The Millennials are a generation who experienced an up-economy during their childhood but a declining one as they came of age. Generation Z is a population that endured a down economy during childhood but are hopeful it will be up as they come of age. The last twenty years have been tumultuous. Over time, culture has evolved. Commerce changed rapidly, and information has increased each year. Mental health remains Gen Z’s top priority. The following 10 realities may explain at least part of Generation Z’s behavior and outlook on life.
1. They are younger than Google.
Google was founded on September 4, 1998. These kids don’t remember a day before then. In fact, because information sources are commonplace for them, they’re asking Google, Alexa, and Siri questions they used to ask their parents. Google searches have always been around for them and often replace conversations between themselves and past generations.
2. They don’t have any memories of the Columbine High School massacre.
Every parent and teacher over 35 years old recalls this tragedy in Littleton, Colorado. Fifteen people died at the hands of two young perpetrators. Angst already existed, but this tragedy sealed the fear narrative in the minds of parents. Millions became safety obsessed with their kids and more prescriptive and controlling in their leadership.
3. Their lives are guided and monitored by social media apps.
Millennials grew up with a cell phone; Generation Z grew up with a smartphone. Smart technology turned phones into portable computers. All activity is tracked and nudged, which keeps us interacting with our tribe in echo chambers. Narratives are niched. In short, when our phones had leashes, we were free. Now our phones are free, and we have leashes.
4. They learn about September 11, 2001, as a story from history.
Up until now, the U.S. military has been in Afghanistan their entire lives and the war against terror has been in the news. Before 9/11, wars were fought between nations. Now wars are fought between ideologies, sub-groups living in various places driven by a worldview that divides populations. This may lead to perpetual conflict; wars won’t genuinely end.
5. They grew up anxious and are willing to pay for their privacy.
Cyberbullying, suicidal ideation fostered by online perpetrators, and mass shootings, have been normalized for Gen Z, fostering perpetual mental health issues. They have a love/hate relationship with screens. Teens are aware of the dangers of information shared with vendors and perpetrators. They’ll enter adulthood willing to pay for their privacy online.
6. The Rodney King and O.J. Simpson trials are a piece of inexcusable history.
Racial tension has existed in America for centuries, but these two incidents influenced our culture and forged consequences Generation Z doesn’t understand. Rodney King was an innocent man treated as guilty, and O.J. Simpson was a guilty man treated as innocent. Gen Z is confused at the racial tradeoffs America has made, unable to live up to our ideals.
7. More Generation Z women are enrolled in college than men.
As public schools focus on academics, males increasingly see them as irrelevant. They can’t connect the dots between the subjects they take and a future they envision for themselves. Since education feels tailored for females, consequently 60 percent of students enrolled in college are women. This could flip executive job opportunities and reverse the income gap.
8. They are more likely than past generations to desire an activist government.
During Gen Z members’ childhood, politics changed profoundly. They witnessed the first Black president and the first president with no political background. Sadly, they see a polarized voter population and wish for civility. The data shows they feel progress can only be made through a larger more active government. They may trade independence for security.
9. Their favorite source of entertainment is video games.
About 26 percent of Gen Z members said video games are their top entertainment activity, and 87 percent from their age bracket said they play video games daily or weekly. The virtual world is more satisfying to them than it is for older generations. It’s two-dimensional. They’re screenagers. This may transform interpersonal relationships and their social and emotional skills.
10. They are the most diverse generation in American history.
The U.S. census bureau shows that the Gen Z population is already about half white and half minorities. In the years ahead, ethnic diversity will increase and people of color will become the majority. Already, Gen Z is twice as diverse as the Boomer population, which has led to a higher tolerance of mixed marriages and differences in race, gender, and style.
Some of these realities are good, and some are not so good. In any case, parents, teachers, coaches, and employers may just need to adjust how they lead and develop this young population based on these realities. Our communication, our empathy, our pedagogy, our incentives, and our leadership approach must both attract and challenge Generation Z members as they enter adulthood. Our future depends on it.