I stopped to check on my son’s computer because responsible parents know vaguely what their kids are doing online. But also, most of the time when I look at what kids are doing online, I learn something shocking.

For example:

It’s hip to be literalLlamas with Hats is one of the most popular animations on YouTube, (and I confess that I love it almost as much as my kids do). If Gen X was the generation of irony, Gen Z is the literal generation. Llamas with Hats is funny because it’s literal. This is true of other Gen Z humor as well, like How to Basic. And Adventure Time is popular for it’s layered literalness rather than for, say the layered innuendo of children’s animation, which stems from the wave (little as it may be) of Gen X leadership at Disney and Pixar.

Cooking shows are hugely popular with young boys. I have no statistics on this fact, but I do know I’ve seen a lot of culinary videos as I peer over my kid’s shoulder. I also know kids talk about cooking shows at birthday parties more than they talk about Adventure Time, and the latter was featured in Time magazine. And my son—the younger, baking-all-the-time son—announced that our dishes are not good for plating the food he cooks, and we need to buy “flat,white dishes like they have on TV”.

YouTube Channels are the new Facebook page and 3-D graphics are de reigeur. My kids each launched their own YouTube channels, but, like the bloggers of the last ten years, they quickly tired of producing content on a regular basis, and started selling tools to other YouTubers. That’s right. My son taught himself to use AfterEffects and Cinema 4D, and now he’s selling 3-D “YouTube intros” to kids he meets on Skype.

What’s interesting to me is that when I purchased the student version of Cinema 4D, the sales guy said that it’s for college students. I bought it anyway, thinking my son would quickly lose interest, but he loves how in demand he is among kids who will accept nothing less than 3-D animation for their YouTube channels.

Then I started to look around, and I noticed that while kids are unimpressed with cameras (they are everywhere—even on a DS) kids love 3-D animation. And once I realized this, I saw it everywhere. For example, Bright World eBooks is an app for kids to read/play/explore 3-D animated books.

I used to think kids could learn to write with blogs. And I thought they could illustrate their own stories in Photoshop. I thought that how I make a living staying ahead of trends would mean that I would have a sense of what my kids should really be learning. But honestly, everything I’ve learned about 21st century skills I’ve learned from letting my kids find them on their own.