iGen: an Analysis of Generation Z

generation z traits

Welcome to this post about generation z traits and how we differ from other generations.

According to Author Jean Twenge, our generation, nicknamed iGen but officially known as Generation Z, is growing up slower and much safer physically but more depressed than previous generations. (As a quick note, Generation Z consists of the population born anywhere from 1995 to 2012.)

In this post, we’ll dive into the details and see what kind of similarities and differences we have with previous generations and whether those changes are good or bad.

A Little About Me

Before we get started, I want to discuss my personal situation and how that might influence my perspective in writing this article. I’m attempting to take a professionally written, and very well researched, full-length book and condense it down into a 2,000-word article. Even the article Twenge posted on the Atlantic, which is a summarized version of her book, is almost 5,000 words.

So here’s a little about me!

I’m prepping for college this fall, having been home schooled my entire life. In fact, the closest I have ever come to a public school is when I attended a church preschool for a few hours a week, because Mom knew I would enjoy it. That alone should provide an interesting perspective on this topic. I’ve been raised in a strong Christian home and live in Kentucky, USA with Generation Z siblings, a soon-to-be 15-year-old brother and 13-year-old sister.

In this post, I’ll talk about a lot of milestones that teens in prior generations have used as the markers for entering adulthood. Personally, I have a part-time job, a few small businesses, and almost have my driver’s license (I’m sooo close!). I manage my own finances and save and invest as well.

Hopefully, that will help you understand where I’m coming from as I’m sharing my thoughts on this topic. I will do my best to keep it as unbiased as possible.

Let’s begin!

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

The Rise of the Internet, Smart Phones, and Social Media

Before I talk about the key ways in which iGen and previous generations differ, I want to consider the rise of universal 24/7 internet access, smart phones galore, and the complete and utter domination of social media in the average teen’s day. These three key factors play a tremendous roll in the following discussion.

iGen, or Generation Z, is the first to grow up with no memory of a pre-internet time. Even the oldest members of iGen were just becoming adolescents when the first iPhone came out. I can barely remember a time without the internet, and one of the only reasons I didn’t get my first social media accounts at a young age is because I was home schooled and didn’t see the appeal.

I quoted Jean Twenge at the beginning of this article, and I believe she got it spot on. The rise of not just smart phones, but smart phones with social media has had huge effects on the lives of teens and adults, but especially teens.

The Detrimental Effects of Smart Phones

I, for one, am extremely grateful that my mom had strict rules on technology when my siblings and I were younger. We’re still nowhere near perfect, but it has left us aware and alert of the dangers of becoming overly obsessed with technology.

Social media aside, phones themselves are addicting. I’ve caught myself frequently staying up far later than was good for me, due to having a phone or computer nearby. I’ve also heard numerous accounts from friends of their peers sleeping throughout the day and then staying up the entire night on their cell phones.

I think teens have always been stereotyped as sleepy, drowsy, clumsy kids, but iGen has at least one good reason for their sleep deprivation – smart phones.

The Dangers of Social Media

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an article about how social media is evil, you need to throw away your phone, and learn how to make fire by rubbing two sticks together. We aren’t going back to the stone age.

Speaking of which, here’s a little humor. It may be satire, but I’d say it’s truer than we think. 😂

Off the top of my head, social media has two broad “dangers” – one physically, one mentally/emotionally. I’m sure far more in-depth analysis exists concerning the effects of social media on teens, but I’m going to do my best just to get the main points here.

Productivity Decreases

Firstly, the physical effects of social media: This ties in with the detrimental effects of smart phones. The phones are addictive enough as it is, but when you throw social media into the mix, they become absolute wreckers of productivity, sleep schedules, and physical activity.

For example, I have a few of the popular social media accounts, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I do my best to stay off the apps, but I’ll still find myself stuck in a cycle of constant scrolling and mindless browsing on each of these apps.

I use all three to stay in touch with different friends and family and often won’t check the apps unless I receive a direct message, Twitter being the exception. However, even when I open Instagram or Facebook just to take one or two minutes to reply to someone, it’s ridiculously easy to get caught scrolling through pictures and videos.

Personally, I beat myself up for spending more than 20-30 minutes on any one social media app per day, but that’s only because I know I have much better things I could be doing. This mindset contrasts with a lot of teens I know, whose days mainly revolve around playing video games, watching shows and movies, and browsing social media. Those things do appeal to me, and they’re fun, but ultimately, they yield very temporary, short-term pleasure.

You’ll Likely Lose a Lot of Sleep (or Already Do)

One of my friends told me about how social media affected her friends’ sleep. The culprits, often Instagram and TikTok, caused her friends to stay up until anywhere from 3am to 6am. Then, they would sleep well into the day, waking up anywhere from 12pm to 3pm.

From my personal experiences, and what I’ve seen of friends, this is definitely reality. It’s easy to just impulsively pick up your phone before bed to “check a few things” or because you’re having trouble falling asleep, just to waste the night away with endless scrolling.

I had a lot of difficulty curbing that habit, until I started turning my phone in to my parents every evening before bed or just plugging it in downstairs. Those two things will fix any of your issues quickly!

You’ll Probably Lose Energy

I haven’t seen any hard data on this, but one personal experience I have noticed from using social media (even from just spending too much time on my phone) is that whenever I am on my phone for more than about an hour, I start to lose a lot of energy. Sometimes, when I get back from work at my part-time job or from doing outdoor work, I’ll come inside, crash on the couch, and start going through the notifications on my phone to “relax.”

However, recently I’ve noticed that my energy levels don’t increase, and in fact, the longer I’m on my phone, the more my energy decreases. This isn’t a scientific analysis, just an observation. Due to that, I’m working on finding other ways of relaxing that increase my energy, not decrease it.

Obsessive Comparing

These two things affect us mentally and emotionally, rather than physically, and are possibly the most obvious side effects of using social media. One reaction we tend to have when we browse social media, even if it’s unintentional or we’re unaware of it, is comparing. We love to compare ourselves to everyone’s posts, pictures, and videos online. It’s important to keep in mind that social media can be easily crafted to show the best versions of ourselves. Lamenting about how good someone else’s life looks is a futile pursuit, as it almost never mirrors real life.

Unhappiness

An interesting find from Jean Twenge’s book, iGen, is that with no exceptions, more screen time results in more unhappiness, and less screen time results in more happiness.

The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

I encourage you to think of the times when you’ve felt unhappy, or happy, for no apparent or specific reason. You may find that the more time you spend on screens (which, as teens, is a large majority of our days) the more and more unhappy you feel.

In fact, this unhappiness factor likely runs in tandem with the decrease in energy I experience when I’m on my phone too long. If you find yourself feeling frustrated or low energy, and you’ve been on your computer or phone all day, trying turning off the screens, do something offline.

Don’t use the excuse, “But but but but there’s nothing to dooo!”

Just don’t.

This phenomenon doesn’t only apply to teens either. You should see my parents after a whole 8-12 hours in front of a screen for their jobs! Mom will come busting out of her office and just have to go for a jog or jaunt around the garden, because she’s so miserable she can’t stand it another second. Dad, well, he suddenly becomes insanely interested in all the chores that have gone neglected around the house, go deep into exploring the National Guard, or drive an hour away just to go practice drums with some friends – anything just to get away from a screen.

There Can Be Exceptions

Keep in mind, these are just my general views on social media, and I still use it myself. I’m not trying to demonize something you might use frequently. Instead, I hope to bring awareness to some of the side-effects of social media that we might not naturally perceive.

If social media plays a key role in your days, and you find a lot of enjoyment from it, by all means, have some fun. Just don’t go overboard. 😄

Other Factors to Be Considered

Twenge points out in her book that iGen looks radically different than previous generations, in that, they’re not getting their driver’s licenses as soon, they’re working less, and even spending less time with friends in real life (as opposed to virtual). Other generations often find these differences confusing, and Twenge seeks to analyze the data to bring clarity. Some factors to consider in the changing data are:

  1. Families are getting smaller these days, so it’s natural to see kids staying at home with their parents for longer periods of time.
  2. Parents increasingly emphasize college and push their children to stay home and study more.
  3. College costs have skyrocketed, and inflation is wrecking the US dollar, making it even more difficult to save up enough money to leave your parents’ house without debt, let alone trying to graduate college debt-free.

Analysis of iGen’s differences isn’t black and white, as many factors play a role. The above are just a few to get the conversation started.

iGen: an Analysis of Generation Z
Courtesy of Jean Twenge’s Atlantic article

We’re “Growing Up” Slower…

Generation Z works less, takes longer to get their driver’s license, and dates less. In prior generations, say for Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials to an extent, all three of these things were top priority in the average teen’s life.

I’m not saying that all Gen Z teenagers are skipping all of these things. They’re still getting their driver’s license, they’re still dating, and they’re still working part-time jobs. However, there is a decline.

I believe these changes are due to several factors all at once. Some of these changes aren’t bad at all, while others might actually have harmful effects. Let’s take a closer look.

Why Teens Aren’t Driving as Much

Take driving and driver’s licenses for example. One of my mentors told me about a very successful business colleague who owned a car washing company. He had some of the highest paying customers, on average, compared to his competitors, making his business very profitable. However, recently he decided to sell all of his carwashes when he looked at recent data that said that teens are growing up without a driver’s license, and therefore, there will be fewer and fewer drivers and cars needing to be washed as the years ensue.

This businessman, in particular, was located in Houston, Texas, where ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft are especially popular.

Financially, it is cheaper for a teen to pay for a quick Uber or split a ride with a friend than it is for them to own a car outright and pay for gas, insurance, and repairs, especially in the city. However, that isn’t likely the case in a more rural area like where I live, as our nearest city is at least 30 minutes away. I live in a small town with virtually no Uber or Lyft drivers.

From an adult’s perspective, it’s extremely confusing why iGen isn’t rushing out and immediately getting their driver’s license at 16 or as soon as they’re legally allowed. We’ll revisit the topic of driving in a bit with more ideas as to why, but so far, we can see one very legitimate reason is that, in larger cities, a teen is better off just using ride sharing services.

Why Teens Aren’t Dating as Often

According to the data in iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us, the number of high school seniors going out on dates has dropped roughly 20% in the last 20 years (see info-graphic above).

Part of this could be due to the fact that it has become easier and easier to hang out online, through social media, texting and messaging apps, and video chat. Teens are definitely still going out, both on dates and with friends, but possibly not as much simply because they prefer to hangout online sometimes as well.

In an information economy that rewards higher education more than early work history, parents may be inclined to encourage their kids to stay home and study rather than to get a part-time job. Teens, in turn, seem to be content with this homebody arrangement—not because they’re so studious, but because their social life is lived on their phone. They don’t need to leave home to spend time with their friends.

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

As a homeschooler, this is a little bit harder for me to analyze, as I honestly have no idea what my peers’ opinions are on the subject.

Why Teens Are Working Less

With less driving comes less financial responsibility. With less going out on dates or shopping with friends, comes less of a need for cash. If teens aren’t buying their first car, driving around, going on dates, hanging out with friends, or eating out, I can see why most of them wouldn’t want (or don’t think of having) a job!

Let’s face it. It’s a whole lot easier, and probably more fun, to just stay home and binge watch YouTube or TikTok videos.

Personally, I don’t love my job, but I sure do love the income! Interestingly, from what I’ve seen, a teen has to have a good reason for wanting money to motivate them enough to get a job.

In my case, I always love to have more money to save and invest, to put myself in a better position for later in life. For a co-worker of mine, his motivation was to help better his parent’s financial situation and to save money. I had several teen co-workers, but very few of them stayed consistent (granted, part of that was due to the fact that work was based on the availability of events, but I’d say another large factor was that they often just didn’t feel like working).

One of my cousins recently became interested in computer gaming (rather than his Xbox, which was getting pretty slow), so he actually joined our uncle’s lawncare business to start earning money. I’m super proud of the way he’s stepped up to fund his own gaming setup!

In short, if a teen is spending most of their time at home and doesn’t have a motivating reason to earn money, then the chances of them looking for work and holding a job are pretty low.

The Bright Side of the Internet, Social Media, and Video Games

This article so far may have sounded a little bit depressing, or portrayed that social media is evil. It’s not quite the whole picture though! On the bright side, from my personal experiences, there’s a lot of good that can come from the internet too.

Take, for example, when my best friends moved. My siblings and I had some really good friends that lived in our town, but they ended up moving to the country of Georgia (Middle East). It’s been almost a year now, but we’ve stayed connected the whole time on a weekly, almost daily basis – through email, Google Hangouts, and WhatsApp; funnily enough, Fortnite too! All four of us have Fortnite accounts, so we’ll occasionally squad up and hangout for a bit (We win a lot too, hooray!).

Another great example is meeting new people that you never would have elsewhere. I met another teen online who is super passionate about all things finance and business, and we ended up reaching out to a bunch of other teens as well. On Instagram, we now have a group of about a dozen of us who stay in touch and update each other on the latest happenings in entrepreneurship and share personal wins.

Also, through Facebook, I ended up meeting the founder of this blog, which turned into a partnership! We’ve been blogging together with a couple other teens as well, and he’s really helped me up my blogging game (still improving).

Tying It All Together

iGen has a lot of differences when compared to older generations, and we definitely seem to be abandoning some traditions (like getting your driver’s license as soon as you’re 16), or we’re just taking longer to get there. Some of the changes aren’t all bad, as we see in bigger cities where it’s more affordable for a teen just to use the occasional Uber or Lyft. Other changes, like obsessive phone and social media usage, have some pretty serious downsides.

I hope this helps open up the topic and serves as a good conversation starter. If you have any feedback on the matter, please share them! I also highly recommend checking out this book: iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us.

As a homeschooler, I love hearing about other teens and their thoughts on our generation. If you think there’s something unique about our generation that I missed, please let me know, and I’ll consider adding it! I would also love to hear your general thoughts on Generation Z, aka iGen.

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