Several weeks ago, I found myself up late, watching the Jimmy Fallon Show. On this night, a young girl named Makosinski drew applause when she appeared on the program. The young girl was showing off her invention—a flashlight powered by the heat of a human hand—on a segment with two other young inventors. It wasn’t just her clever adaptation of technology that wowed the crowd, it was her inspiration: the plight of a friend in the Philippines who’d failed a grade at school because she lacked electricity to study at night. Her empathy-driven ingenuity won her the top prize for 15- to 16-year-olds at the Google Science Fair, a place on Time’s “Top 30 under 30” list, as well as massive media coverage. As she exited the stage, Fallon shook his head in awe. “I’m going to work for her one day, I can feel it.”
Fallon’s line may sound like a pithy cliché, but it echoes a growing sentiment as the spotlight is thrust on Generation Z, the unimaginative term for the cohort following Gen Y and iY. These younger kids, born primarily after the turn of the 21st century, are different than their earlier counterparts. I am committed to keeping you informed about this demographic of global citizens as they grow up. They already number about two billion worldwide and about a quarter of the U.S. population. They are young teens who have grown up with terrorism, a sour economy, a fear of global warming, and other resources running out.
What We Must Watch Out For…
Every generation has its upsides and downsides. The concerns we must address with Generation Z (The Homelanders) are things you hear about often:
- Physically Obese – They are growing up overweight and often sedentary due to video games, tablets, television and computers.
- Emotionally Behind – Technology is leaving children with low EQ. One-third of kindergartners enter school developmentally behind.
- Socially Challenged – Games they play breed low patience levels, low tolerance for adversity, and expectations of rewards for small effort.
What We Must Capitalize On…
In the same way, these kids demonstrate they are different than their narcissistic (and often over-confident) older siblings, aunts and uncles. We must capitalize on:
- Empathy – We are finding that the message on empathy for different people is taking root. Makosinski’s invention was driven by empathy for a friend.
- Innovation – Once again, the flashlight powered by human heat is a picture of the out-of-the-box thinking these young children are capable of offering.
- Ambitious – These kids have been described as smarter than Boomers and far more ambitious than Millennials (or Generation Y).
They will be moved by causes like a “green planet” and a “safe world.” So far, it appears they will want to get along with different ethnic groups and are far more tolerant of racial, sexual, and generational diversity. They are more likely to save their money than spend it. (They didn’t learn that from Generation iY). “Overall, young people have more healthy behaviours than they did 20 years ago,” reported study coordinator Dr. Stephanie Zaza, who noted that use of drugs, weapons, and risky sex have declined since the study began in 1991.
Consultant Don Tapscott is a Gen Z optimist. His 2008 book, Grown Up Digital, features a study of 11,000 kids who were asked whether they’d rather be smarter or better looking: 69% chose “smarter.” Social researcher Mark McCrindle of Sydney-based McCrindle Research, is also an optimist. He’s been looking at Gen Z for seven years. “They are the most connected, educated, and sophisticated generation in history,” he says. “They don’t just represent the future, they are creating it.”
So whatever age you work with today, let me suggest you let these younger kids be who they are. Let them be different. In fact, encourage them to be different. Perhaps we will see a generation grow up to solve problems and serve people, just like the young female inventor on the Jimmy Fallon Show.
We could use some more innovators driven by empathy, don’t you think?
Our newest book is out:
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-making happiness a goal instead of a by-product
-not letting students fail or suffer consequences
-praising their beauty and intelligence