Generation Z: Smarter but more materialistic?
My trips to India over the last few years since I shifted to Singapore have been few and far in between. However, every time I am there one thing that never ceases to amaze me, both positively and negatively, is the sharpness of Indian kids whom I meet socially or notice in restaurants, neighbourhood etc.
My generation was titled Generation Y while we were growing up. Today's kids, aptly called the Internet generation (or Generation Z) are shaping up in a way that merits a detailed study by social scientists.
I am not sure about the readers of this blog but I for one was intelligent but at the same time naïve in many ways during my childhood days and so were the kids around me. We exuded what children are supposed to exude - childlike innocence. Even in our tantrums there was more cuteness than 'bratness'. Watching Ramayana with my family on Sundays, cycling in the colony's park under the supervision of my mother, getting our weekly ration of cola (Campa Cola in those days) and being read out bedtime stories from a book that I won as a prize at school were the high points in life.
Well, things seem to have changed now. The kids I interact with or observe during my visits to India don't seem to have anything in common with the kid that I once was. They are quite aware of their surroundings and are definitely more independent in their thinking. At the same time most of them are very headstrong.
Some of my buddies in marketing teams of various blue chip companies called them 'mini-adults' and tell me that their marketing strategies are designed keeping the intelligence levels of these young ones in mind.
On taking a closer look at this phenomenon of 'smart brats', I found its root cause - the parents.
A tiny tot being able to tell the difference between a fake and real mobile phone or a two year old taking pictures on an iPhone and then going to the right folder and check those out are great things. It is good for them to get comfortable with technology so early in life, especially in today's world when a 12-month-old gadget is considered outdated.
But does a five year old really need a Facebook account? I am not so sure. But a lot of parents think otherwise and create one for their little angels.
On my previous trip to India, I saw a mother in Delhi's Khan Market not letting her son buy a Rs 100 novel saying that "It shall be useless after being read once and thus is waste of money". The same mother walked into a Benetton store a few minutes later and purchased a Rs 2000 T-Shirt for the little one. I wonder what message the child gets from this action of hers. Clearly he shall grow up believing that style is preferable to substance.
They are such examples that parents consciously or sub-consciously set that make today's kids' do - what irks me the most about them - talking and flaunting brands. Mind you, there is a very thin line here. For example, knowing the names of all cars is great, that shows good general knowledge.
However looking down upon your classmate because his dad owns a Maruti Swift while you have a chauffeured riven BMW isn't cool. In fact, it is a poor reflection on the child's upbringing.
Sadly the more I see kids in malls, flights, weddings (I admit my sample space is mostly limited to Delhi), the more strongly I feel that a lot of middle class and upper middle class Indian parents are passing on their newly acquired materialistic nature to their off springs.
Calling maids and drivers by their names (we were always taught to address them as 'didis' & 'bhaiyas'), unhealthy attachment to brands, spending all the time on PS3s instead of spending some with grandparents are all manifestations of this behaviour by Generation Z.
Another thing that disturbs me is parents inundating hapless children with hobby classes. The dictionary defines hobby as "An activity or interest pursued outside one's regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure". It seems to me that a lot of Indian parents have twisted this definition a bit.
They burden their wards with these activities for their own pleasure.
One of my friends whose dad is a cricket coach told me that there has been an exponential rise in the number of 6 to 7 year olds being enrolled in cricket coaching since India won the World Cup earlier this year.
The parents of each of those boys wants their son to be 'the next Gautam Gambhir' irrespective of the fact whether the child likes the sport or has any talent for it. The routines of some seven years olds in India look like this:
Weekdays: School in morning and afternoon, homework and tuition classes in evening, singing and dance classes alternatively at nights.
Weekends: Swimming & Tennis/Badminton classes
I know many working adults whose schedules are less hectic than these poor kids! The 'hobby' classes shall be replaced by coaching for professional entrance examinations when these kids turn into teenagers. Am I not glad that I am an adult now? You bet!
So what does all this mean for an average 20 year old in 2025? Going by what I am see, I think he (or she) shall be way smarter, sharper, more well-informed, tech-savvy, competitive and ambitious than what his (or her) parents were at that age but at the same time shall be extremely arrogant, materialistic and self-centred.
They would have lost the innocence and playfulness of their childhood to competition and materialism. I think that's sad because no amount of success in the world can bring back those precious days.
In conclusion, I am not a parent yet (and may not be one in the foreseeable future). I don't know how things shall be a few years down the line. For all you know, my kids may prefer communicating with me on Twitter! What I do know for sure is that our childhood was simpler than that of today's kids but parenting for us shall be way more complicated and challenging than it was for our parents.
More about Tanuj KhoslaTanuj is an MBA by qualification and currently works at a hedge fund in Singapore. Prior to this he was a banker in India. Tanuj has written guest columns for finance journals like CNBC, The Asset, The Hedge Fund Journal, Institutional Investor, Risk.net etc. in the past and was also a regular columnist with The Wall Street Journal. He can be followed on Twitter @Tanuj_Khosla. Alternatively he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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