When I decided to be a camp counselor before the summer of 2015, I didn’t know what to expect. I only had limited supervision experience before, so I didn’t truly know what I would be dealing with with the newest generation of kids. Here are a few things I learned about Generation Z during two summers as a camp counselor.
1. Things are still divided.
The strong and the weak, the cool and the weird, the pretty and the ugly. Yup, ages 6-12 is still the time where everyone is ruthless towards their peers. The cool, big kids form their friend groups and exclude those that don’t quite fit in. The weird kids get excluded and form alliances with other outlawed kids in order to try and defend against the bullies. The only difference from when I was the young, weird kid is that a lot more kids are known to have a type of mental disorder, both the bully and bullied. Guess we just never talked about that in the early 2000s.
2. Phones have taken over.
I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was 13 and it wasn’t even a flip or slide phone, just a rinky-dink TracFone Wireless. Over half my kids had phones already. Though often limited to what they can access on it, they still had iPhones and Galaxys which, to me, is completely unnecessary. Start them off on prepaid phones; it’ll test their responsibility with it while also already limiting their accessibility.
3. Dodgeball is still the best.
Kids love dodgeball, and I think they forever will. There’s just no other game that allows you to mercilessly through balls at your peers. The only difference is that the balls are soft foam balls now. I guess our generation grew up and remembered how hard it hurt to be hit in the face with a real dodgeball.
4. Four Square has risen.
Four Square, when I was a kid, seemed to just be up and coming. While sources say it’s origins lie in the 1950-60s, Four Square wasn’t a staple on the blacktop just yet. However, we couldn’t go a day without setting up a game at camp both summers. Kids love Four Square, and they’ve made up many wacky rules to go along with it in the form of mini games like Black Magic, Pac-Man, Broken Glass, Bus Stop, etc.
5. Gimp is a thing.
I never knew about this beforehand, and I still don’t quite understand how to do it or the point, but gimp is apparently very popular, especially with the girls. You take string or cloth and twist and tie it together to form all kinds of cool shapes and designs. I can’t do it, but many of my campers were quite talented.
6. We are a lot more aware of peanut allergies.
I only remember a few kids in my class who were allergic to peanuts. Now, at lunchtime, we would ask our surroundings if anyone was allergic to peanuts before taking out to eat anything peanut, and there would almost always be one kid who was allergic. At least those situations seem to be a bit more controlled now.
7. "He/She Started it" is still the go-to argument.
Someone picked on them, so they retaliated by doing or saying something mean back to them. A counselor caught them in the act of it, and when they confront them about it, they always say, “That kid started it,” or “They did it first!” I remember when I did this, but now I know that doing the action back puts you just as much in the wrong. Sorry, kids, but your argument is invalid.
8. Five Nights at Freddy’s is the new Cops and Robbers.
I was without words when I saw a group of kids playing a playground version of the popular online horror game “Five Nights at Freddy’s.” Some kids would be the animatronics and others would be the watchmen. Hell, one day, they implemented Slenderman into the game somehow. A kid’s imagination and creative capabilities are without limits.
9. Kids already know about sex.
Okay, not the six year olds and not all of them, but the “cool” kids tend to already know of this very adult activity, and this age range typically is from 8-12. How? Why? And most of the boys who know of it already make jokes about “banging” a girl on their school bus or “getting head” after school. Or, at least, I hope it’s a joke…
10. Kids know all the hidden innuendos in songs.
Okay, I didn’t know what Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” was about when it first came out when I was 15. I was completely ignorant to the true meaning of the song until the next year. Eight year old’s know exactly what “Cake by the Ocean” is about.
11. Kids are demons.
This has always been a thing, but I’m viewing it from the opposite side of the spectrum now. I decided to play an unknown game with a group of young girls once. The game consisted of them holding me down with my arms behind a pole on the playground and trying to force feed me woodchips while others dumped some down my shirt. Another time, kids tricked me under the playground so another kid could dump ice water with wet wood chips down on top of me. Most of their devious plans require woodchips for some reason.
12. Kids are exposed to social media.
This goes along with the phones thing. Several kids have shown me their Snapchat or Instagram pages where they are active every day. Some have been hacked by clicking on those clickbait links, so they aren’t being smart on social media either. Either it’s a good thing so they learn the do’s and don’ts early on, or a terrible idea and someone should block access to all of their accounts.
13. Kids aren’t as negatively influenced by violent video games as parents think.
A lot of my campers have been exposed to shooters like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Borderlands, Destiny, etc. and they are all mature about it. They all knew that it was just a video game and not an actual representation of what should be done in real life. If anything, they were amazed by the fantasy of it all. A few campers would regularly talk to me about theories of the story behind Call of Duty Zombies. Violent video games haven’t made these kids more violent, but instead, broadened their imagination.
14. Kids still go outside.
I think there’s a view out there that kids of this generation don’t go outside anymore. Maybe that has lessened due to the amount of indoor activities now, but they still do go outside. I’m not only talking about camp, but some kids would ride their bikes to camp together. I’ll see some of my campers walking downtown or going to the mall by themselves (the 12 year olds). I’d like to stress that, that kids do still go outside to have fun. They’re not all wrapped around technology and the Internet as many adults may think. They are quite capable of doing things in moderation.