For Parents: How Gen Z Is Different Than Other Generations

By Sammie Gallo, Creator of Abundant Life: You Were Made for More

Do you ever wonder what it takes to understand, to connect with, and to navigate a relationship with your children as they grow? 

Gen Z (and generations after them) – the generation born between 1997 and 2010 – has a distinct reputation that is irrevocably different from baby boomers, Gen X, and millennials. Exactly what the differences are and why they exist is something that still is being researched. A new report from the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life analyzes data collected from a survey of baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z about their experiences during adolescence. One finding is that Gen Z—or Zoomers—are less likely to hold a part-time job, attend religious services, have a romantic relationship, and use drugs. They also spend more time online, are more likely to identify as LGBTQ, and report being more lonely than previous generations.  

One factor behind these differences—and a defining difference itself between Gen Z and the adolescent experiences of previous generations—is the role and use of technology. Gen Z has never known a world without social media and smartphones. Seven out of 10 Zoomers report using social media daily (a number that still seems suspiciously low), and 56% of Gen Z adults report playing video games in the past week. Think about it – when you were growing up, you could escape whatever was happening at school when you went home. You could forget about certain things in whatever your “safe space” was. For Gen Z, because of social media, that is impossible. Everything is at their fingertips – which can be and is being proven to be dangerously destructive. 

Though increased social media and video game use does not necessarily mean that less time is spent with friends, it typically does. So, it is unsurprising that Gen Z, as a whole, reports greater loneliness and less time spent with friends during their teen years than older generations.  

Gen Z is also more progressive in political views and more likely to identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, or trans than previous generations. Today, almost one in four Gen Z adults identifies as LGBTQ, which is about five times more than baby boomers. Additionally, about four in 10 identify as politically liberal, while only 26% identify as politically conservative. Given that virtually every social media platform champions LGBTQ images, behavior, and ideology and that LGBTQ ideology has become a defining creed of left-leaning politics, this is not surprising. Individuals who identify as LGBTQ are celebrated, especially online, whereas those who dissent from the reigning sexual orthodoxies are easily reported and often, quickly de-platformed. Having grown up more online than outside, Zoomers’ politics, values, and loyalties have been shaped by the narratives preached in their social media worlds. 

At the same time, research has found that Gen Z avoids some of the risk-taking and moral vices of older groups. Perhaps because they spend so much more time online, only 32% of adult Zoomers reported drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or smoking weed as a teenager, and only 56% reported having a boyfriend or girlfriend. Also, only 58% reported having a part-time job, the lowest number of the four generations surveyed. While less substance abuse is certainly better, when considered along with fewer part-time jobs and romantic relationships, this is likely not due to better morals but to an overall aversion to even healthy risk-taking.

Finally, though Zoomers are the least likely to attend religious services (!!!!), the common thread to church attendance across all generations continues to be family life. For all generations, the majority (68%) of those who grew up in a two-parent household, participated in religious life during adolescence, whereas those growing up in a single-parent household were less likely to attend religious services (53%). Among older generations, less troublemaking and risk-taking often coincided with more participation in religious services, but that statistical link is broken when it comes to Zoomers. Whereas 71% of baby boomers attended religious services during their teens, only 52% of Gen Z attended religious services during theirs.  

Gen Z’s generational differences indicate that a shared way of life consisting of both physical presence and family life deeply matters. Unless these things are recovered, decreased religious observance – or really, a decreased interest in a relationship with Jesus – and increased loneliness will only continue. Human beings, no matter the generation to which they belong, are embodied beings. None of us are meant to do life and relationships online. When our lives are stripped of tangible connections with our neighbors, our neighborhoods, and our families, we lose sight of many things that matter. Parents – may this be an encouragement to you no matter how old your kids are… if they are young and it’s a struggle to get out of the house every week for church, do it anyway. If they are older and have different things competing for their attention, choose wisely about what you let win in their lives. How they view the world, their relationships, and everything they pour their time and energy into will depend on what you make or let be a priority and rule their lives. 

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Proverbs 22:6

Sammie graduated from Robert Morris University in 2017 with a background in biology and psychology and started working with Anglicans for Life (AFL) in 2017. In addition to her work with AFL, she spent 3 years going into public schools with the Women’s Choice Network, speaking to high schoolers about healthy relationships and sex education. She has a passion for making sure every teenager, parent, and youth leader is equipped, engaged, and encouraged to have Gospel-centered conversations regarding relationships, sexuality, and life issues.

Sammie married her best friend, Juan Gallo, in May 2019. During her free time, she and her husband invest in teenagers and young adults in their community, disciple their two kids, Ofie and Leo, and Sammie recently began a new career path as a registered nurse in emergency medicine.