Everything wrong with Gen Z
Sincerely, Members of Gen Z
September 14, 2022
Gen Z comprises anyone born from the years 1997-2012. They are the generation after millennials, something they like to lord over millennials on various social media, and are the first generation to largely grow up surrounded by modern technology.
They have high points, like being the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, or the best-educated generation. But, they also have their faults, like living their lives on social media and seeing real world issues through rose-tinted glasses.
The reality of Gen Z is that they are indecisive, leading them to be easily influenced by social media, a defining point of this generation. Gen Z interacts with the world differently than every other generation so far has been able to, and the early access to everything only amplifies that.
This difference in world engagement means a difference in various aspects in generational life. However, many find this polarizing difference to be concerning, especially when it comes to Gen Z and their connection with the rest of the world.
Reshaping Educational and Career Pathways
University or gap year? College or apprenticeship? School in-state or out-of-state? As more of Generation Z enters their post-high school lives, their dependency on technology and shifting attitudes have fundamentally reshaped the learning process.
This generation is more open to changing societal standards and more of them are okay with the idea of going back to get another degree or changing their majors and taking on new sets of credit requirements. Whether they are looking for higher availability of jobs or a more creative career, this change has been seen at UNLV’s College of Education.
“From the educator perspective, we have increased enrollment at the masters level because people are choosing different career pathways after graduation.” UNLV professor Sophie Ladd said. “Indecisiveness is a common pattern because they are not sure which career path they should take. I also see that across campus from students switching majors in their junior or senior year.”
While about 65% of Gen Z aspire to create their own jobs and work for themselves, they are also showing a declining work ethic. More than one-third of Gen Z won’t tolerate being forced to work when they don’t want to, and they’re no more likely to work than millennials, whose employment rates were already at record lows.
“I appreciate that Gen Z and younger Millennials have the ability to set really clear and healthy workplace boundaries, and that is one of their strengths,” Fashion Design teacher Levi Harbeson said. “The only problem with them is that they don’t have the experience that allows them to have a balanced work ethic. They blame everything on the pandemic and love to say that they can’t do it because of it but in the real world, you will have to live through those conditions.”
Although Generation Z has increased admission rates in college, they are still struggling to grasp the realistic aspects of life after high school. Counselor Elizabeth Hare has noticed that more students care less about the school experience and instead think that the grade matters more.
“So many kids meet with me regarding motivation,” Hare said. “Often it isn’t motivation, but self-discipline. Students struggle doing monotonous tasks. They get bored and switch to something else.”
As the work ethic standard is changing, the importance of a college reputation is as well. While more of Gen Z is enrolling in college, parts of the generation are also placing less emphasis on keeping to the normal college process and favoring more unconventional paths. Las Vegas native turned Durham University student Maci Taylor graduated from Cal State Eastbay in 2021 and was unable to enter a normal graduate school. Taylor’s self-paced master’s program has allowed her to travel the world while also receiving an education. Within the past eight months, Taylor has been to a variety of European countries and because of her school-life balance, she can get up to leave at almost any time.
“As of today, I am in Cyprus playing with island cats and soaking in every moment before I go back and finish finals and then go back home,” Taylor said. “So while I will have to get another Master’s degree when I come back to the States and am not due with my educational career, I have had more unique experiences that make me a better student and overall person.” Over the past decade, more people have taken advantage of these rare experiences and it is preparing the upcoming generation for the world outside of school. Nowadays, it matters less if someone doesn’t have their life figured out right after high school because they have the chance to go back to college and sample different careers. For junior Kamryn Baldenebro, higher education seems overwhelming when less certain about her overall career. But, taking responsibility to make an independent choice may be a struggle for Gen Z.
“I have no idea what career I want to do,” Baldenebro said. “I’m not sure if I even want to go to college at all right now. My brother is doing what he loves to do and he never went to college. He has no student loan debt and has been an advocate for not needing to go to college to be successful. After starting off as a valet, he is now a certified EMT, has no debt, is living his dream and never went to college.”
While this generation takes on more unique paths and tries not to fall into what could be considered a “basic” career, more people, Taylor’s experiences have come with difficulties.
“I have been able to travel all over Europe and because I am already in the continent, I have even more opportunities to do it,” Taylor said. “If I see a cheap flight to Italy, this is my chance to take it. Once I’m in Italy, if a flight home is cheaper than leaving from Germany, it looks like flying to Germany is my best option. And while I have been able to do this all, being 5,000 miles away from home has been the most difficult part. I’ve missed out on holidays and family events that I would normally be at. Through the struggles of homesickness, illness and doing everything on my own, missing those few things has given me the strength to tackle anything further.”
After playing water polo at Eastbay and earning her undergraduate degree, Taylor received a water polo scholarship to study Cognitive Neuroscience in the United Kingdom. She took on the conventional college path, traveled the world and gets to follow her dreams without having to worry about her future. While some of the generation’s dreams are too big, Taylor is one of the generation’s success stories.
“This experience has changed my entire outlook on life. There is so much life outside of the bubble we grow up in and everyone should find the opportunity to experience different cultures, and studying in the UK has given me many opportunities of traveling, meeting new people, and creating lifelong memories and friends,” Taylor said. “I now have some of the best friends I have had and I get to travel the world to see them in the future.”
Technology and Entertainment, It’s All A Mind Game
Wake up. Grab your phone. Scroll through social media for long periods of time. A typical routine for Generation Z.
One of Generation Z’s defining features is the connection between social media and growing up. For instance, 30% of parents of children at the ages of 9-11 say their children use TikTok.
“The second I wake up in the morning to when I am about to fall asleep, I’m on my phone,” senior Alyssa Miguel said. “As a teenager in this digital age it seems impossible to go more than an hour without it. But why would you want to? All of your friends are just a text away and you have the entirety of the internet at your fingertips.”
Most teenagers have been using technology since birth, growing up alongside the internet. For many it becomes an extension of themselves. Daily tasks and interactions move from physical to digital.
“It is almost impossible to not use technology every day for almost everything,” Miguel said. “Instead of going up to people in classes and introducing yourself, you just follow them on social media. Instead of making flashcards using index cards, you can just make a slideshow. Almost every part of our personal lives and school work can be more efficient online.”
Many teenagers are venturing out into the life of social media and becoming influencers. Being allowed to access technology at younger ages allows for 42% of teenagers to explore the different types of media and entertainment they can create. Freshman Flor Bordinhon started creating personal podcasts to share her life experiences and self realizations with her peers.
“My podcast seems to be something that will always be with me,” Bordinhon said. “I want to share more life experiences and self realizations throughout my life, but I don’t care if it becomes viral or not; all I want to do is share some life experiences and self realizations.”
As of today, around 86% of teenagers today are open to the idea of building their fame off of social media and becoming influencers. Growing up in a society that is heavily influenced by how many likes, followers, and views a person receives influences many teenagers to want to be a part of that demographic.
“If [Generation Z] lives for the camera, then there’s a problem because what if technology fails, or technology fails them not on just an actual, physical level, but more like on a mental level,” Video Production teacher Robert Lemons said. “This generation has an addiction to a ‘Now, Now, Now. Me, Me, Me,’ mentality. If something doesn’t give them instant gratification, then they aren’t interested. Entertainment has also given Generation Z shorter attention spans.”
On the other end of the spectrum, some teenagers have sworn off social media completely. After past negative experiences, some find that to be the easiest solution.
“After being on almost every social media platform over the past couple of years, I have realized that the best thing for my mental health was to simply delete my accounts,” senior Savannah Libatique said. “Being constantly focused on how I was perceived on the internet took so much brain power. My screen time has gone from six hours to just under two. Not checking Instagram or Snapchat every couple of minutes leaves you with more time to actually build relationships with the people around instead of just checking what they posted.”
It is not uncommon for Generation Z to have some type of social media platform to get their daily entertainment. As of today, 68% of teenagers spend around six to eight hours of their day, sometimes even more.
“With social media, I think that’s the biggest influence,” Lemons said. “Generation Z wants to emulate what they see because they believe that, that is how things should be, how people should live and how people should look. Just look at the filters, which are very detrimental to one’s mental health. I think that social media’s one of the issues.”
Seeing these influencers grow their following by simply posting themselves on social media has led to many females within Generation Z to see the media as competition. Some of these teenagers feel the need to look a certain way or imitate what these influencers do, just so they receive the same reassurance that the influencers have.
“We’re so focused on getting more likes than ‘that’ friend, or getting more views on their TikTok than someone else and I feel like this competition to get more likes has two possible reasons,” Bordinhon said. “One reason would be that we’re so insecure outside of the internet, that getting more likes or even bragging about it makes us feel better about ourselves, but at the end of the day, it’s literally just likes. Although it is a pleasurable experience to keep up with the media and actively expose yourself to everything going around, there are some areas where over-exposure can lead to negative consequences.”
Because of the instant gratification and ability to spy on strangers’ lifestyles that social media allows, Generation Z has become disconnected from reality. This is a generation-wide problem that our teachers, parents, and leaders have noticed. However, taking more time to peel their eyes from their phones could help Generation Z curb this overreliance on technology.
“I’ve been trying to stay disconnected, and not use my phone as much,” Bordinhon said. “It’s hard since I use my phone to talk to friends, watch videos and tv shows, search recipes, learn, play video games or even school. I have times when I put my phone down and do something else such as cooking, painting or singing. I just feel like it’s good for all of us to disconnect sometimes and enjoy the real world, because that’s all we’ve got at the end of the day.”
Smile! It’s For A Good Cause
With the rise of the internet and more readily accessible social media platforms, many in this generation have felt increasing numbness toward common tragedies. Social media has given countless opportunities for people to capitalize on racial violence, turning traumatizing events into a way to gain popularity and attention. The petitions and TikToks have quickly turned into performative activism, which has become a norm amongst this generation.
For many, it started out as innocent and passionate as they were fighting to get closer to equality for all. But because of the nature of social media, some have developed a constant obsession with seeking attention and being validated by people they simply do not know. With the spike of new social media platforms, comes an influx of influencers on those platforms as well. Because of the overwhelming amount of influencers, there is a battle to be the more popular, or most relevant; that means making content that is relevant and trending. Since so many political and social issues are treated as a trend and a way to become more relevant, influencers have been using these issues to promote themselves.
“I think some of the activism I see online is genuine,” senior Cheyann Thomas said. “But a lot of it is for the facade of being an ally or a supporter. Some people in this generation simply see political and social issues as a hobby to partake in, not as actual people fighting for rights and needing help doing so.”
A popular example of this is someone who a large part of Gen Z knows: Sienna Mae, the TikToker known for being overwhelmingly body positive, who labeled herself as someone with a body that is not considered the beauty standard. She was known for posting videos and photos unedited of herself to show how even though she isn’t the skinniest girl, her body is still beautiful.
The problem with fans arose when she released a now discontinued line of merchandise that read, “Have you eaten today?” Many felt this was insensitive to those with eating disorders, as her brand is promoting body positivity, and fans concluded that she really did not care about the social issues surrounding body image in a society that she claimed. Others even argued that she simply used the insecurities of others to make a profit.
“Activism is popular online because it’s easy and everyone has a persona to upkeep. If you repost a B Black Lives Matter post or change your profile picture to “BLM”, you are now praised for being an ally,” Thomas said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing or a good thing; it’s based on the intentions of the creator.”
Caring more about the likes and amount of interaction they get on their activism posts has amplified the problem of fake news, by Gen Z believing and spreading misinformation on many social and political movements.
There is a common narrative that because Gen Z essentially grew up with technology and is the best at using it, they are not so easily fooled by misinformation that circles the internet daily; however, this doesn’t account for how often young people are the victims of it.
“Gen Z is very young, and is being allowed into a space where people thrive off of lies and manipulation, unsupervised,” senior Ana Gonzalez, said. “This causes people to feed into these fake facts and claims, sometimes without knowing any better, in hopes of getting recognition and being seen as a good, educated person.”
In fact, it’s even easier for fake news to seem more real and authentic and get passed around at a faster rate, because fact-checking the information being consumed is not a standard anymore amongst Gen Z. When a story is interesting enough, it grabs the attention of many, and this includes commentary content creators; people who create videos and other forms of media that are surrounded by giving their opinion on an issue that is relevant.
This causes the spread of a relevant topic at a time that is so fast, that pieces of misinformation are thrown into the mix simply to add fuel to the fire. There are certain groups within Gen Z that are overly obsessed with internet praise and being recognized by people all over the world, that they will push fake news, and not fact-check it.
It was during the 2020 presidential elections when the spread of false information was at an all-time high. There were TikTok videos being made claiming that if Joe Biden won the 2020 elections, then Trump’s supporters from all over will commit mass murder of POC and people in the LBGT community. These claims were clearly false, but they were not fact-checked and because of the sheer shock of these statements being made, they spread like wildfire across the TikTok platform.
“I think performative activism and fake news both are connected to the false sense of change that social media creates,” Government teacher Joseph Juliano said. “People end up thinking that true activism is taking place when in reality they are being manipulated with propaganda.”
A more prominent example was the conflict in Palestine that trended on social media a few months to a year ago.
It was when the discussion surrounding the Palestine conflict was at an all-time high, where a fake graph was being passed around social media platforms, mainly Instagram. The graph displayed the number of people who were injured or passed away, and was later proven to be false. This graph was passed around by many people, none of them seeming to fact check what exactly they were sharing, retweeting, posting on their Snapchat stories, or even sending these false articles and stories in group chats with close friends and family.
“[Performative activism has hurt issues in] too many [ways] to count. I think the worst though, is that it creates a false reality for many of those that are easily susceptible or gullible.” Thomas says. “It divides many just by a false headline, that they will continue to support or believe.”
The spreading of fake news for the sake of seeming “woke” and “educated” has hurt many social and political issues. The true meaning and purpose of Black Lives Matter was lost in the looting, photoshoots with destroyed police vehicles, and in taking mass amounts of videos from protests that provided no context to what was actually happening. The movement was meant to bring justice, but it was not being treated as such.
“I can’t say that I’ve been a “victim” of fake news because I often fact check, but there have been times where I’ve caught myself reeling into online news without checking through certified sources,” Thomas said. “I don’t believe activism is performative, a lot of the time it’s an outlet for people to express what can’t be expressed alone. Some may do it in extreme ways than others but in the end they’re just hoping for change. When it comes to activism, you have to participate with intention and knowledge, and know what you’re talking about and why.”
But the entirety of Gen Z does not treat activism as a means to become famous. Some did their research and shared it with others willing to listen, showing how passionate they truly are about the issues they are putting time and effort into fighting for.
“I believe Gen Z, on average, has made matters better.” Mr. Castillo says. “Social issues that were once ignored or ‘swept under the rug’ have now come to light, which is important. While it’s uncomfortable for many to ignore certain social inequities, it’s more important to bring them to light so that we can overcome that; Gen Z has accomplished this task.”
Generation Z. We still have a long way to go.
How Gen Z chooses to engage with the world now will determine how the generation after will perceive our actions and while Generation Z has many faults there is still time to see our impact. So far, we have carved out for them a unique independence and aversion to being perceived as the last generations.
GenZ activism, and engagement in our world has taken the forefront of many identities of the people within this generation. Social activism or lack thereof of real action is a big marker of Gen Z identity. A general identity of wanting to do things differently and change the world is our major focal point.
We have acknowledged that the world is different for us, and our actions will determine if we leave it better or worse.