In this season, our relationships have adapted to a world of social distancing and virtual interactions. Whether we are spending more time with our kids as they homeschool or do virtual courses, or spending less time with students or employees who are learning and working from home, there are unique opportunities to encourage and support the young people in our life. One way we can do this is to identify and acknowledge how they are smart, the natural intelligence they have, and affirm and encourage them in developing their abilities.
This is a generation that is incredibly individualistic and is growing up in a world that tells them identity is fluid. This can create uncertainty, confusion, and anxiety. This is further complicated as social media creates a tendency to compare ourselves to others. Young people today need confidence to understand themselves and grow in their abilities. We can help them.
Dr. Kathy Koch, in her book The 8 Great Smarts, talks about the different types of intelligences we can watch for in the lives of the Gen Zers around us. She gives descriptions of how each type of intelligence thinks, responds, and learns. There are great suggestions for activities to do with young people based on their interests, and ideas for guiding them into a career field that fits who they are.
The eight great smarts that she delineates are:
· Word Smart
· Logic Smart
· Picture Smart
· Music Smart
· Body Smart
· Nature Smart
· People Smart
· Self Smart
I highly recommend Dr. Kathy’s book. As a parent who is Word Smart, it has given me so many great insights as I raise Picture Smart and Nature Smart kids. As a People Smart coach and educator, I have learned to better appreciate and relate to the Self Smart people I coach and teach.
As you engage the Gen Zers in your life, I encourage you to pay close attention to the “smarts” they possess, encourage and guide them as they develop the unique intelligence they possess.
Like many of you, I remember the days before social media and smartphones. Now, it seems we can’t live life without them. From checking in with family to accessing the weather, news, and sports, most Americans now seem inseparable from their devices. These devices also accompany us to work, where we utilize them there as well.
As a Generation Z researcher, I wanted to see how this generation uses technology in the workplace, and how employers can utilize their innate expertise. Having grown up in the late 90s and 2000s, Generation Z has always had the internet and smart technology at their fingertips. A 2019 study by Adage indicated that 98% of Gen Z’ers surveyed owned smartphones and 94% owned laptops. Gen Z engages with friends, interests, and now school almost entirely through their devices.
Several recent studies also revealed that Gen Z is more comfortable working from a tablet or smartphone than laptop or desktop in a work environment and use their smartphone at work as their primary communication tool. Gen Zer’s want to work in an environment that has fast, reliable tech, and wants to use this tech to communicate with their supervisors and colleagues. Gen Z are well-acquainted with video tools like Zoom and Skype, having used FaceTime and Snapchat throughout their teen years.
COVID-19 has forced many employers to shift to remote work. While many Gen Zer’s, Millennials, and Gen X’ers are used to using applications like Zoom, MS Teams, and Skype, learning to navigate these apps under the pressure of working from home can be difficult and stressful for many older employees. We’ve all received the frantic text, call or message, “How do I turn on my camera??”. To assist older employees with using video, chat, or other workplace technology, I recommend utilizing your Generation Z employees’ expertise.
Utilizing Gen Z’s technological skills may help your company in a couple of ways. Appointing young employees as leaders in this area may help you better engage with and retain this group of employees. Research shows that Gen Z needs to feel a sense of purpose, achievement, and advancement in their job, or they will quickly move on. Designating Gen Z’ers as the go-to for team tech questions will give them a sense of accomplishment and an opportunity to display leadership even if they are in frontline or entry roles.
Pairing older employees with Gen Z’ers may also have an added benefit – as members of Generation Z communicate with and help their team members, the mature team members also have an opportunity to get to know the younger members. Perhaps the director or VP who would never get to know the frontline employee is suddenly relying on them for virtual tech assistance. What an amazing chance for a learning exchange to occur! While the Gen Z employee assists with technology, the more tenured employee also has an opportunity to mentor or provide wisdom to the younger employee, which may outlast the tech questions and strengthen the virtual team.
Note: I recommend inviting rather than assigning Gen Z’ers to help their team members access and troubleshoot tech– you will receive a much more favorable response (a monetary or non-monetary incentive such as an extra day off, small gift, or bonus may also help).
Growing up in an age of rapidly expanding technology and a constant information stream, Generation Z possesses skills and ideas that organizations should employ. Utilizing Gen Z’s technological skills is one way to engage younger employees and strengthen your virtual teams during COVID-19.
Last time, I wrote about some of the challenges facing Millennials and Gen Z while practicing social distancing. These include the increased potential for loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Here, I would like to share a few strategies for those of us who are parents, teachers, mentors, and leaders as we seek to engage and support the young people in our lives at this time.
- Pause and be present. As my husband and I have been juggling work with the kids at home full time, I often feel like I am always scrambling to catch up. Last night, my daughters were tired and stressed. So, we turned off all the devices, and just sat together in the dark stillness of the living room for a while. After a few minutes, one of my daughters started sobbing. When I asked her what was wrong, and just waited, she began sharing a situation that was making her feel stressed. We talked about it and I was able to encourage and affirm her. Everyone went to sleep with smiles. Sometimes, amid the busyness, whether it is with our kids, a student, or a young colleague, we need to make sure we are creating spaces to just pause and be present with them.
- Be proactive and intentional. As we are having fewer face-to-face interactions these days, it is important to be proactive and intentional to ask young people how they are doing. Engage them with open-ended questions (What is most difficult for you during this time? How are you feeling about…? What activities help you? How can I support you?). Practice active listening skills. Asking good questions and attentively listening is one of the best ways to communicate interest, care, and support. In many cases, young people do not need us to give them the answers, they just need to feel like they are not alone, and that someone is encouraging them as they work out the solutions.
- Extend grace. We are living in unprecedented times as globalization and technology are accelerating the change and impact of events in our world. We are absorbing information and change in ways people have never experienced before. While daunting for all of us, young people often lack the experience and maturity that help provide perspective and stability. As a result, we need to extend some grace when behaviors, statements, and attitudes in the lives of those around us are less than optimal. Love and acceptance help create opportunities for speaking wisdom and encouragement that can equip a young person to grow through this time.
- Model healthy coping skills. Many of us are managing extra stress and anxiety these days. One of the greatest gifts we can give young people is to model and engage them in healthy coping strategies. Take your kids for a walk or bike ride and get some exercise instead of turning on a movie. Have a “game night” with colleagues or extended family and talk while you play cards over video chat. Set aside time to “unplug” from all devices and read a book or build a puzzle. Serve someone in your community together.
History shows us that adversity and difficulty can build resiliency and character, if engaged effectively. As we mentor the young people in our lives, may we leverage the opportunities during this unprecedented season to build memories and skills that will help them for a lifetime!
Clinical psychologist, Benjamin F. Miller, wrote that America was already on track to face a mental health crisis before the COVID-19 outbreak. While many Americans are feeling the emotional toll of the pandemic, Millennials and Generation Z represent particularly vulnerable groups. Many were already suffering from declining mental health. The new normal of social distancing is increasing the loneliness and isolation that so many within these generations are experiencing.
Many argue that technology allows us to connect effectively even while separated physically. While this is true, we know that in-person interaction is better for emotional health than virtual connection. Jean Twenge, in her book, iGen addresses this issue. She explains that if virtual connection were as valuable as face-to-face connection, then “teens who communicate via social media and text should be just as happy, be just as likely to dodge loneliness, and be just as likely to avoid depression as teens who see their friends in person or engage in other activities that don’t involve screens.” However, the research demonstrates that, “teens who spend more time on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy….all screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.” As we consider this research alongside the fact that most classes, church groups, sports practices, even some camps, not to mention almost all social interactions, have been moved to a virtual format involving screens, the potential for increased depression, unhappiness, and loneliness is evident.
While technology is undoubtedly a gift during this time, it is not without significant risks. Twenge reports that “the correlation between social media use and loneliness appears across all demographic groups: boys and girls, Hispanics, whites, and blacks, and those both lower and higher in socioeconomic status.” Twenge also reports that “eighth graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27%, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework cut their risk significantly” and that “teens who spend more than three hours a day on an electronic device are 35% more likely to have at least one suicide risk factor.” Research by Brigham Young University indicates that loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity and present a risk for premature mortality.
Nicolas Kardaras in his book, Glow Kids, explained children between the ages of 10 and 17 today will experience nearly one third fewer face-to face interactions with other people throughout they lifetimes as a result of their increasingly electronic culture, at home and in school. He goes on to explain that “an emotional connection is built, however, when eye contact is made during 60-70% of the conversation…the less eye contact, the less a connection is made.” Our kids, teens, and young adults today desperately need the emotional connection that comes from meaningful face-to-face time.
Peter Gray, my favorite researcher on the importance of play, notes a correlation between a decrease in playtime and a rise in major depression, anxiety, and suicide. Gray writes, “If we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them more time and opportunity to play, not less.”
As we navigate a season where many playgrounds are closed, sports and team events are cancelled, and other activities are being held virtually, we must be vigilant to monitor the mental and emotional health of the young people in our lives. Reduced emotional connection and increased risks for loneliness and depression are serious threats to the well-being of our young people at this time. We must be proactive to find ways to meet their needs for face-to-face interaction, emotional connection, and healthy activity and play in ways that will allow them to thrive.
The following is a guest article written by Katy White. Katy serves as the director of Goer Experience with GoCorps, where she coaches Gen Z college graduates who are considering how to use their skills to serve globally.
In my work with Generation Z students, I’ve become more and more convinced that Gen Z is poised to make a significant impact on the world. They are innovative thinkers with a desire to usher in change. Yet they face many challenges within themselves and their world. How do we as leaders and mentors help them grow into the world changers God has appointed them to be?
Over the years, I’ve discovered a few best practices to help lead this emerging generation. One of the most important is to engage your students from a coaching mentality. Commonly, mentorship involves the mentor imparting information to the mentee. This is a “download” approach, which involves the mentor spending the majority of the time communicating and the mentee spending the majority of the time listening.
However the coaching mentality flips this script. In a coaching relationship, the communicating primarily comes from the coachee. In a sense, this is an “upload” approach, allowing the student to process with their coach what is going on internally.
Your role as the coach is to create the welcoming space for the coachee to share, guide the conversation to draw out thoughts and ideas, ask questions that lead to opportunities for reflection and realization, actively listen to what is being shared, and reflect back insights the coachee was able to discover and conclusions they were able to reach themselves through the conversation. Practically, as a mentor this should look like spending 30% of the time talking and 70% of the time listening.
Why is this important? The desire to feel understood, I believe, is in all of our natures. Yet in particular, Gen Z has a deep desire to be seen and heard and is strongly motivated by individualization and personalization. When a student feels that you understand who they are, where they are coming from, and what is unique about them, you have earned the trust and authority to challenge, exhort, and encourage them. You are also then able to paint a picture of how God purposes to use them for His kingdom.
How can you accomplish this? First, seek to understand their interests, skills, doubts, fears, dreams, desires, future plans, etc. Then, use reflective words - their language of how they are describing themselves - and connect it to Biblical principles and kingdom purposes.
Learn to be a master at asking questions. Jesus was! Many times Jesus would even answer someone’s question by asking another question. Jesus asked questions to reveal the root of the issue, expose a heart condition, illustrate a kingdom concept, or create a relationship and communicate care.
Do you need help becoming a master questioner? Think of questions as a branch. Start with an easier, straightforward question that then has related questions that branch off to reveal more breadth and depth to an answer. For example, an easy question to begin exploring what a student’s interests is “What is your major?” Branch questions include, “Why did you choose that major? Did you start with that major, or did you switch into it? Why did you switch? Have you enjoyed the degree program? Why or why not? What has been your favorite and least favorite class and why?”
Another example of a starter question is “What has been challenging this week?” Branch questions include “Why was this challenging? Have you faced a similar challenge before? How did you respond? Are you happy with that response? How do you wish you could have responded? What can you do to help you respond in this way next time you face a challenge like this?”
Become a curator of good questions and you will be able to empower this generation to understand more of who they were created to be, recognize and address their fears and challenges, listen the Holy Spirit, and take steps towards fulfilling God unique call on their lives.
As we all watch the unfolding COVID-19 situation, I am struck by the fact that it will undoubtedly be a significant period effect, especially for Generation Z (b. 1996-2012). Period effects are events or circumstances that significantly influence aging cohorts at a point in time. I have been considering how we, as leaders, mentors, teachers, and parents can seize some of the opportunities that it presents for equipping and encouraging the young people in our lives to thrive even amid difficulty.
While there are very real threats and cause for concern with this global pandemic, I am convinced that there are also opportunities that come with adversity and uncertainty. As we consider what they might look like for those of us who engage Gen Z students and young adults, I think there are several important skills that we can focus on modeling and instilling in the young people around us in the days ahead:
Coping with stress, fear, and anxiety
Often we do not fully experience the stress our kids feel, for example, with cyberbullying or the pressure to score well on tests. The COVID-19 situation, however, is one that we are all facing together. It provides a unique opportunity for us to walk alongside the young people in our lives through an uncertain time and model healthy coping strategies and behaviors. Here are a few ways we can do that:
o Talk about what we are feeling and do some fact-based research together to understand what is happening. Discuss how our faith and values help us navigate situations like these.
o Identify productive projects we can focus on if we have unexpected downtime, for example, learning a new skill (ie. playing an instrument, sewing, drawing, cooking), completing an unfinished project, cleaning, organizing, painting, or writing!
o Find ways to enjoy nature and get exercise. This might be discovering a new workout routine, going on a nature walk, riding a bike, or visiting a state park.
o Invest in important relationships and meaningful interactions. Call grandma, video chat with a sibling, or chat with your neighbor.
Guarding what we listen to, watch, and read
There is increasing research that correlates depression and mental distress with social media use. That was before the world found itself battling a pandemic. Scrolling social media and news feeds right now does provide some helpful information and connection, but it can also contribute to anxiety, fear, and frustration. This does not help our emotional and mental health during a crisis. As a result, it can be helpful to set healthy limits. For example, I am limiting my own checking of social media and news to once or twice a day right now. This allows me to catch up on important updates and messages from friends. I am prioritizing other things to read and listen to...my kids, podcasts, and books that have been on my list for a while. These give me valuable information and are feeding my heart and mind with creative ideas and hope. By modeling this, I can also help my kids create healthy guidelines for what to read, watch, and listen to in their extra downtime.
Caring for others
It is easy amid a crisis to get consumed with our own well-being. I don’t know what my children may face in their lifetime, but I want them to be thoughtful, compassionate, and generous regardless of the circumstances. The COVID-19 situation provides many opportunities for us to model and teach these characteristics through our own responses and behaviors.
With the young people in our lives, we can find ways to consider what others need in this difficult time. For example, making cards and gifts for friends in a senior care facility, doing yard work for neighbor, or taking a meal to a shut in. There are many people working hard right now to serve their communities. Find ways to express appreciation; maybe that is simply smiling at the store associate who is working on their day off to stock shelves.
Amid difficult circumstances, it is usually normal people doing selfless and generous acts that helps everyone navigate the adversity. May we equip the young people around us to make that kind of contribution!
In his short story, A Christmas Tree, Charles Dickens writes: “I have been looking on, this evening, at a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas tree.” He describes the wonder of the children as they looked at the ornaments. “This motley collection of odd objects, clustering on the tree like magic fruit—some of the diamond eyes admiring it were hardly on level with the table, and a few were languishing in timid wonder on the bosoms of pretty mothers, aunts, and nurses—made a lively realization of the fancies of childhood.”
Our children today do not have the same experiences as the children Dickens describes. Lights on a tree hardly hold the same wonder when they compete with high definition screens. Imaginations are not ignited with wonder, sitting and staring at twinkling ornaments, when they are stimulated instead by continuous noise from handheld devices. Furthermore, innocent ponderings are interrupted by mature content, flowing into our homes and lives via technology.
Tim Elmore, in his book, Marching Off the Map, describes, “We have now begun to experience a strange paradox in our young: The extinction of childlikeness; the extension of childishness.” He explains that the “infectious flow of information” is exposing our kids to adult topics. As a result, they can “lose (1) their sense of innocence, (2) their sense of wonder and (3) their sense of trust.”
Not only are we losing our child-like wonder today, but also our ability to connect with our environment, the way people used to engage the beauty of simple things like Christmas decorations. Kirsten Weir wrote a fascinating article, “Never a Dull Moment.” She explains how in today's technological world, it's unusual to be stuck with absolutely nothing to do. “Most of us are bombarded by near-constant stimuli such as tweets, texts and a seemingly limitless supply of cat videos right at our fingertips. But all those diversions don't seem to have alleviated society's collective boredom.” She cites Psychologist John Eastman who says the reverse may be true. "These might distract you in the short run, but I think it makes you more susceptible to boredom in the long run, and less able to find ways to engage yourself," he says.
Weir reports that several researchers concluded boredom is best described in terms of attention. “A bored person doesn't just have nothing to do. He or she wants to be stimulated, but is unable, for whatever reason, to connect with his or her environment.” Connecting, and helping others connect, with the environment around us is critical as we seek to develop meaningful moments and lasting memories this Christmas. Most of us are used to our environment stimulating us, and if we are bored, we reach for a device. We have lost some of our ability to connect with each other. When we get together for holiday parties, and family gatherings, we often struggle to stay engaged with the people or activities around us and can be tempted to seek stimulation in our social media feed, text messages, or email notifications.
Creating meaningful memories may require some discipline and planning. We can start by being aware of when we are tempted to pull out our device, instead of engaging with someone who is in the room with us. We have to be intentional in creating focused time for interaction. For example, designing a fun box for phones and encouraging people to drop theirs in during family dinner. Planning some interactive activities (games, discussion questions, collaborative project) can give people tools to engage with each other rather than turning on video games or a movie. We must practice good emotional intelligence by asking questions, engaging others in conversation, and modeling for kids how to build relationships.
In her article, Weir cites researcher Van Tilburg. "We saw that boredom actually increased people's tendency to recall these very nostalgic memories and actually made them feel that life in general was more meaningful." Some boredom is essential to the wonder that Dickens described! It creates room for the most nostalgic and memorable moments to occur and be remembered. So, this Christmas, don’t just hand the kids a device, rather sit down with them to play a board game, decorate cookies, or share stories by the fire. When they complain about being bored, just smile!
Research continues to link the overuse of technology to depression, attention issues, and poor social skills. Many parents and grandparents I talk to feel overwhelmed by the powerful influence of technology in their families and homes. Technology, if not managed, can impair our family’s wellbeing. One of our best defenses against devices controlling our time and relationships is to develop a culture in our homes that encourages healthy technology use. So, how do we go about inspiring a tech-smart family? Here are a few strategies and resources:
Book Jolene to speak to your church, school, or community group on Tech-Smart Parenting or visit the Leading Tomorrow podcast for more on this and related topics!
Gen Z (b. 1996-2012) is being raised and educated in a culture of fear. This is the result of many factors. We live in a post-9/11 world, marked by ongoing wars and terrorism, an economic recession, and 24/7 coverage of global, domestic, and personal tensions, trauma, and anger streaming into our lives via our smartphones. Many adults have succumbed to the perspective that the world is an uncertain, dangerous, and scary place. As a result, we work diligently to protect the young people in our lives. We monitor them via video feed throughout their infancy and track them by GPS when they get older. We feed them organic food, buckle them into every seat they sit on, give them helmets and knee pads, and keep them in safe, enclosed spaces. We discourage them from doing anything dangerous or risky, citing the great harm that could befall them. They listen as we talk to one another in frightened or angry tones about what is happening in the world or with our neighbors. They see what we post on social media. They get the message repeatedly that the world is a scary and unsafe place.
In a world perceived as dangerous and uncertain, safety has become the priority. This has had some positive results. Jean Twenge reports in her book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, that there are several positive indicators of increased physical safety for kids and teens today. Homicide rates, sexual assault and rape, and alcohol consumption have all been on the decline. However, there are some other troubling statistics emerging. Depression, anxiety, and suicide among young people are on the rise. In fact, some experts believe that Gen Z is on the verge of a mental health crisis.
Twenge explains how we have not only focused on physical safety for young people today, but also on emotional safety. We have taught them to be tolerant and that they should never be made to feel uncomfortable emotionally. As a result, many do not know how to handle criticism, conflict, or even conversation about tough issues in a healthy and constructive manner. Instead, many young people see words and social interactions as potentially dangerous and harmful.
The emphasis on physical and emotional safety is promoting an aversion to any kind of risk or danger. We neglect to teach and model that it is in failing and experiencing pain that we realize how strong and resilient we are. Healthy conflict, disagreement, and dialogue are where we learn new things, gain diverse insights, and deepen our understanding of ourselves, others, and important issues. It is only through getting hurt that we can ever truly learn the beauty and power of forgiveness and healing. So, while safety is important, it can also be dangerous. Too much safety can strip young people (and the rest of us!) of desperately needed confidence, resilience, perspective, and hope.
So, how can we encourage young people in our lives to avoid the inherent risks of too much safety?
A recent study revealed that 18 to 22-year-olds are the loneliest age group today. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this troubling statistic. One, of course, is the prevalent use of technology in our society today. While devices help us connect to people in new and beneficial ways, there are some drawbacks. Empathy, for example, has decreased as technology has increased. One study reported that college students are 40 percent less empathetic than they were 20 or 30 years ago, prior to the widespread use of the internet. Screens dull our ability to feel the pain and joy of others and to connect with them emotionally. This presents a threat to deep, committed relationships that are impossible to maintain without continuing empathetic interaction.
While Millennials and Generation Z are especially adept at communicating online, valuable intimacy often gets lost in virtual communications. Quantified Communications reports that an average adult today makes eye contact between 30 and 60 percent of the time in conversation, but emotional connection is built when eye contact is made during 60 to 70 percent of the conversation. When there is less eye contact, fewer connections are made. Virtual connections, while valuable, cannot replace the emotional connection and sense of well being that occurs with eye contact, touch, and physical presence.
Leaders and managers today often report that young staff lack the relational skills and emotional intelligence to connect with others effectively. In many ways, it is the older generations who must take responsibility for this. When we hand a 5-year-old a device instead of answering their tenth question about giraffes or princesses, we rob them of an opportunity to develop face-to-face communication skills and connect with us in a way that is meaningful to them. When we miss the body language or facial expressions of a 10 or 12-year-old in our life because we are busy checking our social media feed, we lose the opportunity to model good emotional intelligence. When we avoid a conversation with an 18 or 20-year-old in our life because we assume their earbuds mean they don’t want to talk to us, or we fear rejection, we miss an opportunity to demonstrate sincere interest or unconditional love.
Young people today need opportunities to practice healthy relational skills, and they desperately need to see them modeled. Many leaders, mentors, teachers and parents I talk to, however, do not know even where to start in actively engaging the young people in their lives. What I have found, in interacting regularly with 5 to 25-year-olds, is that there is great power in a good question and active listening. I have yet to encounter a young person who did not respond positively to someone sincerely asking about their perspectives and concerns. True, there might be an eye roll or two at first, but when they see you persist in your interest in them, despite their eye roll, trust and respect begin to develop.
So, what does a good question entail? First of all, it must be open-ended. If it allows the young person to respond with a simple “yes,” “no,” “good” or “bad,” a grunt or sigh, it is not a good question. Instead, it should require some thoughtfulness. Instead of asking, “Did you have a good day at school?” try something like “What was the best part of your day at school?” The response to a good question should give you some insight into the young person’s life and provide an opportunity for a follow up question. For example, if they respond that the best part of their day was chatting with a friend, you could follow up with a question like, “Tell me about your friend? How did you meet?” A good question can thus communicate that you care about what they care about. Check out some other great sample questions here.
Good questions are one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate interest, gain empathy, and develop deep connections. As a result, they are a critical tool for all of us as we interact in a society that is increasingly distracted and busy. Make it a goal to practice asking good questions and taking the time to listen actively to the responses.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!