Generation Z’s Values

(An excerpt from our forthcoming book, Understanding Generation Z: What We Know So Far)

Because so much of gen Z’s social life, enculturation, media consumption, and education are dependent on the internet and mobile computing devices, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that generation Z greatly values connectivity and free access to information. This group of people depends largely on technology and social media for their interactions with the outside world, often choosing to text or message with friends who are physically present in a space with them. However, just because they spend a lot of free time on social media platforms and Netflix doesn't mean that this generation only values technology or even that it is their highest priority.

In fact, they care about a lot of the same topics as previous generations, and they are often seen as having the potential to be more rounded socially and educationally than members of previous generations, including millennials, who are currently considered the best-educated generation to have lived. Young people in generation Z are growing up smarter and faster, thanks in no small part, to the tiny super computers that they carry around in their backpacks and pockets.

Generation Z Cares About Freedom From Being Micromanaged

Given that this generation of children was raised by gen Xers and older millennials, one might imagine them placing great value on structure, as neither gen Xers nor millennials have been generalized as being good at organization and providing structure. Some could imagine them all being laissez-faire parents that offer few boundaries or even supervision.

However, generation Z was raised in no small part by “helicopter parents,” the proverbial opposite side of the cultural coin to the laid-back parents many imagine. Partially concerned about their child being hurt and partially about maximizing their child's potential for future success, these parents may have micromanaged their children's free time, play dates, and extracurricular activities to an oppressive degree. Many parents of the young people today are seen as simply hovering around all aspects of their young person's lives in order to protect them and help them make the most of their lives.

Generation Z Values Creativity and Individuality

Generation Z is a generation that was raised to believe they should value what makes them unique. Many times, they carry traditional names with very unconventional spellings. They don't possess the same drive to socially conform that previous generations did, or, more accurately, they conform to their generation's norm by embracing what makes them different from it. In order to stand out in a sea of unique faces, they seek out creative and unique ways to express their individuality, from personalizing their clothing and accessories to dying their hair brilliant rainbow colors.

Thanks to the proliferation of online media, they can access all kinds of art and music with a few clicks or a simple voice command. Members of generation Z tend to value things like the clever and unusual use of emojis and filters for digital communication, as well as more traditional artistic endeavors, like photography, music, and writing. They've learned from the over-sharing of millennials online, and are more likely to carefully guard and curate their personal brand with their online presence.

Generation Z Cares About Social Justice and Equality

This is the first generation to grow up with mainstream media representation of not just interracial couples but also same-sex couples. For them, having an African American President was not a reality shifting divorce from centuries of domination, but simply a common truth of modern life. (For many gen Z kids, an African-American president is all they have ever known until the present administration.) As a group, they are less concerned with the racial background of their peers, which makes sense, as more members of generation Z than any previous generation are comprised of mixed race ancestry, particularly white and Asian, as well as white and black families.

While there are certainly individual exceptions, on a whole, generation Z is less racist, sexist, and homophobic than generations that came before them. They are more likely to know people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or non-binary, and they tend to be accepting and even protective of these groups as a whole.

They Care About the Planet But Are Burned Out on Rhetoric

Generation Z grew up in the middle of worldwide concern about human-caused climate change. They have been bombarded with stories about increasing global temperatures, rising sea levels, and shrinking polar ice and permafrost since their early childhood. Even animated movies marketed to them, like The Lorax and Disney Pixar's Wall-E, contained intense and hard to ignore messages about the environmental impact of consumerism.

Generation Z absolutely cares about limiting their environmental impact, but they don't want to be preached to. They are also skeptical about labels and organizations, so they are more likely to do research before supporting a business or non-profit to ensure they really follow through on their environmental promises. As marketing and advertising have adopted practices built on social or cause-based marketing and product development, generation Z has grown tired of its claims. The emerging generation, generally, is not inspired by the social claims that companies make. They want to actually see the claim in action in order to believe it.