How to Earn the Trust of Generation Z

The latest research on young people, those 20 and younger, reveals some insights into the mindset of teenagers. One that may surprise you—while teens today love to engage with social media—they love their privacy too. Even more than you do.

One of the top ten patterns spotted in the Social Media Trends 2018 Report is vividly illustrated by all the aliases they use to avoid detection from on-line searches; by the “finsta” (fake or friendly Instagram accounts) and “rinsta” (real Instagram accounts) they set up, and by the usage of apps like Vaulty to hide photos.

Now consider the shift from past social media platforms like Facebook to Snapchat.

Snapchat allows you to send a photo or video that goes away in seconds. Why is this important? Consider a Generation Z teen who has an older, Millennial sibling. The teen may have watched their brother or sister attend a party last weekend, and get drunk, then post photos of themselves on Instagram or Facebook. What happened? Their potential employer searched and found those photos before they interviewed the Millennial as a job candidate and decided not to hire them.


This reality has taken a backseat to another news story these days. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been testifying before a congressional committee on the failure of the social media platform to provide privacy for users. I heard one congressman ask Zuckerberg what hotel he stayed in the night before. Mark hesitated. Then, the congressman said if Zuckerberg didn’t want to reveal his hotel, would he mind sharing all the text messages he’d sent the past week. Mark Zuckberberg refused to do that. At this junction, the congressman had made his point. Mark wanted his privacy just like users do. This Facebook failure has many students choosing to get off the platform completely. They want their privacy.

So, Generation Z is growing up savvy and scared.

What Does This Teach Us About Generation Z?

Tens of millions of these “secretive teens,” as journalist Marianne Tournery calls them, use new apps to remain private. She writes: “These secretive teens are also using incognito social networks like Sarahah, Anonyfish, and, which allow users to express themselves anonymously. Targeted specifically at teens, the Sarahah app reached number one in the Apple App Store in 30 countries, just two months after its release.”

The fact is, we now know about “digital footprints.” What they post or “like” on social networking sites can come back to haunt a student. I’m watching people sensor their posts; avoid risk more and act more socially rigid. Marianne Tournery continues: “Overall, our increasingly connected population is growing increasingly suspicious. Fact is, 32% of 16-24-year-olds say they don’t want to use mobile payments.”

How Does This Inform Our Leadership of Generation Z?

Whether you’re a parent, teacher, employer, coach or youth worker, these realties should inform us about how to lead students today. They are more suspicious and skeptical and savvy than Millennials were at their age. The facts are:

  1. They don’t blindly trust adults.
  2. They fact check teachers and speakers.
  3. They want to know “the why” and “what’s the point?”
  4. They may “hide” if they don’t feel safe.

Insights for Us as Leaders

1. Trust must be earned.

Approach each conversation or class as if you must earn their trust. Don’t assume because you’re older that they’ll “buy what you’re selling.” Keep your promises. Love them. Listen to them. Respect them. This is about our integrity.

2. Credibility must be established.

Believe it or not, you may have to prove why you should be listened to or followed. Your words gain authority when you back them up with skill or ability. Show them— don’t just tell them. They already have information. What they lack is demonstration.

3. Relationship must be formed.

Rules without relationship leads to rebellion, author Josh McDowell used to say. It is even more true today with empowered teens who have decided to “march” for their lives—with or without the help of others. Adults must take the time to stop, get acquainted, listen and understand. Gen Z longs to be “heard” by adults. This is about connection.

4. Value must be clear.

This is true for anyone, but we forget that students are like adults in this sense. We must add value to their lives if we want them to listen to us and follow our lead. What are you doing or saying that makes them better or that benefits their future?

We must ask ourselves: How much do we want them to trust us?

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How to Earn the Trust of Generation Z