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Seven Shifts as Generation Y Becomes Generation Z

Get ready. Over the next few years, we’ll be hearing more and more about the “next” generation of kids emerging into young adulthood. They’re the kids following Generation Y, often called Generation Z. According to studies that classify Generation Z as students born since 2001, they are a smaller population who grew up with different realities than the Millennials. As we work with students, we’ve discovered these young teens are showing signs of a “morph”, shifting away from old realities and into new ones. Here’s what we’ve found*:

  1. Confidence is morphing into caution.

A kid who grew up between 1990 and 2000 had a very different experience than a kid who grew up between 2005 and 2015. In the 1990s, America’s economy was expanding, the dot.com era was birthed, clean-cut boy bands hit the pop charts, and soccer mom’s became a voting demographic. In contrast, the last ten years have seen economic recession, terrorism, racial unrest, rising debt, and gender confusion, among other issues. The average student today has a different perception of reality than students before them, one that is potentially more cautious in nature.

  1. Idealism is morphing into pragmatism.

Ten years ago, Generation Y reported that it was very common for them to get anything they wanted—the new iPhone, Abercrombie and Fitch jeans, a tablet, tattoos or piercings. Today, money is a bit tighter and there’s been a 400% increase in multi-generational households. (Which means people often have to share space and resources.) Slowly, millions of adolescents have shifted into a world that is not about them. Many are forced to think practically and to think ahead. Optimism can become cynicism.

teens talking

  1. Attaining an education is morphing into hacking one.

As Generation Y graduated from high school, it was the norm to apply to multiple universities in hot pursuit of a liberal arts education. Parents told them, “If you’re going to be successful, you have to go to college.” Today, more and more grads don’t assume this to be true. They’ve found they can “hack” their way through their preparation for a career, mixing free Ivy League school classes with online certificates and real world experience. Kids see their older siblings paralyzed by debt, and they don’t want it.

  1. Spending money is morphing into saving money.

According to a summary report from marketing firm Sparks and Honey, these younger teens are not spending money as quickly as their twenty-something brother or sister. While the average Gen Z kid has $16.90 a week to spend, they often don’t use it right way. And while Generation Y spent money boldly and with few boundaries, 57% of Generation Z prefers saving money to spending it. Once again, their perception of reality is leading them to think ahead and prepare. This could be a good thing.

  1. Consuming media is morphing into creating media.

Generation Y popularized the practice of spending hours watching videos on YouTube, television shows on Hulu, or movies on Netflix. While young teens do these things as well, they’ll often choose to “create” new media. They desire interactive experiences where they participate in the video’s outcome. They love making the content. Three out of four wish their current hobby could become their full-time job. That’s far more than Millennials reported when asked about it.

  1. Viral messages are morphing into vanishing messages.

The scorecard is slowly changing for kids today. As social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram launched, students kept score on “Likes,” “Shares,” and “Views.” Younger kids have seen the downside of being tracked on social media by future employers, parents, and teachers and now prefer messaging that evaporates, like Snapchat, Whisper, and Secret. (At least, the messages seem to evaporate…) The digital footprint is seen as a potential danger that can be used against you.

  1. Text messaging is morphing into iconic messaging.

As our world becomes more complex and uncertain, Generation Z intuitively wants to simplify communication. Instead of sending text messages, their messages are morphing into images, symbols and icons. Many now send emojis instead of words. They have strong filters and want content to be shared and understood rapidly.

While Generation Y grew up with slightly longer attention spans, Generation Z has an attention span of 6-8 seconds. What’s more, approximately 11% have ADHD.

What You and I Can Do…

While Generation Z is proving to be strong in a number of areas, it’s going to take a different kind of leadership from adults to connect with them and help them thrive. I think the key to doing this lies in considering the answers to these questions:

  1. How can we help them step out, take risks and show bravery?
  2. How can we help them see the bright side of things and stay hopeful?
  3. How can we help them sort out their goals and find the right educational path?
  4. How can we affirm the idea of saving money and planning ahead?
  5. How can we foster their creative gifts and monetize them for a career?
  6. How can we help them see the power of sending constructive messages?
  7. How can we utilize metaphors and images to communicate with them?

What do you think about these questions? Have you noticed any differences between Generation Y and Z?

*Note: Sociologists and data analysts are still debating how to classify Generation Z. Some have said the population begins around 1995, while others say 2001. The research we collected includes information from both sides of this conversation.



  • Henry Amsinga

    The programs you propose, are they neutral or do they also have a Christian religious component? I need to know before I want to spend money for purchasing because I am a Christ believer.

    • jststric

      Tim is a WONDERFUL man of God. He has a wonderful testimony He fills in at our church, in Michigan, from time to time. You can trust him.

    • If you’re referring to Habitudes, we have a version that is neutral (values-based) and a version that is faith-based (includes Bible verses).

      I hope this helps.

      -Tim

  • jststric

    This is very encouraging! I knew things are cyclical and had to come back around in some ways. The attention span, while I suppose is understandable, still worrisome. And I’m surprised by the % of ADHD. I must know every one of that 11%. It seems everyone’s child or grandchild is on medication. Which opens a whole other can of worms, in my opinion. I reallly enjoy your clinical behavioral observations. Very applicable in every context.

  • Jay DuSold

    Great insightful post Tim . . .thanks!

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