In recent months there has been a surge of research around Generation Z. Whether you’re a teacher, a youth worker or in marketing, many are going to great lengths to gain a deeper understanding of teenagers and young adults in our nation. There is still a little ambiguity as to whether you define this age group as 11-18 or 16-25, but what is certain is that they carry trademarks and characteristics of their own. However, there has also been a great deal of misunderstanding around this generation, with a survey carried out by Ipsos revealing some in older generations viewing them as lazy and selfish. How do we as youth practitioners, and as the church, bridge the gap and advocate that there is more to this generation than selfies and partial attention?
The BBC’s Newsbeat carried out a survey of 1000 16-22 year olds to find out what they had to say. Many of the findings that they discovered fell in line with Youth for Christ’s own research. In December 2016, we asked 1001 11-18 year olds about their thoughts on life. ‘Gen z: Rethinking culture’ is the report we produced as a result.
A common theme for this generation is that family and education are hugely important to them. The Newsbeat research suggested that families, partners and education were what mattered to this generation, not celebrity and social media. Youth for Christ’s own research found that 82% of young people stated making their family proud of them as the most important thing. 54% of young people said that school and exams were their greatest concern. We must help families and older generations realise the influence they have over this generation and the responsibility that with it.
Another misconception of Generation Z may be how they view and use social media. It is undeniable that this generation are more connected than ever before, and whilst we should encourage young people to take a digital detox every so often, this is not something that is going away. Therefore just telling them to ‘put their phones away’ may not cut it.
According to Gen Z: rethinking Culture, 94% of 11-18 year olds use social media on a daily basis, with the internet being the most regular place that they spend their time. Yet, as this generation gets older it seems that this becomes a tool, not just a recreational activity. In a Newsbeat interview an older Gen Zer says “A lot of people use social media to plug their businesses. We’re not just using social media for our own vain reasons”. Another young adult admits to not having a CV but having an Instagram account. It isn’t an unusual perspective. This generation don’t describe themselves as ‘lazy’ but ‘innovative’. However, 67% of 11-18 year olds describe social media as the top thing that makes them feel bad about themselves. How do we help them to manage this tool with wisdom and caution? We would never send a younger generation out to work using tools without first training them in safe practice.
There may also be misconceptions around the narcissistic nature of this generation. It is undeniable that they take and post more footage of themselves than ever before. While they dedicate hours to attaining the perfect picture, they are a generation who are socially aware. Social issues rank with higher importance than those of older generations.
In the Newsbeat research asking 16-22 year olds improving the NHS, preventing acts of terrorism and making the economy work after Brexit were the top three most important issues. Equality around sexuality, gender and race were also hugely important for under 22s. A similar theme was found in the Gen Z rethinking culture research when 11-18 year olds reported that war and terrorism, poverty and racism were among their greatest concerns. 76% of young people stated that achieving something that matters was important to them. We must not assume this is a generation that doesn’t look up from its screens. We need to imagine what a generation could do if they were empowered to use those screens to tackle the biggest challenges our society faces.
As watchmen over this generation, we must stand in the gap. We must bring unity and aid each generation in understanding the beauty in diversity. We can show them what we can learn from each other as we look to see this world reconciled to God.
Director of Church Resources