Why everyone is wrong about Generation Z

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What you really need to know about Gen Z

I have spent over 30 years working with young people(Gen Z); I have seen and worked with two distinct generations, Generation Y and now Generation Z. This experience puts me in a unique position to comment on this generation by being part of them; not one of them but constantly with them. Most of the things that I read about Generation Z do not ring true to the experience I have.

Here are some of the differences I see between what the experts are saying and my anecdotal evidence of hanging around with them.

The Dates.

It is absolutely clear to me from my research and spending time with them that Generation Z are the young people born after 2001. A new generation requires something significant to happen to change the outlook of people as a whole. I would argue that this significant thing happened in 2001. Also the calls to my office began when this generation, born in 2001, hit year seven in the school system. I had countless calls asking me who this generation was, why they were so different and how I could help them.

So despite what others say, the oldest of generation Z are 17. They are not 18-24 or even older as some may cite. Yes, the gap generation between Generation Y and Generation Z seem to act differently to than their elders but that doesn’t mean they herald a new generation. If you are assuming Gen Z starts before 2001 you will get it wrong. You may assume that young people have an eye for vintage, a desire for hardback book and Crossley record players but you would be wrong. This is just that gap generation, the 18-24 year olds as they search for meaning and experience they felt lacking in their digital world.

Generation Z are cause-driven

I see a lot of people talking about how Generation Z is cause-driven. There is an automatic assumption that they will follow on the great work of the Millennials before them.  But they don’t – just because they follow one generation doesn’t mean they follow in line with what that generation valued. This generation is not Millennial, plus they are their own generation in their own right.  While they are the most emotionally-intelligent generation we have ever seen, they tend to point that intelligence inward rather than outward. For example, if you have a conversation with them about the Arianna Grande bomb, you'll get a very different answer from them than you will get from 17 to 24-year-olds and older. They have very clear definitions on mental health, fairness, treating people equally and will often be able to put forward two points of view very clearly and concisely. But unlike the generation above them they are unlikely to get angry about it; they're likely to stay quite calm.  They can see the devastation of it and it scares them but their cause is driven to protect them and their friends, not the world as a whole.  They often make things very personal and you are more likely to hear them speaking about how horrible Arianna must have felt than how bad terrorism is.  They are only likely to get vocal if it affects them or their friends personally. So if you are reaching out to them with cause-driven projects you may miss the point entirely.

Generation Z speak their minds

The generation before Gen Z were very out spoken, very heroic and always telling you what they thought, and researchers took great pride in putting forward their opinions, attitudes and values and for the most they were correct. So they do the same with this generation, every week a different survey, girls have bad body image, social media is making them depressed, this generation is not confident. I could go on and on.  But if you spend any time with this generation you might begin to question these results, as they just don’t ring true under any sort of scrutiny or investigation.

This generation has heard over and over again adults and the media telling them how they should feel and what should matter to them; coupled with a desire to please Gen Z, they are unlikely to ever tell the truth to adults surveying them. Unlike the generation before they don’t feel equal to adults; they care that they like them so they tell them what they think you want to hear.  They will tell you they are influenced by celebrities, but when questioned can’t really come up with who or how. They will tell you that social media affects how they feel about themselves, but can’t come up with examples. This is the generation that says one thing and most definitely does another.  They have the real versions of themselves reserved for their friends and then the one they think you want to see.   So if you are basing your activities on research, you have got an idealistic view of the generation as they want you to see them, not how they really are.

Generation Z are influenced by influencers

Influencer marketing is becoming the next big thing and most people believe this is the way forward, with big influencers getting paid big bucks to reach an audience that the brand can no longer reach.  And to some extent they are influenced, but who influences them is going to be harder and harder to judge.  This generation has one of the most closed eco-systems we have ever seen. While the generation before them opened up to the world, this generation has closed down, putting up barriers so most people cannot get to them. This tribe of them and their friends rarely let others from the outside in; even those big influencers can’t penetrate.  Influence is likely to go micro, meaning small influencers are going to have more of an impact; ones they see as their friends. Long gone are those perfect lifestyle influencers and in come the quirky, the different and down-to- earth.

Generation Z are growing up to fast nowadays

If you believe that this generation of young people strives to be grown up and have all those grown up experiences most of us craved when we were young, you would be wrong. Most of them would prefer to live in Neverland. The recent live action Disney films have more to do with their knowledge of this generation than a desire to rake in money; they want to catch this new generation’s hearts and minds and that they have. A generation obsessed with beauty, nostalgia and the fairy tale fantasy, this generation will be happy to stay children for as long as they can, thank you very much. The world to them is a scary place and their fear of it and their need for safety often means their want to stay eternally young and will kick and scream if you propel them into adulthood too fast. Why do you think unicorns, rose gold and teddies are all making a comeback? This is the generation of eternal childhood.  They seek beauty and creativity in everything, make up has become a work of art, Instagram an art gallery and they will spend forever watching videos of paint spreading on paper. They look at everything with a childlike beauty and optimism and for them, reality really does bite.

Generation Z will become more digital and AI will take over the world.

I mean, it seems obvious doesn’t it? Seems obvious that this natural progression will happen. But wait, they are ditching messaging for calling, staying in for going out and prefer sitting down to watch family TV than the ever-streaming Netflix. Now don’t get me wrong, these things are still important but I get the distinct impression that rather than technology driving them. they are driving it. They will expect it to do what it needs to do for them but they won’t be driven by it. They will expect AI to work well but they won’t prefer it to a real life human. So if you are planning to go all digital, this generation wants real experiences. I even had one ask me the other day where they could get a VHS player!