By Gladys Childs, Ph.D.
Gladys Childs is the Chair of the Department of Religion, Humanities, and Interdisciplinary Studies at Texas Wesleyan University and the Children's Director & Women's Group Leader at LifePoint UMC. Gladys loves traveling and speaking to churches or leading retreats. For more information see: gladyschilds.com
In this first of a two-part installment, I will be discussing who Generation Z is and what to expect from this latest generation. In the second part, I will discuss the implications for Christian Education.
Generation Z can be defined as individuals born after 1995 to the present. They are a unique generation who are not like Millennials. Some liken Gen Z to the Greatest generation of the early 1900's. Gen Z were born into a world of turmoil and technology and while they offer the world a bright future in many respects, keeping their attention and teaching them may not necessarily be easy and may require some adjustment in pedagogy.
Generation Z kids have never know a world without internet, cell phones, and iPods. To them, technology is not a tool, technology is “being” it “is.” Due to their constant use of technology, Gen Z think spatially in 4D (think of 3D plus effects.) They would prefer to communicate with symbols and images. This age group wants technology that is easy to use and will solve their problems and provide them with relevant people or information. And, because of the rapid pace of the technology, their brains have developed the ability to process information faster.
Because of their connectivity, Gen Z often lack situational awareness. Therefore, they cannot easily follow or give directions. Also, they have low to no tolerance for being without digital resources. With all of the access to immediate information, they will struggle to take the time to determine the validity and reliability of said information. And, their attention spans are short. You have about eight seconds to catch their interest or they will move on to something else.
Generation Z would prefer to stay indoors instead of going out to play. In fact, play is considered a “tool” for health. Robert Macfarlane, in his book Landmarks, talks about how recent editions of the Oxford Junior Dictionary have deleted “nature words” that were determined to be irrelevant to today’s kids such as “acorn,” “dandelion,” “fern,” “nectar,” “otter,” “pasture,” and “willow.” Instead words such as “broadband,” “blog,” “cut-and-paste,” “MP3 player,” and “voice mail” were included.*
This group was born into a world of turmoil: 9/11, economic recession, parents loosing jobs, school shootings, ISIS, and global warming. Due to these experiences, this group is very much concerned about their future. Elementary students are already thinking about college and how they are going to afford it, how are they going to buy a house (most plan to live with their parents), and what kind of job is needed to have a financially stable life. Moreover, Generation Z is very community and environmentally conscious. They want to help make things better, not only for themselves; but, for those around them. Gen Z has less a sense of entitlement than their Millennial predecessors. With their thoughtful ways and motivation to work and serve others, they are being related to the Greatest Generation.
Because they have been affected deeply by the world's troubles and have a grasp on the realities of economic insecurity, they are critical of information they are asked to learn and they are critical of the things they are asked to do. They want to know what value information, activities, and programs will have to their future. If it is not relevant to their health and well being (in all its forms) then they are not going to want to waste their time. Moreover, they are afraid to take risks. If they risk, they might fail and there is too much riding on their future and there are too many world insecurities to make mistakes.
In summary, Generation Z is motivated and thoughtful. They are willing to work hard, if there is a substantive reason for doing so. Technology is connected to all they do and they have a short attention span because of it. While Gen Z may not be able to give you directions to where they live, they would be more than happy to work at a soup kitchen or clean up a nearby park.
*Robert Mcfarlane. Landmarks. (as cited in Friedman, 2016).
Cook, Vicky. (2016). "Cultivating a 'Nexter' Culture of Learning." Presentation at Texas Wesleyan University. August 26.
Friedman, Thomas L. (2016, September 7). "We are All Noah Now." Retrieved from:
Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millenials. (2014, June 17). Retrieved from: http://www.slideshare.net/sparksandhoney/generation-z-final-june-17
Pandit, Vivek. (2015). We Are Generation Z: How Identity, Attitudes, and Perspectives are Shaping our Future. Dallas, Texas: Brown Books Publishing Group.