FAMILY & PARENTING

I Forced My Millennial-Self To Try 5 Gen Z Fads To Figure Out What It’s LikeTo Be A Kid Today

by Angela Andaloro

Generational gaps are a strange thing. At 28 years old, it doesn’t seem like I should feel so out of touch with what kids today are into.

In some ways, I don’t. I own and adore my Nintendo Switch. I can school just about any kid alive when it comes to Pokémon. I’m active on all different kinds of social media.

Yet I find myself generally perplexed by some of the things my 6-year-old little brother and almost 8-year-old stepson are into. It isn’t just them, either. Whenever I’m watching my nieces and nephews or my friends’ kids play, I find myself thinking, “What’s fun about this?”

It speaks to the larger childhood experience.

I grew up a child of the ’90s, heavily dependent on TV and my imagination. Video games were simpler and more straightforward. Toys seemed to have more replay value than they do today. I was an only child growing up but never dealt with feelings of loneliness in the way today’s kids do if they go unplugged for too long.

The things I was interested in never seemed too far beyond my mom’s reach as a young mother, either. While she didn’t want to hear my ‘N SYNC and Britney Spears albums, she understood their appeal. She probably could have done without me watching Spice World as many times a day as my schedule permitted. Still, I never had to explain or decode my interests for her to get it.

The kids of Gen Z and Gen Alpha seem to do things differently in a way that it’s hard to put a finger on. They’re definitely more tech-savvy. A lot of their interests seem related to socializing through video games and the internet. It’s kind of hard to grasp for me when those things weren’t available to me on the same level until I was considerably older. It makes me wonder what, if any, difference it’ll play in what they take away from their childhoods.

With that in mind, I went in search of a deeper understanding. I tried some things that kids today are obsessed with to see what it would tell me about their childhood experiences.

Minecraft

Minecraft has been everywhere for the last few years, so I thought this would be a good place to start. I’ve watched my boyfriend and stepson play, and it’s made me dizzy. Those camera angles and little blocks are a little much for my headache-prone self.

I’ve pondered what the ’90s equivalent to this is. The Sims? Myst? There was only one way to find out, so I gave it a go. I created my own world, overwhelmed with the options and just leaving them as they were. From there, I just walked around trying to figure out what the buttons did.

obsessed with minecraft
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

Button mashing did not help me figure things out. I apparently cut down some grass before seeing a chicken. Then I finally had a goal, to make the chicken my friend. This was not easy.

After about 20 minutes, I realized I didn’t even know how to interact with the chicken. I was told I had to punch the ground, collect seeds, and then feed it seeds. Another hour or so later, I confirmed that I didn’t know how to do any of those things.

obsessed with minecraft
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

It took a little longer for me to finally figure it out. Once I did, I realized this game did remind me of The Sims in a lot of ways. This sandbox world where you could make anything and make anything happen had its own appeal. Still, I couldn’t get over the camera angles. I needed to lie down for a bit after playing because it gave me a serious headache.

Unboxing Videos

This is where you watch kids open packages of new toys. This is one I really didn’t understand. I racked my brain to remember if there was any equivalent when I was growing up. The best I could come up with was Nickelodeon’s Toy Run, a game show where the object was to run through a toy store and grab as much as you could before time ran out. I guess seeing other kids get toys could be exciting?

I checked out Ryan’s World to see what all the fuss was about. This little boy has turned his toy review channel into a verifiable empire of its own, with some help from mom and dad. His videos have astronomical viewership, with billions of views on some of the videos.

obsessed with unboxing videos
Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

After watching a few of Ryan’s videos, I can’t say I understand the trend any better. They just felt like commercials staged for the YouTube crowd. It felt a little eerie.

Perplexed, I went to my kid panel to try to get an explanation. The 8-year-old said he didn’t get it, either. “It’s not like it makes you want the toys,” he said. “It’s just something to watch.”

My 6-year-old little brother felt differently. “Ryan tells you what toys are cool,” he noted.

There’s a new generation of kid-fluencers who are rewriting the rules on cool for Gen Z and Gen Alpha. I don’t quite get it, but the huge dollar amounts in that industry indicate that many of them do.

Fortnite

I was pretty thankful that the kids in my life all managed to not get sucked in by the Fortnite craze. The same couldn’t be said for the adults. I’ve watched people play the game countless times but never tried it out myself. No time like the present.

Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

Downloading this game took forever, which admittedly dampened my enthusiasm for playing. When I asked around about what to expect, I was told it’s like a survival shooting game combined with a race. That was a pretty legit explanation.

The one thing I couldn’t figure out was how the Fortnite dances got to be so popular. A lot of people film themselves doing dance moves that game characters apparently do. No dances came up in my game play at all, though I do recall seeing a menu screen with some dances while I was trying to acquaint myself.

I can see the appeal of this. It’s a shooting game that doesn’t feel violent because there’s no gore. It’s free, so it’s an easy sell to parents. Not for me, but I can see how kids could do this for hours, for sure.

VSCO

I thought I might be able to understand this one a bit better. After all, VSCO was an early Instagram filter app. I’d been mastering moody filters since before some of these kids were born. I bounced through aesthetics with the best of them, finding my home with the emo kids after quick stops in goth and skater looks.

My generation kicked off the painful online documentation of adolescence. I spilled my heart out on Xanga to the six people who cared. I learned to code from LiveJournal and Myspace.

VSCO is now more than just an extension of a social media app, though. It has become a lifestyle complete with scrunchies, water bottles, and a noise that I thought people only made to summon cats. The water bottles and shell bracelets apparently come as a statement on the environment. VSCO girls are deeply committed to saving sea creatures.

Angela Andaloro/LittleThings

I tried to put together my best VSCO girl look. This included an oversized sweatshirt that could not be a hoodie for reasons I’m not clear on. I found a scrunchie that my boyfriend brought home for me from a promotional event at his job. I vaguely remember asking him if the event took place in 1984, but I digress.

I couldn’t figure out how to get the scrunchie and the water bottle in a selfie with both being visible in my hand. Thus, the water bottle wears the scrunchie, and I lose cool points I wasn’t in the running for to begin with. The before and after of the selfie shows the power of VSCO.

All jokes aside, it’s great that teenage girls are getting interested in saving the environment and advocating for causes they care about. Let them do it in their own cringey way. We all had our time, so I suppose I understand this trend.

TikTok

While I’m totally tuned into social media, I never got into anything that involves video. Pretty much the only time you’ll see me post a video anywhere is at a concert. I never hopped on the Vine train, so when I heard TikTok was Vine 2.0, I politely kept it moving.

TikTok has blown up, and it’s impossible to ignore. My personal favorite is all the TikTok dances that have come up, although I too am confused where they come from and how people learn them so quickly. My own last attempt at learning choreography was 2002’s Darrin’s Dance Grooves, so you won’t see any of that here.

Messing with all the different things you can do on TikTok was surprisingly fun. You can filter photos into different kinds of slideshows, like what I did here documenting my many hair colors. There are a lot more fun options with video, although I wasn’t ready to delve into it all with my own original content.

This reminds me of the early days of Instagram and Snapchat, where filters reigned supreme. Video content is awesome because of the many effects and transitions you can add, making an unremarkable video into a visual experience. I understand why TikTok seems here to stay.

Gen Z and Gen Alpha are growing up in very interesting times. A lot of what the future has in store for them is unprecedented, so it only makes sense their childhoods look different from those before them. Surely, baby boomers felt the same when Gen X and millennials grew up with new technologies coming out constantly.

As a millennial, I’m not much older than them, but there are definitely some things that matter to them that I don’t entirely understand. That’s OK — they aren’t for me. My childhood came and went, and it was awesome. Hopefully, these trends are bringing as much joy to the kids of Gen Z and Gen Alpha as the trends of yesteryear brought each of us.