The Slacker Boys of Generation Z

The 20-something writers who cover education on the national stage might have more time and energy than this old girl, but I have a few tools in my arsenal as well. My greatest advantage is that I don’t see the school beat as a stepping stone onto other topics. I like schools and have studied them for years, so I’m not putting tons of energy into learning about health care or the military. Schools get all my brain power.

Another advantage that I have is that I’m a parent. There’s nothing like experiencing a situation first hand to give one a good spidey sense about whether a topic is going to be hot or whether a new report is totally off base.

I’m not just a parent. I’m an active parent, who participates in school functions and parent organizations, and regular attends school board meetings. I’m also hopelessly social, so I regularly talk to other parents about their kids. All these experience provide article and blog fodder.

Over the past holidays, I bounced around various cocktail parties and learned some good stuff. One parent of a college-aged boy told me that she was disappointed with her son’s efforts in school. She said that he has been talking more and more about looking at alternatives to college. He and his friends have discussed the fact that they aren’t interested in following in their parents’ footsteps of BAs from prestigious colleges and good paying jobs that put them into suburbs like this one. They want a more laid-back life style.

She mentioned a kid — a son of a friend of a friend type of thing — who was a surfer in California living out of his car. His parents would have paid the rent for an apartment, but the kid (anybody under 25 is still a kid to me) preferred to live a simple life out of his car. He didn’t see the point in paying someone rent for a place that he didn’t need.

She wondered if kids today were rejecting our modern suburban lifestyles. Was this a return to the Gen X slacker days? Was it happening because there’s just so much stress and anxiety in their culture today? Were they going to move to more laid-back areas of the country, because the cost of living is so high around here.

Her question didn’t seem way off, since lots of other people are clearly avoiding are area. New York State is losing population is such numbers, that they might lose Congressional house seats.

Or maybe it’s a boy thing. I was chatting with people on Twitter this morning about an article that said that boys are alienated from schools today. Now that I finished my marching band article (coming soon), I’m going to do a series of article about the college dropout problem. One facet of that discussion is that boys are dropping out at greater rates than girls.

There’s been some small buzz about Gen Z and college, but I think we’re going to start seeing more stats on this soon. I talked to a girl last year, who told me how annoyed she was by her college education, so maybe it’s not just a girl thing. I’m going to ask more questions about all this soon.

If all this is true, I’m not upset. A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing. If the status quo sucks, then I hope that young people say “fuck it” and cause disruption.

31 thoughts on “The Slacker Boys of Generation Z

  1. I guess it’s a matter of perspective. In my SEC, we call living out of your car “homelessness”, and people sleeping in cars in places other than highway rest stops or truck stops are told by the cops to move on. (sometimes more—like a full vehicle search with dogs). The assumption isn’t “slacker” but “drug dealer” or for women, “prostitute”.

    Boys drop out because they can. Seriously, it’s really hard for girls to break into non-traditional paths because therr are fewer men willing to mentor them/bring then into the circle, and there’s always (always) the assumption of trading sex for job opportunities. Women need credentials because without them we just can’t catch a break.

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    1. This is true, girls learn from a young age that they had better follow the rules. Harry Potter vs Hermione. Realistically a young women living out of her car would be vulnerable in a way a young white man might not. That’s not even getting into the harassment and vulnerability of people of color.
      I certainly ignored the career center as a liberal arts undergraduate like the girl in this story. I regretted that. I do not know how competitive our paid internships are at my big national bank but I do know we get some non business majors. Most have taken an economics or finance class, or if they are on the tech side, have some tech background even if they haven’t taken classes.

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      1. Marianne said, “I certainly ignored the career center as a liberal arts undergraduate like the girl in this story.”

        I have spent most of my adult life on or around college campuses (without being an academic myself), and I’ve been realizing that when I was a college student, I barely scratched the surface of the services that had to have been available on campus that I was unaware of.

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    2. lubiddu said,

      “Boys drop out because they can. Seriously, it’s really hard for girls to break into non-traditional paths because therr are fewer men willing to mentor them/bring then into the circle, and there’s always (always) the assumption of trading sex for job opportunities. Women need credentials because without them we just can’t catch a break.”

      That’s 100% fair.

      Also, girls and young women have much more of a sense of being on a “clock,” with regard to being able to have a family. Also, since it’s much easier to do education/career stuff before having kids, there’s more pressure to take care of education/career stuff immediately. The female career/family path can look like Luke Skywalker’s Death Star bombing run: everything has to be done at exactly the right time, or it won’t work.

      Of course, if there wind up being more go-getter girls than go-getter boys, that’s pretty hard luck for the go-getter girls.

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      1. Maybe it’s not hard luck for the go getter girls. If you want children it can be good to have a partner who’s willing to be more involved on the home front if you are involved in a more demanding career.
        My best friend from college was an ambitious career person who married another ambitious go getter. She ended up a SAHM and this was not something she wanted. What if ambitious women looked for partners who wanted to be more involved at home?

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      2. Marianne said, “My best friend from college was an ambitious career person who married another ambitious go getter. She ended up a SAHM and this was not something she wanted. What if ambitious women looked for partners who wanted to be more involved at home?”

        The problem is that (while there probably are slackers who are domestic), it’s quite as likely to be an undomestic slacker–because being energetically domestic is work just as much as work is.

        You could do one of those 4-quadrant thingies with this: non-ambitious/non-domestic, non-ambitious/domestic, ambitious/non-domestic and ambitious/domestic.

        Case in point: our y81 is probably in the ambitious/domestic quadrant. My husband probably is, too, at least with regard to kid stuff.

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      3. …and cooking, too.

        My husband has been preparing to make a green tea/white chocolate cake for his birthday this weekend.

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  2. So, 40 years ago it seemed parents were worrying about their children going off to “find themselves.” Remember that? And many cultures have an equivalent time in the lifespan for young adults to explore the world. The Amish have the Rumspringa. Australian youth seem to backpack and work across the world. The Mormons have a missionary period. When I was young, it seemed there were lots of college graduates working as happy ski bums.

    Why do we assume that we can chart our children’s life course from cradle to grave in 4 year increments?

    I have a number of relatives who moved out West, likely to escape the high pressure of life back East. One was something like a wilderness guide. Maybe a fishing counselor? But after a while, he decided he wanted more, and he’s now a tax attorney, back on the east coast. And I just ran into a mother whose most unusual son is now in medical school, after a period working as a tech support person.

    Which is to say, it’s not over till it’s over. Although for boys, I think “settling down” has a lot to do with maturity. Just from observation, I think developing a serious, long term girlfriend encourages ambition.

    And we’ve put a lot of energy into discouraging romance and marriage in our young adults.

    I enjoy listening to the Dave Ramsey show, because serious 22 year olds call in. They’re often married, with a child, and it’s not a catastrophe. They’re planning to buy a house and finance their children’s education, and fund their retirement fund. In other words, they’re adults, not children.

    Thinking seriously about the relative trade-offs of paying for education (time, money and education) is not the sign of a slacker. And not allowing your parents to control your life is a good thing. (By the way, some of the most hair raising calls into Dave Ramsey have come from high-earning professionals. You do not want to fail out of medical school. There are many elementary school teachers who are in better financial state than podiatrists.)

    Sometimes I think children should give their parents a puppy when they leave the nest, to keep their parents occupied. I know it’s really hard to give up the control.

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    1. I agree that the living in your car, or being a ski bum ends when young men get a serious girlfriend and start thinking about a family.

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    2. The puppy was my kiddos plan — unfortunately I don’t like animals that I have to take care of. The kids were tough, but they gave a lot back and are pretty self sufficient.

      I am really willing to let my kids be, but have difficulty listening to complaints without voicing my opinions!

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  3. This describes both of my high-school aged Gen Z boys 100%. Both of them are reasonably smart – they can pretty much ace in class tests and quizzes without much effort. But their grades are mediocre at best, mainly due to the fact that they can’t be motivated to turn work in that they don’t feel like doing. It drives me bonkers – they get shit grades because they don’t do the stuff that’s supposed to help your grades.

    Oldest is definitely looking at a gap year – which is fine with us although we’ve made clear that doesn’t mean we shell out for him to do a fancy service project. He’ll need to figure out how to support himself. I am completely behind that – I don’t want to spend a ton of money for him to flunk or drop out of college. I figure a year or two of work will provide motivation for him to go back to school and take it seriously – if that’s what he wants.

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    1. re: not turning in the easy, “gimme” assignments. That was totally Jonah in high school. He got into good schools because of recommendations and SAT scores. His trouble now is the lack of executive function skills. He can’t juggle responsibilities. The hard classes get all his attention; the dumb mistakes happen in the easy classes. We’re working on it.

      We seriously considered a gap year for Jonah for those reasons, but we were worried about the crowd from his high school that weren’t going to college. We didn’t want him hanging out with them.

      Check out the Outward Bound programs for a gap year. They’re excellent.

      I talked with one parent who said that her son wasn’t going to his 10:00 class, because he wanted to be on time for his 11:00 class.

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      1. Your stories about Jonah are both heartening and disheartening to me. Heartening because it’s good to know that other parents deal with the same issues (social media seems to be full of stories of amazing kids saving the world when right now I just want my kids to survive in the world) and live to tell about it. Disheartening because this is exactly what I am afraid of in college – our guys have 0 executive management skills too. Maybe that should be your plan B – teaching Gen Z boys executive management skills. I’d pay a shit ton of money to someone who has figured out how to do that. On the downside, you’d have to figure out how to do that. LOL. Will look into Outward Bound – thanks.

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    2. sloonanj wrote, “It drives me bonkers – they get shit grades because they don’t do the stuff that’s supposed to help your grades.”

      Oh my goodness, yes!

      I’ve had this conversation with one of my kids, about how classroom participation is supposed to bring your grade UP, not down.

      The kid brought the grade up, but we had a couple of scary 50s early in the term.

      “Oldest is definitely looking at a gap year – which is fine with us although we’ve made clear that doesn’t mean we shell out for him to do a fancy service project.”

      Yeah. Gap year is not supposed to cost the parents as much as college!

      Laura wrote, “His trouble now is the lack of executive function skills.”

      You know, that’s what the vaping may be doing for him. It may be self-medicating attention problems.

      https://www.verywellmind.com/adhd-and-smoking-20773

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  4. Plenty of girls, back in the day, “tuned in, turned on, and dropped out,” including my wife, who flunked out of college (too many boys, not enough studying) headed out to California, and lived in a commune while working for the Whole Earth Catalog. Later–much later–she settled down and ended up at Skadden Arps. It all works out.

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  5. Love the “it all works out” stories, and I say it to a lot of parents.

    But, I have a seriously anti -slacker girl (I spend a fair amount of parenting advising her to slack). And my boy is not a slacker, either, and maybe a bit wiser about knowing what to best invest his energy in. His school borrows the strenuous life phrase, “ I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success . . . .” (We we’re sadly disappointed to read the rest of the piece, which is colonialist American exceptionalism.). And he wholeheartedly concurs that he wants the Strenuous Life.

    Parents worry that the paths that worked out in the past are being cut off. Are they right? I don’t know? But I do worry about the concern that resources, was opportunity, access, focus, compliance, and excellence of many means that the path is narrowing for anyone who does not have everything going for them. Not sure, but my concern is that people used to be able to make up for straying (with extra resources ore excellence, for example). Can they still?

    Mind you I want it to all work out and want to work towards that world because otherwise we are breaking a lot of children.

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  6. I’m clinging to the “it all works out” here as we try to help our broken 26-year-old. He did finish college (well) even. But what to do after that with the depression and anxiety?

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    1. kris said, “I’m clinging to the “it all works out” here as we try to help our broken 26-year-old. He did finish college (well) even. But what to do after that with the depression and anxiety?”

      I’m sorry!

      One of my online contacts was in a holding pattern with mental illness deep into her 20s, but has stabilized and found a career path. I know another case in real life where a young woman had very dangerous, self-destructive behaviors throughout her 20s and into her 30s, but has found her way.

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      1. We’re hoping. He’s invested in recovery (most weeks), but he’s now into his second year of a 16 week, twice a week CBT program. There’s some progress, but so often one step forward, one step back. NAMI helps me.

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    2. Kris — Depression and anxiety are such HUGE issues today. I can’t write about the particular cases that I know well, because of privacy reasons, but I can say that I hardly know any young people who are NOT suffering from those issues.

      I think our society/culture is seriously fucked up.

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  7. It must be hard to transition from the school setting to an adult setting. Young adults–particularly those who have been successful at school–get rewarded for being compliant. The biggest rewards go to the all-around good students who load up on adult-pleasing extracurriculars. They are also taught to write solipsistic essays about how wonderful they are. They get rewarded for winning competitions with other compliant children.

    And then they have to transition to a world with entirely different rules.

    Someone who’s working toward a goal he’s chosen for himself will work harder than someone who’s trying to please his mother. And really, it’s better if we don’t believe that our children’s careers reflect our parenting.

    It is entirely logical to question whether the debt-laden BA is the proper path for every student.

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  8. Sometimes, I’m not sure that “slacker” is the right term. Many of these boys slack when it comes to homework, but are fully committed to something else, or are capable of being. I’m thinking of my numerous brothers-in-law and cousins-in-law who could not wait to get out of high school (and didn’t do well in HS) but who have had successful careers as tradesmen, police officers, and even entrepreneurs. Some were already working at their trades while in HS, and I’m not sure their teachers were even aware of it.

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    1. Yes, the word “slacker” seems wrong when it reflects an unwillingness to play by rules they don’t understand, don’t buy into, and don’t lead them to their goals. You mention those who would find fulfillment in less academic paths, but there are plenty who would find academic/intellectual/other pursuits too, and we need those on ramps and alternative paths (including, say, someone who finds working as a carpenter, or surfing while living in their car for a couple of years the right choice but might then be a fabulous doctor). Or kids whose executive functioning develops on a slower scale, or who struggle with mental illness, or addiction, or lack resources for college, or have to take care of family, . . . . “Messing up” for two years shouldn’t derail anyone.

      I don’t find it as easy to say it’ll all work out. I see the lengths around me of folks refining their children into a more and more high proof substance (and starting with kids who aren’t struggling) and I worry about the place for other children, who don’t have resources, who struggle.

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