Hey there! My name is Madi Gosch. I’m a 21-year-old intern for the Orange Students team, and I am a bit of a Gen Z expert …
Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say expert, but I am a member of Gen Z. And, hopefully, by the end of this blog, you will walk away with a few crucial insights into Gen Z!
So, what better way to kick things off than with a quick pop quiz to test your Gen Z expertise?
The Gen Z Expertise Quiz!
1. What does the term “new whip” mean?
a, new shoes
b. new car
c. new friend
d. new dance move
2. The Disney Channel show starring Bella Thorne and Zendaya is called Shake ____ _____.
a. Me Down!
b. It Off!
c. It Up!
d. And Stir!
3. Which phone game took over in 2016, became a global phenomenon, and was named People’s Choice winner for Best Mobile Game?
b. Temple Run
c. Candy Crush
d. Pokémon Go
. . . . . . . . . . .
The correct answers are B. new car, C. It Up! and D. Pokemon Go! Congratulations if you got any of those answers right!
Who is Gen Z, really?
And yet, while these questions may seem like random trivia, what if I told you that these pieces of pop-culture knowledge would all be considered MAJOR throwbacks to Gen Z?
The point is that the internet moves fast, and Gen Z is growing up quickly.
In fact, when you think of Gen Z, you may be picturing kids with sticky iPads, drinking Capri Suns, or mini soccer league tournaments. You may not be thinking of Gen Z as college graduates, young activists, teachers at your kids’ school, or the new young professionals making business decisions in board meetings at your favorite companies. Here’s a quick list of companies or movements being led by Gen Z:
- Geige Vandentop (21) is the co-founder of StreamYard, a live streaming studio in your browser where you can interview guests, brand your broadcast, and stream directly to Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and other platforms.
- Miracle Olatuniji (17) started OpportuniMe, a tool she designed to help high school students connect with opportunities to help them decide on a career, build their network and develop their passions before going to college.
- Lily Mandel (15) is the organizer at Bucks Students for Climate Action and Protection of the Environment, an activist group she created in her hometown of Warwick.
You already know Gen Z includes anyone born from 1997 to 2012, and that’s a BIG age gap! The oldest members of Gen Z are around 25 years old right now while the youngest are around 9 years old. That is a big difference.
So, now that we know how old Gen Z really is, how do we connect with our students that are members of Gen Z?
If you’re looking for tips and tricks to memorize the top influencers, brands, and trends just do a quick google search for “This Month’s 100 Hottest Trends Captivating Gen Z.” But, the truth is, it’s impossible to keep up with ALL the latest social media trends and filters. And, keeping the attention of Gen Z can feel like trying to race on a hamster wheel. After all, this is a generation of digital natives and content creators fueled by youthful ambition.
However, if you’re looking for real ways to connect with this generation, it’s important to first understand what this generation is looking for:
Peace – ways to find fulfillment in the midst of mental illness
Connection – ways to both build and engage with community
Passion – ways to get involved and serve
Growth – ways to lead and learn
Something to remember about Gen Z is that in our lifetime we have never known a pre-9/11 world, we were born into a recession, and now we are beginning our young adult life in a global pandemic. Not to mention, we have been navigating the constantly expanding world of social media since grade school. That means this generation is no stranger to the weight, depth, and corruption in the world around them. But they also have a strong desire to experience their youth in a free-of-all-the-chaos, wholesome, and simple way.
So, how can we meet Gen Z where they are? It will take:
Social Media AND Social Justice
Over the past few years, social media has taken a new form as it has shaped social justice movements and activism. The ability that social media has to reach global audiences creates the opportunity to inform more people. It also can encourage other marginalized individuals to utilize their power to fight for change in their communities, whether it be on a local, national, or global scale.
That seems like a lot navigate, right? Some of you may even have concerns about the phrase “social justice.” But, if you want to meet students where they are, you need to choose not only to walk alongside them but partner with them in championing conversations and pushing for change. That doesn’t mean you have to engage in every issue. But you do need to be willing to have conversations, and even help them to connect the dots between their faith and their love for neighbors.
Parties AND Politics
If there is one thing we all know Gen Z loves, it’s a good time. Who doesn’t, right? Not only are they down to party, but they are also down to have genuine conversations. “Politics” is another word like “social justice” that can put us on edge. It is a challenging, intimidating, and at times scary conversation to have. But, it’s a conversation that students are already having and would love to have with someone they trust. Meeting students where they are means welcoming questions and conversations. It means being open-minded, understanding, and finding times to be not-so-serious.
Digital AND Traditional Ways of Connecting
These next stats may shock you… the average screen time for a high school student as of 2021 is anywhere between 5-9 hours a day. Those numbers can feel daunting but take a deep breath. 51% of Gen Z students say they prefer face-to-face communication, while only 25% prefer to communicate digitally. Meeting students where they are looks like being present and connecting in both worlds, digitally and face-to-face.
Now as you start working towards connecting with your Gen Z students, kids, or family I want to encourage you to try these 3 things:
1. Ask them what is relevant in their lives right now.
Your students don’t expect you to know about all the viral videos or Tik Tok trends. In fact, sometimes when you do it may just feel forced and a little bit awkward. Instead, ask your students what is going on in their world that is relevant to them.
2. Create spaces that give students opportunities to get involved in their community in fun and impactful ways.
Gen Z is all about being world changers and they are constantly looking for ways to make their mark, fight injustices, and get involved with something impactful. Maybe this could look like partnering with an organization for poverty alleviation, starting a garden in an underfunded school, or hosting an event to elevate POC voices. And remember, students want to have fun while impacting their communities. Challenge students to make a Tik Tok or Reel highlighting the event, play an interactive game with the community they are serving, or make a taco bar. Who doesn’t love tacos, right?
3. Make it personal.
It’s no secret Gen Z spends a substantial amount of time scrolling through social media. Gen Z sometimes calls themselves “sleuths,” meaning they play the role of a detective by falling deep into a rabbit hole of someone’s life story through the eyes of social media. Maybe that’s because Gen Z loves a good story. But, HOW you connect with your students through stories matters.
When you start with differences or negative thoughts like saying, “Now when I was a boy we didn’t have all these smart watches or the Instagram or the Snapchat…” you actually disconnect with your group. Instead, try something like “Seeing how passionate (or fill in the blank with a positive attribute) you all are about ______, I wanted to share my story when I was in a similar boat.” Remember: they want to hear authentic stories as they navigate a world of filters. But be careful that your stories don’t put up walls instead of facilitating connection.
Remember, to be up on all the latest trends and technology as a way to keep Gen Z’s attention is the cheaper route to connection. Instead, see a generation who is looking for peace, connection, passion, and growth. Meet them where they are, how they are.