What We’ve Learned from Gen Z:
Staying Connected, Informed, and Entertained During the Pandemic.
Written by Meghan Grace and Dr. Corey Seemiller.
While flattening the curve will require effort from everyone, each generation has strengths that can help guide them through this pandemic. For example, some believe that Gen X has been preparing for this situation their entire lives, as many were “latchkey kids” who often kept themselves occupied while home alone. And, the White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator recently noted that Millennials will be the generation who can lead the fight against the coronavirus because of their digital savvy to stay connected virtually. But, we can also learn a lot from Generation Z youth, teens, and young adults (born 1995–2010). From relationships and learning to entertainment and giving back, how Generation Z navigates the world might provide ideas and inspiration to the rest of us in dealing with this crisis.
In a time of uncertainty and physical distancing, we are all likely craving interpersonal relationships and connections. But, Generation Z has been managing social relationships from a distance for much of their lives. One in four even has a friend from social media that they would have to travel by plane to see in person. It’s not surprising then that those in Generation Z believe that having shared values is more important for developing and fostering friendships than proximity. The ways in which Generation Z has grown up, with unparalleled access to technology and social media, can serve as an example for how we can all, regardless of age, engage in physical, but not emotional, distancing during this time.
Here are some ways to keep the connection during physical distancing.
- Make a purposeful effort to reach out to at least one family member, friend, or old coworker you may not have spoken with in a while to connect or reconnect around the things that matter.
- In addition to messaging and phone, consider connecting with others on video chat, through apps like FaceTime, Zoom, or Marco Polo.
- Engage in meaningful interactions virtually. For example, consider setting up a book club that meets through video chat. Watch the same TV show or movie that a friend is watching and debrief after. Exchange photos of your latest kitchen masterpiece with other avid bakers and chefs. Do a workout with others while on a video chat. Or, even exchange daily selfie videos with others, sharing something interesting from your day.
Members of Generation Z, born in 1995, the same year as the commercialization of the Internet, are often referred to as Digital Natives. They have grown up with access to nearly infinite amounts of information. With content on websites, blogs, videos, and social media posts multiplying at rates we can’t even keep up with, many older individuals, in particular, have stressed with this generation the importance of information literacy, critical consumption, and just plain source checking.
While educators, parents, and others have emphasized its significance with those in Generation Z, us older individuals haven’t done much ourselves to be our own critical consumers of information. Many people engage in confirmation bias, where they seek out information that supports their existing worldviews and discount other information that does not readily align. It’s important to note then that our personal vetting of a network or news source doesn’t mean that everything shared by that one source is accurate and credible while everything from an alternative source is “fake news.” We should take a page from our lessons for Gen Z and practice becoming more hypercritical of the information we are consuming.
Below are some ideas to enhance our critical consumption of information.
- Because different people have different opinions of how the pandemic and its response are unfolding, commit to watching and reading news stories from a variety of sources, especially those with different partisan followings.
- With critical news emerging minute-by-minute and people finding creative ways to fill their time at home, it would not be surprising if people were glued to social media. Although some posts have links to credible content, not every social media post contains valid sources of information. Resources like politifact.com, snopes.com, or factcheck.org are great ways to confirm claims made on social media and other sites.
- Make sure to seek out original sources to help determine the integrity of the content. For digital news stories, in particular, any quality article will hyperlink to the original sources. And, you’d be surprised as to how often the data is not represented entirely or even accurately in a secondary-source publication.
- In a time of information overload and high stress, it will be essential to look to experts to share accurate information. Tune in to people who have the background and expertise to offer an informed opinion.
- And, in terms of information overload, make sure to take breaks from the constant barrage of news. While it is important to stay up-to-date, the sheer amount of news available on the pandemic can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing.
Many in Generation Z like both digital learning and self-learning, which fares well for what the Internet offers. However, the vast majority of members of this generation also like face-to-face connection. Thus, synchronous online learning can be a good blend for many of them.
For those Gen Zers who have the resources and digital know-how, the switch to digital learning, as many K-12 and higher education institutions are now doing, may not be as stark for them as it is for older individuals. These students are the same young people who have been swiping tablets since they were toddlers and now have their own YouTube channels, connect through FaceTime, and record TikToks. Some may know their way around a variety of digital platforms far better than many in older generations who are being asked to use them for remote work.
As we continue to engage in virtual learning, here are some ideas to help enhance digital savviness.
- If using new technology makes you nervous, just play around with it until it feels more comfortable and familiar. Zoom with your partner; video chat with a neighbor; play an online game with a friend.
- If you can’t figure out how to do something tech-related, do what Gen Z would do. Just YouTube it. People have made instructional videos for more things than you can imagine. So, if you need to connect your wireless printer, install a program on your laptop, or check out a digital library book, head to YouTube for step-by-step video tutorials. And, YouTube doesn’t just have instructional videos about technology. Learn to paint, code, or do a home repair from YouTube contributors .
- Consider signing up for a free online course or webinar. Not only can you learn a new subject matter or skill, but you can also get acquainted with and comfortable with various online learning platforms.
- And, for those of you who can’t seem to figure out how to “unmute” yourself when talking on Zoom, maybe ask a Gen Zer for help.
While we might not be able to meet up with friends, go to a fitness class, or attend an event in-person these days, it isn’t impossible to stay entertained. Some may say that Gen Zers are glued to their smartphones, but because of this, they have found many ways to use their devices to combat boredom.
Here are some ways we can use our personal devices to stay entertained.
- Because 88% of Gen Zers report having access to streaming platforms, they are no strangers to bingeing their favorite shows. So, catch up on an old favorite or start watching a new release. If you don’t have any streaming services, consider one of the many free ones available.
- Live streaming, which allows viewers to watch a video in real-time, is a great way to stay in tune with current happenings. For instance, many artists have been live streaming performances while social distancing. DJ DNice has been throwing dance parties on Instagram Live, and even Elton John hosted a “Living Room Concert for America,” featuring musicians like Billie Eilish, Mariah Carey, Demi Lovato, and Tim McGraw playing from their own homes. So stay tuned, your favorite artist might be bringing a concert to your very own living room, virtually of course.
- While Instagram and YouTube have been among Gen Z’s favorite video platforms, TikTok has also emerged as a go-to place for video entertainment. Gen Z alone makes up 41% of the platform’s users. From humor and life hacks to dancing and lip-syncing, TikTok is a place for users to create and watch short videos. So, head to TikTok to learn the newest dance challenge, watch a video just for laughs, or even create your own short clip for others to see.
- Video gaming has grown in recent years, with more people, including 90% of Gen Zers, identifying as gamers. But, video games aren’t just played on consoles. Smartphones and hand-held gaming systems, like the Nintendo Switch, offer a way to take gaming on-the-go. So, whether you dust off that old Atari or Nintendo or borrow a Gen Zer’s hand-held system, try out video gaming as a way to keep entertained.
- Social gaming offers the opportunity to play a video game with others from a distance in real-time. While some gamers may gravitate towards online games like Fortnite, others are taking traditional games, like Monopoly, and playing virtually over video. If you can’t have all your family and friends over for a game night, host a digital event through video chat so your loved ones can tune in and play together.
- Despite the proliferation of technology, young people are still reading for fun (and some even at higher rates than those in older age brackets). Consider pulling out a favorite from your bookshelf or accessing e-books through your local library or a free online site.
The “We” Mentality
A vast majority of those in Generation Z embrace a “We” mentality, which focuses on caring about collective over individual needs. Many of them care deeply about others and want to make the world a better place. It might not seem like it with so much press covering Gen Z not taking the pandemic seriously. But, young people appear to be shifting those sentiments after learning more information about their ability to be asymptomatic carriers and that they are actually not immune. It’s not surprising then that 74% of Gen Zers are now practicing social distancing, one of the most significant actions we have all been called to do in order to make a difference.
We are seeing evidence of people of all generations contributing to make a difference — whether it is medical professionals and first responders on the front lines, teachers trying to move to online instruction, parents homeschooling their kids, or workers putting their personal health at risk to staff essential roles. Even some in Gen Z are doing their part. Take 14-year-old, Dylan Capshaw, for example, who printed protective masks on his 3D printer when he learned of the shortage. Kids in New York who have been chalk painting inspirational messages on sidewalks to bring smiles to those out taking walks. And teens in Maine who created a public service announcement called “Protect Nana,” to create awareness among other young people about COVID-19.
Supporting this “We” mentality, here are other things we can all do to help:
- Loneliness during social distancing can be incredibly challenging. Connect frequently with those folks who may be alone.
- Support your favorite local businesses by purchasing gift cards online.
- Donate money to nonprofit groups; many are trying to survive and provide critical social services. With the new CARES bill, there is now an opportunity to take a tax deduction for making a one-time $300 above-the-line charitable contribution to a qualifying nonprofit organization. This even applies to those taking the standard deduction.
- Contribute expertise and resources. If you have a small business or some type of skill set, give away free services to those who need them.
- And, most importantly, before you engage in behaviors of a “virus rebel,” which is someone who goes against public health advice, consider that staying home and washing your hands might be the most important ways you can make a difference.
As COVID-19 continues to impact the lives of people around the world, we are called to go about life differently than we’re used to. But, many in Generation Z have already been doing so, using innovative ways to stay connected, informed, and entertained. So, perhaps now is the time we follow their lead.