How Generation Z Works

Generation Z and the Lame-Os in Charge

Gen Z students present unique challenges to teachers.
Gen Z students present unique challenges to teachers.
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Every generation has trouble with the one that comes behind them. Their clothes don't fit right (or fit too right), their music is too loud and they have no respect for anything. When Elvis Presley shook his moneymaker on the "Ed Sullivan Show," it may have been the first time generational cultural differences hit the mainstream with such fanfare. But if he were alive today, Elvis the Pelvis would be 76 years old.

Things change faster than anyone realizes, and they rarely go back. Educators are on the front lines of the Gen Z migration into adolescence, and they recognize that this group is different. One of the challenges the constant flow of information presents is that when tasked with solving a problem, today's students look for the quick answer rather than work toward solving the problem on their own. Their instinct is to pursue speed instead of accuracy [source: Hawkins].

Maybe the biggest hurdle facing teachers is that they're not on their home turf. They've had to learn technology as it was developed, experiencing these advancements as they happen while their students are "digital natives," meaning they've been raised in an environment where every piece of technology is intuitive, logical and mature.

At home, Gen Z is being raised by statistically older parents, and they may be the last wave in a four-stage generational cycle that repeats itself [source: Neal, Strauss]. Members of Generation X, or the MTV Generation, are now the parents, and they're more likely to be divorced and to work outside the home [source: Fleming].

According to some, this absenteeism compounds an issue already at work in Gen X's parenting style: overindulgence. The overriding desire for parents today is to raise children with high self-esteem, even if that means never correcting them or challenging them to achieve something beyond their reach. This approach to attachment parenting could be Gen X looking to overcompensate for being raised by Baby Boomers, who bucked traditional roles in the marriage, experienced the first spike in divorce rates and virtually invented the latchkey kid [source: Sanders].

The combination of the independence gained from powerful, mobile technology and the constant sense of affirmation from their parents has produced a sense of entitlement in Gen Z that can be seen as a double-edged sword. They have the resources and initiative to make positive changes where they see the need but may not have the experience with failure necessary to know what it takes to persevere.

In the next section, we'll take a look at what Generation Z will be when they grow up. Hint: anything they want to be.