5 Issues With Their Parents That Gen Z Brings Up Most In Therapy

Life looks very different today for Gen Z (born after 1996) than it did for their Gen X parents (born in 1965 to 1981). The young adults of Gen Z comprise the first generation of “digital natives” who never knew a time before smartphones. Their higher education and early work experiences were drastically altered by the pandemic. They are more racially and ethnically diverse, and more likely to know a person who uses they/them pronouns.

All of these cultural shifts can lead to some fruitful conversations between Gen Z and their parents, strengthening bonds and growing connections. But differing perspectives can also cause, or heighten, conflict.

We reached out to therapists who work with Gen Z clients and asked them which issues with their parents they bring up the most in therapy. Here’s what they had to say.

Pushback Over Screen Time

One of the biggest issues that Gen Z faces is navigating their relationship with their phones, and this can lead to plenty of conflicts with parents.

Not only is amount of time kids are spending on their phones a big concern for parents, so is the content they’re accessing.

Yet parents’ attempts to limit and monitor their kids’ use of technology can often backfire. “When parents do turn to phone monitoring apps for their children, from what I have seen, it leads to a big wedge in the relationship,” California-based therapist Torri Efron told HuffPost.

In order to keep up with their online social lives and maintain privacy, kids may “lie, use other people’s phones or find other ways to communicate with friends that their parents cannot see, leading to almost a double life,” Efron said.

Kids may “feel they cannot be themselves around their parents, and, alternately, if they are following their parents’ guidelines, they are then feeling disconnected from their friends, out of the loop and left out,” she said.

When it comes to screen time, parents should explain their concerns — and hear out their kids’ worries, too.

“Parents can educate their children about their worries and fears rather than just setting a rule without explanation,” Efron said. In exchange, parents can “listen to what the child is saying, regardless if it is going to change your mind or not.”

At the end of the day, when it comes to questionable content, Efron thinks “it is much safer to let your child watch something you are iffy about, and discuss it together, rather than have the child watch things secretly and not have an adult to process it with.”

Melanie McNally, a psychologist and author of “The Emotionally Intelligent Teen,” told HuffPost that parents need to recognize their own role in modeling smartphone use.

“Gen Z was handed something as addictive as cocaine,” McNally said. “We adults yell at them that they’re spending too much time on their phones and need to find something else to do, without an understanding that we created the situation to begin with and need to have a plan in place to help them change course.”

Inability To Problem-Solve Without A Parent’s Help

One positive result of technology is that Gen Z communicates much more throughout the day with their parents than did previous generations. This provides opportunities for parents to know what’s going on in their kids’ lives and strengthen their relationships.

“I have clients who are texting back and forth constantly with their parents, getting help with everything from friend problems to talking to teachers,” McNally said. “I’ve even had clients share their Google doc with their parent while they’re writing an essay in class where the parent was able to edit and give feedback in real time!”

But the ability to call upon a parent’s assistance at any moment can lead to overreliance on their help and fewer opportunities to figure out tricky situations on their own.

“Gen Zers aren’t learning how to deal with mistakes (because their parents typically jump in before they even have a chance to make one) or problem-solve independently,” McNally said.

With smartphones, parents are able to check in with their kids whenever the urge strikes and to track their whereabouts. These abilities can reassure parents worried about their child’s safety, but, again, can be a roadblock to kids’ independence.

McNally thinks that the isolation of the pandemic may have exacerbated this issue: “They aren’t spending as much time away from their parents or doing things that are developmentally appropriate for their age, like driving, working or being silly with their friends.”

Differing Perspectives On Higher Education

In past generations, parents have lamented their kids’ indifference about grades and their future, but Efron said that she actually sees the opposite happening with Gen Z and their parents.

“I mostly see the child feeling immense pressure to succeed and achieve to get into college, while the parents are the ones actually encouraging their children to slow down and not let the pressure get to them,” she said.

Though this is generally a positive development, “at times it can make the child feel their parents do not understand the pressures of current society and how much harder it is now to get into higher education, afford it and join the workforce one day. When the child doesn’t feel like their parents understand their level of stress and pressure, it can lead to feelings of alienation and frustration from both the child and the parents.”

Language Around Food And Body Image

“An issue I deal with for many Gen Z clients is their relationship to food and body image, which can greatly differ from their parents’ perspectives,” Efron said.

On the one hand, parents may not understand body positivity or have grappled with their own fatphobia. “I have a handful of teens telling me their parents encourage restrictive diets, which we know is not healthy for a teen,” Efron said.

At the same time, she said, “I also see kids who want to diet and look like fake images they are exposed to.”

Parents and teens may be in very different places when it comes to body image, which can lead to misunderstanding and conflict. Talking openly and without judgment about these topics is one way parents and kids can understand each other’s perspectives.

It may also be helpful for a parent to share something from their own experience. If a parent explains that they are no longer following an account because they noticed looking at it made them feel bad about their body image, for example, a child may see doing so as an option for themselves, too.

A Lack Of Understanding About Their Gender And Sexual Identities

Gen X parents are more accepting of various sexual and gender identities than were their parents, but some Gen Z kids still feel as if their parents won’t understand or accept them for who they are. “Oftentimes some younger clients will report hearing their parents still engage in homophobic jokes, leading them to feel upset at who their parents are and unsafe to be themselves,” Efron said.

These kinds of experiences can lead to “children feeling not safe to open up to their parents about gender identity and sexuality,” she added.

Telling your children that you accept queer and trans people for who they are isn’t a one-time event that you can check off and then forget about. Kids need to see you modeling acceptance by continually asking for (and using) people’s chosen pronouns and not making assumptions about their identities.

Though the challenges facing Gen Z are unique, issues with their parents often boil down to age-old “difficulties in communication, boundary setting and honesty, often rooted in fear, whether it be fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of harm or even fear of change,” Efron said.