by Wendy Lachance
I’m proud to be the mother of two intelligent, accomplished, strong young women who are just entering adulthood. However, the world they are entering as young women is certainly very different than the one I experienced at their age.
They are part of Generation Z, the generation born between the mid-’90s through 2010, and their world is a digital one.
As a parent, I’ve shaken my head at how they seem to lead their lives online. I’ve seen both of my daughters huddled on the couch with friends, not speaking to each other but texting furiously. At times, I’ve wondered how their generation will build meaningful real-life connections when their attention is so focused on a little device in the palm of their hands.
As Director of Community Leadership at Coast Capital Savings, where every day I work with a passionate team to help build a richer future for youth, I am even more aware of the challenges this generation faces.
Recently, I read something that made me look at Generation Z’s attachment to digital media differently. It was a blog post by a mom whose teenage daughter was rushed to the hospital one weekend to have her appendix removed.
Her mother was frustrated that even in agonizing pain on the way to the hospital, her daughter was texting friends. Within hours of the surgery, flowers and stuffed animals were delivered to her daughter’s hospital room. As the girl recovered at home, classmates brought her homework she was missing and had pizza delivered.
Her mother remembered how when she was a teenager, if a classmate suddenly didn’t show up to class, she and her friends had to rely on adults to tell them what had happened. The information she received about the world around her was limited to what adults were willing to share. That’s not the case with Generation Z.
This blogger’s observation inspired me to do a little more digging about Generation Z. What I’ve learned has surprised and moved me.
Those in Generation Z have never experienced a world without social media, the Internet and smart phones. A study by Vision Critical pointed out that they watch fewer hours of TV than Baby Boomers and Millennials – they are too busy making their own YouTube videos and creating their own content. Thanks to social media, they aren’t just an audience. They are co-creators. The significance of this is huge.
Their heroes are bloggers and online video personalities with worldwide reach. Because they are constantly connected to a global platform, Generation Z identifies with the world far beyond their schools and hometowns. At the same time, they are exposed to raw footage of natural disasters, terrorism, environmental catastrophes and, at times, highly sexualized content. They are worldly – sometimes even world-weary – and have a strong social conscience.
From a technological standpoint, they have skills that far surpass those of their parents. In a 2014 article in the Globe and Mail by Shelley White, Don Tapscott, CEO of the Tapscott Group, points out: “This is the first time in history when children are an authority about something really important.”
As a result, Generation Z feels empowered to influence the world around them. In many ways, they are at the forefront of social change, shaping it instead of allowing their parents’ generation to shape them.
Bring all of these characteristics together and you have an exciting combination – a generation of youth with a strong social conscience, who are globally connected and feel empowered to bring about change.
Put simply, these youth get it. They get that individual actions can have a global reach. They get that social connection is the root of social activism. They get that they are more empowered than any generation of youth that has preceded them.
They need us to get it too.
As parents of Generation Z, we need to recognize that they are a generation of young leaders who are perfectly positioned to create change. We need to go even further and create opportunities that make the most of their affinity for community leadership.
At Coast Capital Savings, we do this through our three Young Leaders Community Councils. These councils bring together youth under the age of 30 to review grant applications made to our community investment fund. They are empowered to make recommendations on the allocation of these funds based on which programs they believe will have a positive impact on youth in their communities.
There is one more thing we need to “get,” and during Youth Week in B.C. (May 1-7), it’s a good time to ponder it. This switched-on, hyper-informed and conscientious generation needs us to understand that they are under a lot of pressure. Their broad world view and sense of social responsibility is often a burden. In addition, youth face rising tuition and housing costs and a challenging job market.
They need us to break down barriers for them, giving them the emotional, social and financial resources to thrive. Then we can step back, and watch them reach their full potential as community leaders – whether online or in cities and organizations around the world.
Wendy Lachance is the Director of Community Leadership at Coast Capital Savings.