteousness of God which is mine through faith in Christ I will pray!! I will pray fervently and I will pray frequently. My aim is to “fill up the bowls” with my prayers so as to invite a work of Divine Providence in the lives of my little ones.
Day by day.
Drip by drip.
One prayer at a time.
I believe that work will be effective, by God’s grace.
The seeds were sown in faith. The soil was tended in love. The watching now will be done in hope and one day – one glorious, wonderful day – in his perfect timing, a harvest will be gathered with tears of joy.
I believe that and I encourage you to believe that, even as we work together towards that in Jesus’ name.
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Paul Carter
Editors’s note: see Paul Carter’s excellent review summary of Jean Twenge’s book “Generations” by clicking here.
If you are interested in more Bible teaching from Pastor Paul you can access the entire library of Into The Word episodes through the Audio tab on the Into the Word website. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or Google Play.
 Jean Twenge, Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents – and What They Mean for America’s Future, (New York: Atria Books, 2023), 392.
 Abigail Favala, The Genesis Of Gender (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2022), 177.