If you have a tween or teen, I know without a doubt that there are days when you say to yourself, “What are they thinking?!”
One day I woke up, and I had an alien living in my house. When my oldest became a tween, it felt like things changed overnight. I had no idea what I was doing. And on top of that, my daughter wasn’t talking as much. She began fighting to be independent and became moody and wasn’t wanting to go to school. I didn’t understand what was going on or how to talk to her.
Today I have a very special guest joining us. Zach Gottlieb is an amazing 17-year-old who is the founder of Talk With Zach.
Zach has created this Gen Z movement and community to provide a safe space where teens don’t feel alone in what they’re going through. He openly talks about relationships, coping with emotions, and inspires mental well-being and to make the world a better place. His motto: “We can’t change what we don’t talk about.”
I can’t wait for you to hear what Zach has to share about what kids today want their parents and other adults to know about how their generation is doing—and the best ways to support them. And perhaps most crucially, we’ll delve into the mental health crisis among teens and what Gen Z wants older generations to truly understand.
As parents, we often assume we know what’s important to our kids, but what might we be missing? It’s time to listen, learn, and bridge the gap.
Let’s jump right in!
What You Will Learn:
- What’s the worst thing you can do to your teen when they confide in you?
- What are some of the things teens want to talk about?
- Why Zach says parents should stop sharing viral college acceptance videos.
- What do most teens today want their parents and other adults to know about how their generation is doing—and the best ways to support them?
- What does Gen-Z want older generations to know about the mental health crisis among teens right now?
- As parents, we think we know what is important to our kids, but what might we be missing?
Where to find Talk With Zach:
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And here is the episode typed out!
Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you were failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone, and you have come to the right place.
Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.
I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our families and impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and becoming more of the mom and the woman that you want to be, welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.
SHERYL: Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. Thanks for coming to the show. I’m looking forward to talking to you.
ZACH: Yeah, thanks for having me.
SHERYL: I would love for us to start by sharing a little about ourselves. And then, what led you to start “Talk with Zach?”
ZACH: So I’m Zach. I’m a high school junior. I’m 17 in Los Angeles. And what led me to start “Talk with Zach” almost two years ago, which is crazy to think I’ve been doing it for this long. But if you guys can remember what was happening, this was as we emerged from COVID in the summer of 2021.
And the Surgeon General declared a teen mental health crisis. And the media was telling us to talk about our experiences and emotional well-being. But I noticed that this was hard to do. My friends couldn’t talk about it. Other people I know couldn’t talk about it. And I know it wasn’t something I was willing to open up about at all.
I noticed that we were dealing with all of these things like the anxiety, the relationships, all of that before COVID. And COVID just eliminated all of these things. And I just wanted to create a space to increase emotional fitness for my generation because we don’t know how to deal with many of our experiences. And I want to also create a space where people don’t feel alone and what they’re going through.
SHERYL: That is so awesome. Gosh, the whole night alone factor. So you decided to do this? Was this something like that? Have you ever done anything like this before?
ZACH: No, this is, like, definitely putting myself out there. And I was a little worried about being so public, because I’m like, not only what are my friends gonna think, but also strangers all over, what are they going to think? How are they going to react? But I’ve got a very positive response. So I’m extremely grateful for that.
SHERYL: You certainly have. You’ve been all over the news because I researched quite a bit before. I did this on your platforms on Instagram and TikTok, just on Instagram. Highlights on Instagram. Okay, because I read somewhere. Do you have anything on TikTok?
ZACH: No, I don’t. It’s just on Instagram.
SHERYL: I want moms to know because the platform is an amazing place for kids to talk. So what happened next? Once you started this, I think your friends were like, Dude, what are you doing?
ZACH: A little bit like there was a little bit of teasing. But what’s cool is that they’ve come around to see the value in this. I don’t think they fully understood what I was doing. And they’re kind of like I was doing something like mental health. And that’s not the coolest thing. That’s the most masculine thing in the world. So there’s a little bit of that, but they’ve come around. They’re starting to see the value and what I’m doing.
SHERYL: Yeah, yeah. Well, you had a vision, and I love your tagline. And I want to read it. “We are teenagers who think we should talk more. There is a lot we need to talk about. And we can’t change what we don’t talk about.” You have kids that give you questions. And how exactly does it work? Tell our audience.
ZACH: On my website, there’s an Ask Zack page. And teens can anonymously submit questions about things that they are worried about. I don’t necessarily answer them directly. It’s more like if I got ten questions about talking to your parents about something.
Then I’ll have a conversation about that. Or if I have questions about managing school stress, I won’t discuss this situation. But I’ll weave that into a larger conversation to make it more relatable to a wider audience.
SHERYL: Okay, when you started the talk with that, what happened?
ZACH: I posted a video. I think it was about like regular worry versus serious anxiety. And I just went from there. I’ve changed, so my platform has changed so much. Originally, it was just like an Instagram account.
And now, it’s like a community and platform where I’m partnering with organizations, companies, and brands. And I’m traveling to speak like I just returned from this Team Power Summit from Colorado Springs. They’re about increasing student autonomy and education. Then a couple of weeks ago, I was in Charlotte speaking at Faith 4, which is this event talking all about, like, they bring in speakers every year like they had Brene Brown a couple of years ago.
And then, it talked about what everyone should know about Gen Z wellness. So it’s changed a lot over time. But originally, it was just that, like a little Instagram account posting videos. Please don’t scroll that far. I looked weird back then. I cringe every time I see myself. It’s funny, like, I’m scared people will find that. But, it’s like buried down there. So you probably won’t see it.
But now, I make many live conversations with experts, celebrities, and other teams. I just had one earlier today. On my one, we recorded this with one of my advisory board members on “Talk With Zack” about the school wellness curriculum. He was my wellness teacher. I went to the school he’s at for middle school. So I’ve known him for a while. So it was really fun to do that with him.
And yeah, I have conversations about all sorts of things on my platform now. And it’s expanded to be a space where teams can get a refreshing break from all the toxic aspects of social media.
SHERYL: I watched that interview at the beginning, which was so cool. And he talked about mental health. And you could tell you had such a connection with him. It was a great interview. Wow, you must feel like you’ve grown so much in these two years. I mean, now you’re traveling around speaking. What is that? What have you been learning from this whole experience?
ZACH: I’ve been learning a lot of things. I’d say the main thing is that teens everywhere, like, wherever you are in the world, are dealing with pretty much the same things. Like there’s a lot about, like, the various pressures we face, the college pressure, the pressure of what success looks like, because we do, I look at it through a very narrow lens.
And I feel like that’s something that, like everywhere around the world, is a common theme, like navigating relationships is tough. So I’d say that as well. That’s something everyone experiences, sorry, experiences, or struggles with a little bit. Something else is that when people are initially reluctant to share, that’s bad for you. Like when you buy up your emotions, that’s not helpful. It doesn’t serve you.
And it’s so rewarding and healthy when people start sharing, even if they’re worried about it. And that’s the feedback that I get a lot.
SHERYL: I love that a big part of your platform was discussing your feelings. And getting it out there and opening up and talking a little bit about, you talk about the importance of being vulnerable. Why do you think that’s important for kids today?
Because we look at it from – my listeners are mostly moms and tweens and teens, and we look at it. There was such a critical lens of social media hurting our kids. And they’re looking and comparing themselves to kids. And so, what are your thoughts on that?
ZACH: I’d say, well, first of all, vulnerability. I look at it as a strength, not a weakness. It’s hard to put yourself out there. It’s hard to get up against the culture. But when you do, it’s really rewarding. So I’d say it’s not easy. And suppose you’re bottling up your emotions and not being vulnerable.
In that case, that’s a sign of weakness because it shows that you have to confirm that you feel like you have to be in this mode that society won’t judge you for, so I’d say if you want to be strong, be vulnerable, as the social media.
Yes, social media is very negative, but you must see both. I like using social media to talk to people, to talk to my friends, to talk to like whoever to keep in touch with people. So I think there’s, like, yes, the comparison is very toxic.
That was a subject of the Atlantic piece I wrote about the college acceptance videos where we see people getting into these very selective schools, and they present this very skewed reality. But I’d say we have to be mindful of this duality, like yes, it is bad. And we compare ourselves all the time.
But we can’t just say it’s totally bad and not address what it is. If you want to talk about social media with your kid, talk about, like, don’t just tell them to cut it out completely. Talks to them about how to set boundaries on, like, maybe, instead of scrolling through stories that make you wonder, why am I not doing anything fun tonight?
Maybe you just use it to, like, chat with some friends. Or not spend hours on their set like a timer. A lot of these apps have them now, like TikTok. As a time limit now, Instagram, you could set up these time limits for yourself. And I think setting boundaries instead of completely cutting something out is healthy.
SHERYL: Yeah, that’s how you connect with your friends and browse through all your social media.
ZACH: For when I meet someone that doesn’t live in Los Angeles, or that maybe does live in LA, but I don’t necessarily see all the time. Like, I’m not texting them. So social media is the only way. Maybe they’ll post a story. And I’ll say something, or maybe they’ll respond to my story. Or maybe, like, we’ll just keep in touch that way.
So it’s like, I think there’s something nice about keeping it, but you just have to be careful because I get sucked in on TikTok for, like, on those like scrolling. Like, mindless scrolling for like hours. And like on Instagram, like, yeah, like sometimes someone will post something. And I’ll be like, Why am I not doing something fun right now when I have things I need to do instead?
And even if I didn’t, like, people aren’t doing those things at all times. It’s like people aren’t showing themselves at home doing anything. And I think it’s one thing to know that and another to take it in.
SHERYL: Yeah, I know. I can get addicted to my phone, too. Yeah. As parents, we can, too. We might want to focus on you guys. But we can get sucked in.
ZACH: Yeah, exactly.
SHERYL: So what do you think that your generation wants parents to know that maybe we’re missing? Are we missing something? What would you say you’re hearing? What are you hearing from your peers?
ZACH: I’d say the number one thing: we want you guys in our lives and your advice and input. But we feel like we can’t always talk to you. So I’d say my advice would be to create a safe space for your team to come to you.
Like if you’re nagging them all the time, if you’re like, Come to me, but if you told me you got shit faced last week, like there are going to be consequences like you’re gonna be grounded or something like that. So ensure they can come to you; maybe you just listen to them. Maybe you offer some advice but have an adult conversation about it.
SHERYL: Yeah, I love that we talk a lot about moms or tweens and teens listening, like listening 80% of the time, talking 20 because we tend to talk, talk, talk. So you raise a good point. So your kid comes home drunk? What do you think I’m gonna put you on the spot here? Because we often do. And then you feel like, alright, well, I’m not going to, I’m not going to talk to you, because I’m going to get punished. And so, why open up and get in trouble? I’m not going to talk to you. So what do you think is helpful for parents to do instead?
ZACH: Well, say, like, happens once, like, this is the first time I think, like, have a conversation about it. Why did they do it to have fun? Or was it to deal with something else? Maybe there was a bad breakup. Maybe they’re dealing with something else. And they wanted to, like, flush away their problems with alcohol. I think I understand why they did it.
And the real consequences because, like, obviously, if you get drunk, like, there are going to be more consequences, then maybe you get grounded or like, it is bad for you, you could get hurt, and you could be in a situation you don’t want to happen. You can be taken advantage of. You can get alcohol poisoning. There are so many bad things.
So just like telling your teen, here’s why it’s bad. Here’s why you shouldn’t do this. If they did it to have fun, maybe say, like, Okay, well, there are other ways too, like, have fun, maybe without alcohol. Talk to them about limiting yourself, maybe have a little bit, maybe like, they don’t have a high tolerance, to be mindful of that too.
And I think just having that conversation is important because now they feel like they can talk to you. And if you just, like, if they know they’re gonna be punished, they’re gonna try to hide it like they will find ways to try and hide it, and that’s not healthy.
If they continue to do it, then that’s someone for whom you get another intervention. But, I’d say like for things like this, like try, like have these conversations with them, try to remedy the situation rather than like punish.
SHERYL: Yeah, I love like what you’re describing as being more curious. I’m just like calming down hard and shutting down the conversation, telling them you shouldn’t do it.
ZACH: There’s a reason they’re doing whatever it is. People don’t just like getting drunk to get drunk. Maybe it’s to have fun. Maybe it’s to do with something, but understanding why that is, can help them intrinsically not want to do it, not because they’re scared of punishment.
SHERYL: Yeah, that is so good. What else comes up? I mean, I know that you’ve talked about how, as parents, we focus so much on anxiety. That’s a huge thing. Right now, kids are more anxious or experiencing more anxiety.
But we forget the other stuff. Like other things are going on in your lives, what are some of those other things? Do you think we’re too concerned about anxiety and focusing too much on that? What are your thoughts?
ZACH: So I don’t know the whole parent experience and their feelings. So I imagine you’re a lot more familiar with the extent to which they’re concerned with anxiety, but I’d say it’s a big factor we’re anxious about. Still, you must also pay attention to the triggers and why it’s happening because it’s not necessarily that.
I think a lot of people are calling our generation soft. And I think that is wrong. It is just we have a lot more stressors than previous generations. So I’d say again, just like look at what’s causing the stress, like the college pressure, the scary world we live in with the school shootings happening so often now. With people not knowing how to deal with relationships with social media pressure, all of that look at that on and work on, like, how do we, how do we make these stressors more manageable?
SHERYL: Yeah, that was good. We forget, I think as, as you said, you don’t know what parents think but I think it’s easy for us to forget about what it must be like to be living in this generation.
And all this stuff that’s coming at you, all the pressures you play, you wrote an article about not posting your kid’s college acceptance online. Say more about that.
ZACH: Yeah, so this was mostly about teenagers posting it. But I do mention that parents play a big role. They drive up to the college fosters completely and are like, my kid doesn’t get in. It’s like the worst thing ever. And it’s like, well, now your kid’s gonna think that.
And when the parents drive the college process, it’s almost like they’re living vicariously through their kid, but our kid is spending four years in college, not the parent. And that’s something you have to understand. It’s their life. It’s their experience. Now more than ever, there are more ways to succeed. People don’t even go to college.
I’m not saying you should do that to your kid, like don’t go to college. But I’m just saying, like, parents need to understand that the college factors should be driven through their kids, not through them. And when they’re more excited and worried about college than their kids, that stress is imparted onto their child, and then the child feels like there are even more stakes when it should be about their experience.
Because ultimately, like, it’s what you make of it, like you can make a lot of schools a great experience. But when your parents put this idea in your head like the culture you need to go to these top schools is toxic.
SHERYL: Yeah, it puts a lot of pressure on your talk about parents and how kids want to just be accepted for who they are. You have talked about how kids said they want a relationship with us. I think parents forget that because it sometimes feels like the teenagers are pushing them away and making them want to be more independent.
They do need to be more independent. And at the same time, how much does that relationship mean to you and your peers? And the need to feel accepted for who they are. And can you speak more about just what that looks like? What do you hear from your peers about being accepted?
ZACH: We look for external validation. And, like, that affects us as for these like parent relationships, and where we get acceptance from, I feel like it comes from various sources, but parents are a big one. The thing is, again, like I said, like, you need your kid to initiate it just that simple. Like, they’re gonna come to you. They’ll talk to you as long as you ensure they know it’s a safe and comfortable space.
SHERYL: Yeah. What else do you think we need to know about your generation? You said, You just did a talk like in South Carolina? And what were some of the highlights of that talk?
ZACH: Oh, yeah. So, I was in Charlotte, North Carolina. We were just talking a lot about how we need parents to validate our experiences, like a lot of the times they just, they’re like, Well, I don’t know if it’s that bad. And it’s like, yes. Yes. Like, please listen to us.
SHERYL: Yeah. Listen to us. Gosh, the importance of validation. So what gives an example? So we’ve come on, we’re like, this is how, with our kids, sometimes you’ll say something. And then you might think we might think, Oh, they’re worried about this or anxious, we want to fix it.
We want to make it worse, so we get in there. And we’re like, oh, it’s not that bad. It’s okay. And so that’s dismissive. So what would feel better to hear from your parent?
ZACH: It would feel a lot better. If you’re like, I hear you, instead of being like, well, back when I was growing up. Like it was fine, it’s like, well, the world is such a different place. Again, it’s not an accurate comparison. And when you do that, our experiences aren’t valid. Yeah, makes us feel like we’re not heard.
And we’re not like, like, we can’t express ourselves. And I feel like you. You can’t, like, the worst thing you can do for your teen is make them feel like what they’re going through isn’t important because then they feel like they don’t want to talk about how they feel. They don’t want to share, which goes back to vulnerability. Then they don’t want to be vulnerable because they think they’re weak or soft.
SHERYL: Do you think when we when dismissing it, it almost feels like – I don’t know, when I think back to being a teenager and hearing something like that, it was then I almost felt like, Oh, something must be wrong with me that I’m even feeling this way.
ZACH: Yeah, exactly. And then we feel a lot. I’m trying to combat it.
SHERYL: Yeah. That is so good. That is the importance of just validating rather than I tried to fix it because there is so much you can’t fix. It’s just like what you’re doing. You’re making it better by creating a space for teens to talk.
ZACH: Yeah, exactly. It’s just that simple. Just let us talk. You don’t want to solve her problems. You could help. You could offer guidance, but we just want to talk.
SHERYL: Do you like my 80/20 rule?
ZACH: I do. I mean, obviously, like, I don’t think you have to religiously stick to that. But I think if you just keep in mind, you should do a lot of listening to them out and offer some guidance, but ultimately, just be there to listen, like we don’t get a lot of places to vent. We just don’t.
SHERYL: Yeah, yeah. So good. I’m excited for my listeners to hear about it so they can recommend it to their kids to tune in and listen to you. And how should they do that? What should they say? Because sometimes it’s like, oh, tell me a lesson. What would you say?
ZACH: Just listen to them. I’m just like, create that safe space again. Like it’s so, it’s so important to do that.
SHERYL: And check out Talk with Zach on Instagram.
ZACH: Yeah, do that. You can find me on Instagram. Talk with Zack. My website is talktozack.org. So yeah, go check me out.
SHERYL: Yeah, you can Google. You can see I’m talking about All different kinds of things. You’ve been on CNN and The Today Show. You’re a busy guy.
ZACH: Yeah. I’ve been very busy lately, but I enjoy doing this work. I think it’s very important that we have these conversations, and I’m glad to be doing it.
SHERYL: Yeah. I have one more question. What’s the idea? What do you want to do? Like, do you feel like you want to stay? Has this, like, opened up doors and expanded your vision of, like, what you want to do going forward?
ZACH: Do you mean, like, as a career? First, I want to say that I think emotional maturity is important. It’s going to be. It will greatly influence whatever I do in life, personally and professionally. I value that in my relationships and everything and who I am.
As for what I want to do, I love the entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, and innovative aspects of talking with Zack. So that’s something I’m looking to pursue. I’m also very creative, like. I love photography, and I love writing and communication. So we’ll see where I go with things. I just love my creative side, and I just want to see where that will take me.
But in terms of the subject of being emotionally fluid, that’s very personal to me. I will continue to be and work on that in my life. But, yeah, well, we’ll see. We’ll see where it takes me. I plan on continuing to talk with Zach, though, for a while, I have plans that go beyond college. So look out for that.
SHERYL: Yeah, well, you’re doing amazing things. Thank you for being so courageous and taking that step to put yourself out there and just creating this for whoever’s listening. Check it out, too. Because listening to it, you learn a lot about what kids are feeling and media to talk about on different subjects. And yeah, it’s just been so great to have you on the show. Zack, so you have ambassadors that can support your work.
ZACH: Yeah, on my website. Check that out. You could apply to become an ambassador. And it works like whatever works for you. Like, it’s on your schedule. I don’t have any set commitments or set times anymore. It’s just like you want to apply. Check it out, and we’ll figure something out. That works for you.
SHERYL: Awesome. Well, thank you, Zack. Thanks so much for everything you’re doing. I appreciate you coming to the show.
ZACH: Yeah, thanks for having me.