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Embracing Gen Z: Learning to Relate Across the Generations

Allow me to be brutally honest. I struggle understanding adolescents and the young culture of today. It is more than not understanding their eye rolls or deep sighs upon, yet again, proving myself to be out-dated. It is an overall communication breakdown. It’s almost as if there is, imagine this: a generation gap. Yes, I am of the Gen X demographic and currently raising daughters who are of the Gen Z demographic.

What does this mean? Fortunately, after digging deeper into these generational labels, I have uncovered a more profound understanding of both myself and adolescents. Not only do I have a deeper appreciation, but I feel better equipped to understand and handle their quirks and characteristics. Yes, even their deep sighs and eye rolls (well, sometimes).

Gen X

Gen X refers to the demographic following the Baby Boomers, yet preceding the Millennials.  Roughly within the birth years of 1960 through 1981, Gen X individuals typically characterize themselves as independent, resourceful, and self-sufficient. Stereotypically, Gen X also tends to embrace a hands-off management philosophy. They dislike being micro-managed, while valuing responsibility and freedom in the workplace. Their motto could be considered one of the mentality to “work hard/play hard”.

From The Balance, 2018
(click on photo to be taken to article)

Gen Z (or iGen)

In contrast, the Gen Z demographic follows the Millennials. With birth years roughly placing them within years of 1995 through 2015. Forbes magazine defines Gen Z by their competitiveness and characteristics that center around their search for truth. A generation who, as true digital natives, have never known a time prior to the existence of the internet. They are very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing a variety of sources of information. This digital context has produced a hyper-cognitive generation. Within this detail, Gen Z individuals are able to integrate both virtual and offline experiences. All in all, with regards to consumerism, McKinsey shares how “coupled with technological advances, this generational shift is transforming the consumer landscape in a way that cuts across all socio-economic brackets and extends beyond Gen Z, permeating the whole demographic pyramid.”

McKinsey echos Forbes’ findings in that the main spur for the Gen Z culture seems to lie in their search for truth. It is a search for authenticity, both in a personal and communal form. This generates greater freedom of expression and a greater openness to the understanding of different kinds of people. The Barna Group, is a research company that seeks to reveal the cultural and religious trends affecting our lives everyday. They share about Gen Z’s strong drive for achievement. Their drive for achievement is a force that emboldens them to keep going, especially in professional achievement. 

Image by Michal Jarmoluk, Pixabay, depicting Gen Z, or iGen
Click on photo to read entire McKinsey article on the Gen Z culture and it’s impact on consumerism and economy.

What gives?

So, what does all this mean? There are a great deal of strengths in the characteristics of Gen X and Gen Z. So why can it be so difficult to communicate or understand one another? Other than the obvious fact that one group are full grown, middle-aged adults and the other adolescent to young adults. What contributions hinder complete understanding of the another?

I have been intrigued by an idea I first heard suggested by Jason Dorsey. In his TedTalk, “What Do We Know About the Generation After Millennials?” from 2015. Dorsey emphasizes the thought that we may need to change the conversation currently centered around generations. Instead of isolating our differences (and initiating those great eye rolls), why don’t we seek to embrace our generational strengths? 

View Jason Dorsey’s TedTalk on YouTube

If individuals work across the various generations and fixate on all their strengths, would we not be find able to learn from one another, and ultimately communicate well? By focusing on generational strengths, society would essentially be paying it forward. We would be helping to develop young adults who are well-rounded, wise. Young adults who will encourage all of society with their ingenius ability to shape the future.  

After all, Gen Z will be shaping the remainder of the future for the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials. Wouldn’t it be prudent to intentionally embrace their characteristics? Wouldn’t it be wise to work with them to encourage their ultimate success and growth?

Embracing Gen Z

Respect given breeds respect received. I am often taken aback by the display of individuality from the Gen Z culture. Yet, to respond in a manner of kindness, respect, and intentionality speaks volumes for communicating my authenticity. Likewise, modeling value for one another and embracing each others’ differences, truly helps to generate a foundation of trust and respect.

Consider the thoughts and interests of a Gen Z individual in your life. How could you intentionally bridge the generational gap? Bridging the gap with expressions of thoughtfulness and love will consistently communicate across all generational gaps. Not to mention, it will do so in ways that will bring unity, growth, and authenticity.

What are the best ways of reaching into the world of a Gen Z individual? Texting, using SnapChat, or Instant Messaging may be great ways to start. However, it certainly requires a sense of remaining teachable to learn new things on the part of the Gen Xer. New apps are released daily. They fall in and out of the trend cycle almost as quickly as bell bottoms and jelly shoes. It is truly a challenge for older generations to remain relevant in the world of Gen Z and technology. However, an opportunity arises when an older generation takes interest and asks for help from the Gen Z demographic. This creates a beautiful and authentic moment of intentionally allowing the younger to teach the older. Just think, bridging the generational gap could only be a quick Instant Message away.

Stacy McClelland

Stacy is a woman with Texas roots, who, as a lover of mountains, camping, and hiking, is over-the-moon to call Loveland, CO her current home. Stacy holds a degree in Elementary Education, having spent many years in the classroom as a Special Education or Substitute Teacher. As wife to her pastor-husband for over twenty years, and mother to their three daughters, Stacy has been blessed with the opportunity to manage their home and focus on raising their girls. Partnering with her husband in ministry over the past two decades, she is armed with experiences of walking through the hardships of life with many. However, she has also had the opportunity to embrace beautiful moments of joy, grace, and overcoming with others, as well. It has been her honor and joy, as of late, to serve and teach within Bible Study Fellowship as a Substitute Teaching Leader. Coming alongside other women to read, study, learn and grow in their understanding of the Bible and how it applies to their everyday lives has been where Stacy has discovered her “sweet spot” for teaching. Having traveled many parts of the world, she yearns to come alongside, support, and edify others in and through their circumstances. She hopes another avenue for finding connection with women will be found in and through her writing. For, it is her joy in life to encourage, uplift, and connect with youth and women in navigating “this thing called life.”

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