This morning Irma G spoke to Dr Jaclyn Lotter, Counselling Psychologist and Head of Programmes at SACAP (South Africa College of Applied Psychology)

As parents, we often think that because we once wrote Matric exams ourselves, we are perfectly capable of supporting our child through the biggest trial of their education so far. The trick however, is to be mindful of the vast generational gap that exists between our children and ourselves. Our kids are going to experience the upcoming Matric exams quite differently from the way we did. And if we’re going to be able to help them, we need to understand their generation as well as we possibly can.

The ABCs of Gen Z

Gen Z refers to those children/teenagers born between 1995 and 2009 and as with all other generations, this cohort has distinct strengths and weaknesses.

In broad strokes: the positive traits that Gen Z have on their side include higher IQs than Baby Boomers, greater ambition than Millennials and a well-developed sense of responsibility.

Gen Z are also the first generation to be been entirely digitally immersed and are often referred to as ‘Digital Natives’. They simply can’t imagine a world without smartphones, Google and WiFi (a kid with a device permanently in hand is something every Gen Z parent can relate to). Gen Z’ers prefer almost everything that is digitally presented and are highly adept at discovering and learning on their own.

A different kind of learning

For most parents, learning means sitting diligently at a desk poring over textbooks. However, your Gen Z child will most probably prefer to do a lot of studying for their Matric exams sprawled on the couch and watching videos of their favourite YouTube teachers. Gen Z’ers also have a tendency towards social learning and can readily turn an online chat with friends into a peer-learning classroom. “Parents of the current Matric cohort need a real understanding of how their child learns best,” says Lauren Martin, Counselling Psychologist and Head of Teaching and Learning at SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology).  “You don’t want to make the mistake of shutting down or getting in the way of what is highly effective learning for them because you have misinterpreted what they might be doing on YouTube or on FaceTime. Gen Z learns differently from other generations, and they need different parental awareness and support. If a parent is helping or monitoring their child’s study plan, they need to support space in the timetable for digital and social learning.”

Digital multi-taskers

Another generational anomaly (and potential minefield) is Gen Z’s uncanny ability to digitally multi-task. They can watch TV, quickly post on Instagram while having a WhatsApp conversation with five friends, Google something on their laptop and make long-hand notes simultaneously. It’s the kind of multi-tasking that brings on anxiety and despair for other generations, but Gen Z – with their short attention spans and tech-savviness – take it in their cyber stride.

The upshot is that parents, who for the most part view multitasking as a negative, try to curb their teen’s many-at-once habits. “During the Matric exams, parents typically want to limit distractions to sharpen the focus on studying,” says Martin. “This is a challenge for Gen Z students who have a different perception of what constitutes a ‘distraction’. It’s important for parents to have a clear view of their child’s real competencies and allow them to plan for their Matric study time in the ways that work best for them. You can’t forget that they will most likely prepare best by doing some things very differently to the way you did them.”

The weak spots to watch

Gen Z reports higher levels of anxiety and depression. This is a generation shaped by being born into a perilous world of economic recession, rising terrorism and major global environmental threats. They are predisposed to worry and feeling chronically unsafe. Mental health issues amongst Gen Z are prevalent. “Helping to manage stress might well be the greatest thing a parent can do support their child through this Matric year,” says Jogini Packery, Counselling Psychologist and Head of Student Services at SACAP. “This starts with managing their own stress so that they can model dealing well with strong emotions and a tense life circumstance. Maintaining balance and facilitating effective stress relief will go a long way to soothe high anxiety. Often Gen Z does not get out enough. All of their screen time means less time on the beach or going for a run, cycle or a walk with the dogs. Physical activity stimulates the endorphins that help to keep anxiety and depression in check. If a parent is giving input on a study plan they should check out the downtime and see where they can encourage and share in healthy physical activities that deliver important stress relief.”