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Generation Z: A Look at the Future

What do you make of a person who describes his or her life this way:

  • I spend the equivalent of a full-time job on three to five screens each day.
  • I made my best friends through Tumblr and Instagram.
  • I binge watch YouTube and Netflix.
  • I am not totally sure about my sexual identity.
  • I don’t identify with an ethnic race, but with the human race.
  • I don’t remember a world before social media.

This new breed of people makes up a population called “Generation Z.” They’re the ones following Millennials (aka Generation Y) who have dominated our culture over the last decade. They now make up the youngest and largest percentage of the workforce, and Generation Z trails right behind them. They’re the new kids on the block, the teenagers. They’ve grown up in a post-9/11 culture, filled with wars, terrorism, economic recession, racial unrest, sexual-identity expansion, and lots of uncertainty. They’re extremely post-modern. If Millennials are slackers, these new kids are hackers. They know life is hard, and they plan to make their own way. Here’s a glimpse of the contrast between Gen Y and Gen Z:

Generation Y Generation Z
Alias: Millennials or Digitals Alias: Hackers or Homelanders
Born: 1983 – 2000 Born: 2001- 2018
Grew up in a time of expansion Grew up in a time of recession
Norm for teen connection: texting Norm for teen connection: social media
First tech gadget: iPod First tech gadget: iPhone
Naive and nurtured Savvy and cynical
Facebook/Instagram Snapchat/Whispr
Goal with social media: garner shares Goal with social media: disappear
Music: Lady Gaga / Bruno Mars Music: Taylor Swift / Lorde
Style: Narcissistic, I am awesome Style: Gritty, I will survive
Perspective: Optimism Perspective: Pragmatism
Shaping events: Fall of Iron Curtain; Columbine; era; iPod Shaping events: 9/11 terrorist attacks; economic recession; iPhone

I spoke to Hannah, a fifteen-year-old who’s in her sophomore year of high school. She is a prototype of this new mindset—and gladly embraces her “people.”

She told me, “I gave up my older brother’s optimism a long time ago. I am a realist. I am a pragmatist.” (Pretty elaborate words for a fifteen-year old, don’t you think?) “My brother did a lot of stupid things and posted a bunch of them on Facebook. Now, he can’t get a job. I guess you could say I learned from him. I mean, I don’t drink at parties because… you know… someone might post their pics of me and I’d get in trouble. Maybe lose my chance to get the job I want.”

Such is the savvy spirit of Generation Z. A report by marketing firm Sparks and Honey says, “Their cohort places heavy emphasis on being ‘mature and in control.’”

They’re hackers, figuring out what to do by watching the mistakes of others. They buckle up in the car more often than Millennials did; they don’t drink or smoke as much. And they know life is tough.

Insights to Know How to Lead Them Well

The following are thoughts that could spark conversation with your colleagues about how to lead these kids from Generation Z well:

  1. While Millennials tended to look more like Baby Boomers as teens, Generation Z tends to look more like Generation X. Not ironically, these generations are their parents. We must balance the positive and negative impact of mom and dad.
  1. While Millennials want to “stay forever young,” Generation Z wants to be mature and figure out how to succeed in life. We must capitalize on this interest to grow up and be wise. Share insights on how to save and make money, as well as plan for the future.
  1. While Millennials are optimistic, Generation Z can border on pessimistic at times. Certainly, more of them are pragmatic and realistic. We will need to offer hope and vision to a generation who grew up watching unemployment and global conflict.
  1. While Millennials were into “today” and “me,” Generation Z has learned a little about life from Millennials’ shortsidedness and are thinking about the future. We must leverage this perspective and help them think long-term and big-picture.

What do you think? Have you witnessed any of these trends in Generation Z?


  1. Alice D. Singe on November 9, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    Sorry, don’t mean to criticize, but why does it say “’83-2000”? I mean, if anything it should say 1999-2012 for Gen Z, 1980-1998 for Gen Y.
    17, born 2000, I’m definitely a Gen Z/Y2K kid. I know terrorism, how much the NSA spies on citizens, and how much airport security it takes to keep the budget intact.
    Top Ramen, Boxtops for Education, foodstamps, Anonymous, and Creepypasta are what defines almost everyone I know. I don’t have anything to do with the “me” generation. I was raised by Gen X who came out of that post-Vietnam stew, I hate (with a passion) ads, racism, and gmo’s…. I still remember watching 9/11 when I was one whole year old. And it completely sculpted my view of life. I’m not a fucking millennial, I work hard at shaping the world around me for positive change, and I resent being dragged into that pool of ignorant stereotypes based on what a marketing company thinks. I was raised a bit far from the rest of my peers anyway, not to mention the fact that we’re just, oh, idk…. over 40% the U.S. population. At least give me the dignity of being recognized with my own generation….

    • Tim Elmore on November 13, 2017 at 9:41 am

      Thanks Alice for joining the conversation. To your first question, sociologists constantly debate when each generation starts. After our own research, my team and I have decided that these are the dates each generation starts and ends. As with any article on a generation, it does not describe everybody in a generation. I always encourage leaders to connect with students based on the timeless principle of “chess, not checkers.” We can’t treat everyone we lead the same. In order to help them succeed in life, we have to look at their unique strengths, personality, etc.

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Generation Z: A Look at the Future