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on Leading the Next Generation


Six Defining Characteristics of Generation Z

I wish you could meet Lizzy. Or Dane. Or, for that matter, Seth and Carly. These students have all been born since September 11, 2001—a marker in our U.S. history that will always divide those born in the 20th century from those born afterward. I was with these students recently and immediately noticed a different perspective in them as teens than the one I saw in Millennials fifteen years ago.

At Growing Leaders, we work with both teens and twenty-somethings, helping them move from backpack to briefcase and become leaders along the way. After being in front of thousands of these younger students, I want to offer a list of defining characteristics I’ve seen in them as teens. Keep in mind, the jury is still out: while these attributes are on the radar screen now, the students are still young, and change is always in the wind. For now, however, it might do us some good pay attention to these six common characteristics of Generation Z:

Six Defining Characteristics of Generation Z

1. They are Cynical

While the students I met were fairly happy and well-adjusted, they are not giddy like so many Generation Y kids were in the 90s. They tend to be more realistic not idealistic, seemingly jaded from the tough economy, terrorism and complexities of life.

2. They are Private

Perhaps its because they watched their older siblings get in trouble from posting controversial content on social media, but younger teens don’t want to be tracked. Apps like Snapchat and Whisper have seen explosive growth in the last few years. In contrast, Facebook has lost 25 percent of this demographic since 2011.

3. They are Entrepreneurial

Like Millennials, these students plan to be pioneers, not merely settlers in a career. 72% of current high school students want to start a business. They feel like hackers, not slackers. Since they’re more jaded, they know life is hard and requires work.

4. They are Multi-tasking

By almost every measurement so far, these Gen Z kids will take multi-taking to a new level. They prefer to be on 5 screens at once, not 2 screens like Millennials. Get ready to communicate to them while they look around, not into your eyes.

5. They are Hyper-aware

Generation Z has communicated enough with marketing researchers and academics to reveal that they experience: 4D Thinking. Because their minds are streaming in so many directions, they’ve become post-moderns who are hyperaware of their surroundings.

6. They Technology-reliant

This one won’t surprise you. If we thought Millennials were addicted to technology, get ready for more. In surveys, these teens put technology in the same category as air and water. They cannot imagine living without being connected all the time.

So…are you ready for these kids?

Free eBook: 
7 Generation Z Stats Every Adult Should Know

If you’re like most of our readers, you’re committed to preparing the emerging generation for real-life opportunities and challenges. But the truth is, you struggle with understanding why today’s young adults think and act the way they do. That’s exactly why I wrote our new ebook.


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  7. Nanette Olsen on April 10, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Extremely insightful! You described my sons with amazing clarity

  8. Abe on January 21, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    Me as a fellow gen z, this is extremely accurate but, I don’t know about the whole 4D thinking stuff

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  11. […] – They are reliant on technology […]

  12. […] – They are reliant on technology […]

  13. […] Эти обстоятельства не только сказываются на их здоровье, но и вылепливают идентичность поколения. Так, постоянный контакт с технологиями развил в них ряд общих свойств психики и мышления: улучшенную способность к многозадачности, селективность внимания и более короткие периоды концентрации. А также способность самостоятельно находить, сканировать и обрабатывать большие объемы информации, стремление к автономности и индивидуальности, а также гиперосведомленность об окружающем их мире. Психолог Тим Элмор называет этот феномен «мышлением в 4D».  […]

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Six Defining Characteristics of Generation Z