Generation Z, born between 1996 and 2010, face challenges their parents and grandparents never knew. While they have the greatest access to computer technology and instant answers through artificial intelligence, they struggle to know who they are. Caring for this generation and helping them cope with their anxieties is one of the greatest pastoral challenges of the twenty-first century.
We live in a Jetson’s World
I can remember watching The Jetson’s cartoon on TV in the 60’s, amazed at the technology, but never imagined I would live to see flatscreens, video calls, drones, and computer tablets become a reality. These technological advances are all a regular part of life for Generation Z. While technology makes life easier, it comes with a cost.
Flying cars is about the only Jetson’s tech we are missing. While the Jetson’s technology has given us access to voice-activated answers, it has opened the door to more problems than it solved. Consider the new challenges our young people face due to these technological advances.
Online social media apps encourage users to compare themselves with others who post manufactured profiles. The seemingly perfect lives of their peers can leave Gen Z teens and young adults anxious as they try to measure up. There is a subtle pressure to glamorise your online life. Photo apps will erase your pimples, slim your figure, and boost the colour saturation of your photos. All with the goal of touching up your real life so that it looks like you live in a perfect dream world when, deep down inside, young people wrestle with who they really are.
Young people today live and relate more and more through computer gaming, social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat, and online forums like Reddit. When you scan neighbourhoods after school, before dinner, you don’t see kids playing outside like they once did. Amazon is the shopping experience of choice, and nobody hangs out there.
When young people get together, they post the highlights online with staged shots and smiles. Those who didn’t participate feel like they are missing out. FOMO, or fear of missing out, produces a ton of anxiety, especially for young girls who are more apt to bemoan all they see others doing. With online access to hundreds of profiles, they miss out on something every day.
Online friendships do not offer the same depth of relationship that live, in-person friends offer. A thousand electronic friends and a hundred “likes” are a poor substitute for a best friend who walks through life with you to celebrate the ups and help you when you fall.
Reality for Gen Z is blurred by reality TV and a host of screen options to watch it. Netflix, Disney plus, Amazon Prime, Foxtel, YouTube, and more provide a limitless escape from the challenges of daily life and endless distraction from facing those challenges.
Add to all this today’s instant access to porn and the normalising of the gay and trans lifestyle on social media platforms. The suggestion that you can choose your gender has folks confused. Same-sex best friendships are sexualised. The girl who likes to climb trees or the boy who loves to bake are now labelled gender non-conforming. So, you can see why GenZers are unsure of who they really are. Straight-living youth whose gender identity matches their birth sex are boring. Gender non-conforming behaviour, alternate lifestyles, and transgender identities are portrayed as courageous and exciting. Who wants to be normal and boring?
So, how can we pastor and care for Generation Z?
- Organise old-fashioned activities for GenZers, like hikes through a nearby track, sporting events like ultimate frisbee, social events like crafts, bowling and pizza parties. Give them an opportunity to relate offline.
- Highlight the pitfalls of technology to young people and expose the lies they so easily fall prey to. Someone must help them see how easily they are led astray.
- Spend time with young people in small groups and draw them out. Giving them an opportunity to share the pressures of social media can help pop the online perfection balloon. If you can get a few young people talking, others will follow, and all will walk away with a clearer sense of reality.
- Start a youth camp, or singles retreat where phones and screens are off-limits for the entire time together. GenZers may freak out at first, but to relate face to face in reality, they have to pull their nose up from their unreality devices. Divide the participants into teams who compete against each other for the honour of first place. It is amazing how a little competition can stir up a young person’s desire to win. Competitive people will give 110% and encourage the participation of the whole team to help them win.
- Preach solid Christ-exalting messages the Spirit of God will use to capture their hearts and calm their fears. Sometimes, the best answer to life’s most complicated problems is introducing a person to Jesus rather than preaching on the issue of their struggle. The Spirit of God changes those who draw nearer to Christ from the inside out. God writes his law on the hearts of his children and leads them away from the world into his kingdom.
- Train parents to understand their children’s challenges, get mum and dad off their screens, and recommitted to relating face-to-face at home.
- Encourage families to reclaim family dinners and conversations by turning smartphones off for a meal. They can schedule outings like hikes, short one or two-day holiday trips to the beach, tubing down a river, or attending a sporting event. Cheering on your church softball team and following their season can provide an excellent opportunity for GenZers to build real-life friendships – if they leave their tech in the car. You really can watch a football game without scrolling through your phone.
Most importantly, our face-to-face encouragement and pastoral care can help the smartphone generation cope with their unique challenges and carry them through life’s trials. Encouraging their devotional life and preaching Christ-exalting messages will allow the Spirit of God to draw them closer to Jesus.
© 2023 Marty Machowski. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.