Confused by teenagers? 4 Surprising Ways Gen Z Behaves
Michael Jackson’s album version of “Black or White” begins with a father knocking on his son’s door and yelling, “It’s too late for that. Turn it off!” The stereo stops. The child mutters, “Yeah, right. Too late. Of course. Eat this.” He inserts a tape and the song begins with a strong guitar intro.
This kind of teenage rebellion is repeated in every generation.
They play loud and provocative music. They sneak around at night, eager to get rid of their parents. They rush to reach the promised land of the driver’s license. They long to drink at the party at a friend’s house. They can’t wait for their first kiss.
But not Generation Z.
A reporter joked that they are Generation Yawn – risk averse and steeped in a digital world, often devoid of real world experiences. They are generally less rebellious than previous generations at their age, among other surprising behaviors.
How are they different from their predecessors at their age? What else should we understand about Gen Z?
1. Gen Z lives digitally as “screenagers”
Generation Z is defined as the cohort born between the mid-to-late 1990s and the 2010s. Dr. Jean Twenge is a psychology professor who writes extensively on “iGen(Generation Z). She writes that Gen Z teenagers talk about their phones “like a drug addict would talk about crack: ‘I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it.’ [a teen] said about looking at her phone while she was in bed.
High school students spend on average more than seven hours about entertainment on screens every day, outside of school and work. High screen times make them feel more isolated, insecure, and self-critical. Teenagers are aware of their issues and most agree that they spend too much time on social media, but that doesn’t always help them turn off their phones.
Screen time tends to replace reading books, socializing with friends, and sleeping. Gen Z’s SAT scores are down, especially in critical reading. (I wrote more about the negative effects of digital living in “Why Are Teenagers Sadder, Lonelier, and More Depressed Than Ever?”)
On a potentially positive side, Gen Zers can reach thousands or millions for good via TikTok and Instagram. They often use social media to implement what they believe is positive change. Harry Beard, a seventeen-year-old entrepreneur, said in a TED talk“We are able to pursue our passions anywhere and anytime. . . especially at an uncapped level.
They are also aware of the world and are likely to be greatly affected by negative news biases. Again, this probably contributes to making them more anxious. Gen Z strongly wants brands (and churches) to be consistent, transparent, and authentic. Forbes rightly said, “Brands cannot hide; everything is visible.
2. Gen Z views sex liberally but has a lower libido
Generally, Gen Z teens believe that all sexual activity between consenting partners is morally acceptable. Despite this liberal vision, they have sexual relations less of the partners than Gen X at their age, and Gen Z are having sex for the first time later in life. Dr. Twenge writes: “So millennials and iGen’ers, the generations known for quick and casual sex, are actually having sex with fewer people, five fewer on average.
While we may celebrate this as a move towards discretion, another cultural issue may be to blame. The main attribute of this factor is probably the pornography epidemic. Young men (and many young women) are afflicted by pornography addiction and thus incur a drop in libido. Many girls feel pressured to post sexually suggestive messages on social media. Now, it’s not entirely uncommon for high school kids to send nude photos of themselves to loved ones or crushes.
When asked if a eighteen year old was curious about sexhe replied: “I have seen so many [in pornography]. . . . There’s really nothing magical about that, is there? This follows the trend that Gen Z tends to migrate real-world life to the internet. They do it with friendships, reading, work and relationships; sexuality is unfortunately no different.
No more Gen Z teens identify as LGBT. “The percentage of American adults with bisexual experience in their lifetime tripled between 1990 and 2016, from 3% to 11%.
Overall, sexuality is much more important to their self-understanding than previous generations.
3. Gen Z is growing up later in life, throwing off their responsibilities
Children eventually become teenagers and teenagers become adults. Much of Gen Z stays longer in the childhood and adolescent maturity levels.
In virtually all markers of adulthood, they push further. For example, twelfth graders in 2015 went out less often than eighth graders in previous years. This leads to some positives. For example, Gen Z has cut teen pregnancies in half from their peak in the 1990s. Heavy drinking among teens has also halved (although it has remained constant in the 1990s). university). Perhaps most tellingly, nearly all baby boomers had a driver’s license by their senior year of high school, but only 75% of Gen Z do.
More and more teenagers do not have a job, even during the summer. It went from 70% in 1980 to 43% in 2010. Generation Z tends to be less free from their parents and leave their homes less. Additionally, fewer Gen Z teens are even get an allowance.
Dr. Twenge writes“When I asked twenty iGen’ers [Gen Z] why being a child is better than being an adult, almost everyone said that being an adult involves too much responsibility. She suggests that these trends are neither positive nor negative; they simply reflect a changing “life strategy”.
While that’s true, avoiding responsibility and a higher purpose has become an endemic problem in Gen Z. Part of it seems to stem from their high level of caution and lack of coping skills.
4. Gen Z yearns for physical and emotional security
Unexpectedly, Gen Z doesn’t find work as meaningful as Millennials. They tend to view work as very convenient and place a high value on financial security in their lives. Since Gen Zers live in a post-2008 recessionary economy with rising inflation, high rents, and massive student loans, they value secure employment over meaningful employment. They don’t remember or know about the world before 9/11, and they are constantly in touch with global issues, wars, famines, and moment-to-moment humanitarian crises.
All of these factors and more lead to them being a highly prized security. In fact, stability is one of their highest priorities in life. Almost everything is filtered through the question “Is it safe?” »
Additionally, the debate rages on whether Gen Z parents are too strict or unrestricted. It could be a combination of the two. Gen Z parents tend to be limitless on the digital side and overprotective in the real world. Regardless, most Gen Zers expect and wish to be more pampered in college.
They generally take mental health risks seriously and are much more likely to be aware of and discuss their feelings. This trend seems inherently positive, but often Gen Z is less emotionally resilient and overall more unhappy. Being able to speak through your emotions is important, but that alone cannot lead to emotional sustainability.
How should Christians respond to Gen Z?
It’s easy to judge Gen Z for their hypersensitivity, avoidance of responsibility, and slavish screen watching, but they have enormous untapped potential.
Although parents may naturally react to this news by becoming stricter and more success-oriented with their children, forget it. It is essential to teach the principles of responsibility and to have more confidence in them, without trying to perfect them through some other extracurricular practice. This “rat race” of teenagers is counterproductive, leading to greater anxiety while not giving them freedom.
Instead, limiting screen time, instilling a love of reading, and giving them opportunities for real-world experiences will help produce resilience. Teaching them God’s purpose for their lives is absolutely essential. Teach them about courage and model it in your own life. Encourage them with their ideas for making positive changes. Again, trends show that parents are giving children less responsibility when they should be giving more.
When he was fifteen, my younger brother used bands on the YourVersion Bible app to help lead Bible studies with friends. This is a perfect example of a Gen Z teenager using his skills to rule the kingdom of God. Technology, if used correctly, can redeem the digital world. But as churches and families, we must not let it replace face-to-face interactions.
Generation Z is ready to use social media and its limitless information resources to make the world a better place.
So we need to teach them to discern, learn wisdom, and master their addictions (Proverbs 25:28).
We need to teach them about sacrifice and responsibility, reminding them that the world does not revolve around them (Philippians 2:3-4).
We need to encourage them in their desire to make positive changes (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and we need to be ready for emotionally deep conversations.
In the end, they desperately need the gospel, like all other generations.