Generation Z: The Next Generation

by | Nov 20, 2014

Calling this blog “Generation Z: The Next Generation” is a bit of a misnomer because, of course, Generation Z is comprised of the 10-20 year olds who are currently filling our schools and, for those at the upper end of the age spectrum, beginning to filter into the workforce.

They are the generation of NOW, in both the figurative and literal sense.

This is the first generation to be born into an era of complete technology and, honestly, have no comprehension of life without it. Gen Z-er’s are also known as “digital natives”, as is evidenced by the fact that even the young ones can whip a laptop, iPod, or smart phone into shape in no time – just ask all the grandparents out there who wind up turning to their 12 year old grandchildren in moments of digital, angst-filled, desperation. This is also the next group of individuals to be entering (and hopefully contributing to) the workforce, and having a better understanding of who they are – as well as where they’re coming from – can go a long way towards knowing “how they tick”, as well as the “what” and “how” in regard to what motivates them.

Now, as much as we may like to gripe about “kids these days”, the reality of the situation is that they are a design of our own making. Between older siblings and (dare I say it?) their parents, this generation is one that is merely following in our own digitally enamored footsteps.  The difference, of course, is that they don’t remember life without technology. Therefore, tablets and smart phones and what not aren’t seen as something “cool” and special and new but, again, simply a way of life for them. Dial-up internet is as foreign to them as are vinyl records. We – the adults – have completely surrounded them with smart phones, tablets, laptops, and Wi-Fi. And then, we – again, the adults – get ticked off when they won’t “get their nose out of their phone” or “lay off Facebook” for a while.  However, when they see us – again, the adults – spending our time scrolling through our Facebook newsfeeds, obsessively adding new pins to our Pinterest boards, sitting in bed working on our laptops while we watch TV, or pacifying our littlest ones with “kids only” apps that we’ve loaded onto our phones, what else can we expect when (again, dare I say it?) all they’re doing is emulating (gulp) us. It’s a conundrum for sure.

The good news about this particular generation is that they not only possess the ability to understand and master technological advancement with enviable ease, but they’re also completely comfortable with it. They can email, text, and configure an iPod in no time flat. They utilize iPads and Chrome Books in the classroom as part of their daily curriculum. By the 4th and 5th grades they’re taking “Digital Citizenship” classes in school, and are being offered the opportunity to attend extra, after school classes that focus on coding, graphics creation for video games, and so on. There are even homeschooling courses which are taught in virtual classrooms, which students are able to actively participate in…at home.

Obviously, the dark side to all of this is that we’re (potentially) raising a generation of lazy, won’t look anyone in the eye, social media over-sharers. And, while that possibility certainly does exist, the “we’re raising” part of the previous sentence should be a serious wake-up call (or slap in the face) to all the Gen X-er’s and Millennials of the world. Children are still children, and adults are still – by and large – adults. Which means, of course, that we have the ability to help shape and mold them. Sadly, it’s an ability that seems to have been lost as of late and, as much as we want to blame their phones and laptops for it, it is, ultimately, up to us – the adults, the parents, the teachers and mentors – to “show them the way”.

There was an article about Steve Jobs that {re}surfaced not too terribly long ago that referenced the fact that he didn’t allow his kids to have unfettered access to technology in his home.

I’ll give you a moment to take that in.

Was that long enough? OK, good. Now, if Steve Jobs – THE CREATOR OF ALL THINGS APPLE – possessed the intestinal fortitude to put his foot down and demand low tech time in his own house, I think the rest of us can somehow manage it as well.

For instance, my kids – ages 10 and 12 – both have tablets (Nooks) and a Chrome Book that they share. We also have an Xbox. My husband and I both have laptops, and I have a tablet as well. Everyone in the house has an mp3 player. And, of course, we have Wi-Fi. My kids are fully aware (sometimes too much so) of the fact that, when it comes to work, my laptop and my phone are key ingredients. To add insult to injury, as a Social Media Coordinator, virtually everything I do revolves – in one way or another – around Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. However, those items don’t invade our dinner table. Nor do they make their way into school musicals, basketball games, or family game/movie night.

And, here’s another BIG “however”…we also have a basketball hoop. And bikes. And books. And acres and acres of land. And laundry. And…need I go on?

That was a rhetorical questions because yes, actually, I do need to go on.

In our house we also have are limits and rules. Guidelines and expectations. I dole out chores (and occasionally groundings) not unlike the manner in which McDonald’s hands out chicken nuggets – willingly, and in servings of six or eight.

My kids are – like most others of their generation – so very comfortable with technology that it’s {almost} scary. They can multitask – and are able to do so on multiple devices at once – like nobody’s business. Combine all of that with the instantaneous nature of messaging and communication these days, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a group of highly collaborative individuals who are able to work on multiple projects at once with both speed and efficiency.

Now, some will argue that the above scenario also provides a recipe for disaster comprised of unfocused adults with short attention spans and acquired attention deficit disorder whom are unable to focus and/or analyze lengthy, complex information. And, while that is one possible outcome, it’s not a predetermined path. If we – this is the same “we” as was referenced before, that being the older generations…the parents…the teachers – do our part and teach balance, then this generation could very well wind up being one to be reckoned with.

Am I purporting to be someone with all answers? HECK NO! However, I do know that by doing things like expecting my children to look me in the eye when they speak to me (or anyone else for that matter), by teaching them to ask before hopping on a device (regardless of the reason – in our house, you still have to be given permission to use the computer, even if it’s for school purposes), and by ruling that outdoor time precede tech time and that the last hour before bed is reserved for the reading of good, old fashioned books (you know, the paper kind), we’re doing everything we can to ensure that long sought after presence of balance.

Seriously, I think if the creator of the iPad can manage to limit screen time in his house, I can muddle through, too.

We all can. And, everyone will be better for it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been asked to proofread one of my sons’ social studies assignments. I’m downloading it now…he just emailed it to me.



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