Generation Z: Phones, Friends and Freedom

Generations theorists study the characteristics of the ever-changing generations of our culture. The "Hero Generation" of World War 2 were those born between 1900-1920, followed by the "Silent Generation" of those born 1920-1940. Each generation has a general "personality," as did the coming "Baby Boomers" born 1940-1960 who were known for "rejecting and redefining society's values." Of course, it was in this generation that we saw the first Sexual Revolution begin, which radically redefined our culture's values of sex, love and marriage. Then came "Generation X"- also known as the "latchkey generation" or "MTV generation," followed by the emerging "Millennials"- born 1980-2000. Much was written about the Millennials as they were truly distinct from their floundering parents, looking more like the "Hero Generation" as they began pursuing significance more than success and collectively seeking to make a positive change in the world. A good example of this is the rise in patriotism following 9/11.

So, who's coming next? Today's teens are being raised by late Gen X-ers and early Millennials, and are being dubbed "Generation Z" or "iGen." They are emerging with key differences from their parents that are important to understand as we seek to "help young people make healthy choices that will give them freedom to reach their dreams and goals." (This is Aim for Success' mission statement).


Generation Z teens have never known a world without cell phones and the world wide web. They are "technology natives." According to Barna research group (Generation Z, 2018), an estimated 57% spend 4 hours or more on their phones each day, and 26% spend 8 hours or more. Smart phones impact their world view, their daily schedule, their sleep patterns, their mental health and their relationships. Technology has brought a constant influx and overload of information, resulting in young people not having to think out answers (just Google it, right?) and a general confusion about what is true (what is true is what is true for you in that moment) and right (what is right is what is right for you in that moment).


Teens in all generations have cared greatly about being accepted by their peers. Generation Z teens think even more collectively and inclusively and have a greater diversity of friends. They are more accepting of differences and less likely to "take up arms" or be offensive when philosophical differences exist. There seems to be a greater range of "acceptable"- where the "wild" kids are getting wilder and the "good" kids are getting "good"-er- and they can all be friends.


Young people have always asserted their independence, and Generation Z follows with a same desire for autonomy. They want to make their own way, yet still responsive to guidance as long as the guidance comes from authentic adults who genuinely care for their well-being and show respect for their autonomy. The article "How Millennial CEOs are Adapting to Generation Z" (Forbes magazine, 3/14/18) states "Command and control don't work with them. Sharing the bigger picture - and being transparent about motives and outcomes - does."

Generations theorists propose a cycle through four generation types ("Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069", 1992, Howe and Strauss). Generation Z is set to be similar to the "Silent Generation" who was known for focusing on their careers and less on activism. And while recent events have sparked some youth activism, many say their goal is just "to be happy." To do so, 66% say they want to finish their education, start a career and be financially independent by age 30. Only 20% say they want to be married by then.

It will be interesting to watch how Generation Z impacts our world as teens and as they grow into adulthood. Habit #5 of Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" is "seek first to understand, then to be understood." As those of us who love and care for them, may we seek to better understand them and more effectively guide them towards healthy decisions- for their physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual health. They are tomorrow's leaders- let's work to give them health and hope that will benefit us all!

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