Much attention has been given to Generations X and Y, the current teen and young adult population ranging in ages from 13 to 43, who entered the world with substantially different wants, needs, values, and interests than their Baby Boomer and older predecessors.
But what generation will come next, and how are they likely to be different?
A number of different traits have been ascribed to Generation Z, currently ages 12 and younger. As the Zs approach teen status, we will begin hearing more about them.
But we can begin to draw conclusions about this generation based on what's happening in society — as well as the most popular toys that arrive each holiday season.
Generation Z has grown up in a world with widespread equality of the sexes at work and at home, and where single-parent or same-sex parent families are commonplace, as are two-income families.
Members of Generation Z are already very active consumers, with a high degree of influence over their parents' purchasing decisions. From Baby Gap to salons for kids, to Dora the Explorer canned corn and Disney themed SpaghettiOs to Chuck E. Cheese – Generation Z has been marketed to and raised with a prominant purchasing position from the time they were infants.
While Baby Boomers are being accused of being overly nurturing and attached helicopter parents to their Generation Y children, Generation X is being accused of parenting from a place of guilt and fear.
As children, Xers observed skyrocketing divorce rates among their parents and an influx of women entering the workforce. As a result, they were the first generation of latchkey children — evidently an characteristic we don't want to define us or our children.
Many Xer moms checked out of their careers to raise their children themselves, partaking in organized playdates, early childhood education classes, and enrolling their children in organized sports and activities at a very young age.
Xers are very active in their children's lives and very protective of their children, with some going so far as to not allow their children to play outside.
By the same token, Xers have befriended their children, allowing them to stay up late, sass their parents, and giving them certain indulgences — like pop, manicures, having their own televisions, DVDs, and computers and iPods, and going to the movies and nice restaurants — which were once opportunities reserved for older children and adults.
You only have to watch a single episode of Nanny 911 to realize that Xers are struggling with the parenting role and detest the idea of being disciplinarians. Perhaps we didn't have enough parent involvement as latchkey children or we felt our parents didn't do enough for us.
In any case, whether we realize it or not, today's parents are trying desperately to skip the inconveniences of childhood and raise little adults who are well-educated, well-rounded, talented, and mature for their age. (I know, because I'm an Xer parent myself.)
Yet, when we were children, we could leave the house after breakfast and come home at dinner, and we could play outside and actually get dirty — two concepts that are inconcievable for our own children.
And let's not forget the influence of technology on the next generation. Zs are already highly connected, having had lifelong use of communications and media technologies such as DVDs, iPods, cell phones, and social networking and gaming sites like Club Penguin, Build-A-Bearville, and Webkinz.
Which leads me to the toy list. Undoubtedly, Generation Z will be the most tech-savvy and virtually-minded generation in history, considering that nearly every toy out there has a virtual component to it.
It used to be that stuffed animals, dolls, games, scooters and bikes topped children's wish list. Today's children wish mostly for technology. Just take a look at a few of the top toys for 2008:
Stay tuned for more information about Generation Z, the oldest of whom will hit teen status in 2009. Something tells me those assertive, tech-driven Ys will pale in comparison to the wired, smart, and sassy consumers of the future.
Looking for a game changer at your next event or a strategy unique to your organization?