No one seems able to agree about the exact dates for Generation Z. The youngest members may have been born in 1995 and the last in 2012. We’ll find out more about them in the next couple of years as additional research explores this group.
As we strive to reach this generation, we must understand its members as well as we can.
Two key markers of Generation Z.
- Most of Generation Z sees the world as a scary place. They may not have been born when 9/11 took place, but their parents and others have made the event a part of their lives and insecurities. Many have been parented out of fear. (“How to Raise an Adult,” Lythcott-Haims)
- From this, we can also conclude that Generation Z is the most anxious generation, or “melatonin generation,” since melatonin is its drug of choice. The anxiety of those in this age group makes sleeping difficult. And their lack of sleep affects their emotions and decision-making.
As we seek to invest in the members of Generation Z, we must consider how to create safe spaces for them physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. Here are a few tips on how to engage an anxious young person in meaningful conversation.
3 Ways To Invest In Gen Z
Lead with listening.
When someone says they are worried, overwhelmed or afraid, we may feel the desire to fix the perceived problem. With all good intentions, we offer phrases like, “At least …” or “The good thing is …” This minimizes the other person’s feelings and will often shut down the conversation.
Resist the urge to use your words to try to improve their situation. Instead, ask questions and listen. Sitting with them and identifying with their emotions can have a powerful impact. If a young person tells you, “I’m stressed out about getting good grades,” ask clarifying questions: “Do you find studying a challenge?” “What kind of grades do you want to get?”
Once you better understand the situation, ask questions that enable them to explore how they feel. Sample questions include: “When do you find yourself most stressed about your grades?” “Why do you think grades cause you to be so stressed out?” “When it comes to your grades, what do you fear most?” “When you get worried about your grades, what thoughts run through your head?”
Give them permission.
Giving them permission to feel as they do will help them relax and feel understood and validated. You might say, “That is stressful.” “I understand why you feel overwhelmed.” “I imagine that kind of pressure is hard to handle.”
Help them navigate their feelings.
Invite them into a brainstorming journey with the phrase, “I wonder …” When we use this phrase, we invite active participation. “I wonder what would help you feel less stressed.” “I wonder what things you enjoy doing that help you relax or distract you from feeling overwhelmed.” “I wonder if tutoring would help you.” “I wonder if talking with your parents about the pressure you are feeling would help.” “I wonder how your parents would respond.” One of the best gifts we can give Generation Z is not great advice but walking with them through tough situations.
Talk less. Listen more. Journeying alongside them will help them feel valued and loved, and it will increase their skill set for navigating life’s difficulties.
Kirsten Knox, Senior Director of Ministry Partnerships at YMI. Kirsten was part of the second class to complete the YMI two-year coaching and training class in 2009. She has since been a coach on multiple occasions. Kirsten Knox is married and a graduate of Asbury University with a degree in youth ministry. She began working in youth ministry in 2000, serving Pasadena Community United Methodist Church for a decade. Click the social links below to engage with Kirsten.