Our world has, without a doubt, changed and developed over the years and will continue to do so. Society has progressed in the ways we relate and communicate with each other, largely due to the role that technology has played in it all. Throughout the shift that has happened because of technology, various groups have been defined, such as the Baby Boomers, Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z. Before we dive deeper into this generational divide, let’s take a look at what these groups entail.
Barclays breaks it down like this:
Baby Boomers: Also known as Boomers
- Born between 1945-1960
- Attitude Toward Technology: Early information technology adaptors
- Communication Media: Telephone
- Communication Preference: Face-to-face ideally, but telephone or email if required
Generation X: Also known as Gen X
- Born between 1961-1980
- Attitude Toward Technology: Digital Immigrants
- Communication Media: Email and text message
- Communication Preference: Text message or email
Generation Y: Also known as Millennials
- Born between 1981-1995
- Attitude Toward Technology: Digital Natives
- Communication Media: Tablet or smart phone
- Communication Preference: Online and mobile (text messaging)
Generation Z: Also known as Gen Z/ iGen
- Born after 1995
- Attitude Toward Technology: “Technoholics”
- Communication Media: Handheld Communication Devices
- Communication Preference: Facetime
After reading and researching more about the “generational gap” in the above categories, I thought long and hard about the negative connotations that can take place with these stereotypes and labels. Yes, each generation has different characteristics, abilities, and developments, but there has to be a common ground between each group.
Melanie Curtin has a valid point when she says: “generational breakdowns are never an exact science; it’s not like a 27-year-old and 42-year-old are so different that they can’t understand one another.”
What stereotypes are hindering us from finding a common ground? What judgments are standing in the way of working towards a better future and society together, despite a generational divide? Recently, a lot of the pre-conceived judgements are towards the Gen Z generation. So as educators, how do we break down the labels and assumptions so that we can start focusing on the positives that our current generation brings to our world and our future? Let’s take a look at two of the big misconceptions about Generation Z and discuss how we, as educators, can encourage this generation to use technology to their full potential.
Misconception: Digital Natives (someone who was raised in a digital, media-saturated world)
Some would call them “Digital Natives” or “Technoholics” because they have grown up with technology all around them, but this can be a dangerous term. “No one is born a native speaker of digital in the same way that no one is born a native speaker of any language”, Alec reminds us. From a teaching perspective, if we just assume that our students know something, it can be detrimental in their learning process. The same goes for technology. If we assume that students all have the same amount of experience and knowledge of technology, then we are not equipping or preparing them to use the tools that they use most often. As I mention in my previous blog post, “each student will have a different level of knowledge when using online tools and social media platforms”. This means that we need to teach everyone not only how to use technology tools in a positive way, but to authentically use technology in order to enrich their lives and the lives of people around them.
- Critical thinking (all about solving problems)
- Creativity (teaches students to think outside the box)
- Collaboration (shows students how to work together to achieve a common goal)
- Communication (lets students learn how to best convey their ideas)
Cultivating a classroom environment around the 4 C’s also gives students the chance to become “knowledge-able” instead of just knowledgable. Michael Wesch says that being “knowledge-able” means, “knowing how to find (information), sort it, analyze it, criticize it.” Leigh makes an important point when she says, “in order for students to be successful in today’s world, they need to know how to think, ask questions, and develop their own understanding of concepts.” Are we, as educators, being proactive with our use of technology in the classroom and giving students the opportunity to learn the crucial skills needed in helping them becoming “knowledge-able”?
If we are willing to meet students where they are at and help them grow to learn the valuable skills and opportunities that technology has, then we will promote a community of online learners who thrive in the digital world. Adam reminds us that “our world is constantly becoming more and more technology driven and we need to be able to equip our students with the skills they will need to navigate that world in a healthy manner.”
Another common misconception about Gen Z is that they are a narcissistic generation- entitled and self-promoting. Sure, they could look that way from the outside with their constant need for likes on social media and long lasting Snap Chat streaks. However, Brooke Lea Foster tells us, “these traits are simply hallmarks of early adulthood—it’s often the first time people are putting themselves out there… overconfidence is how people muscle through the big changes.”
Haven’t you been there?
Haven’t you felt the need for affirmation and reassurance at some point in your life? For Gen Z, it just might look a little different with the involvement of technology and social media. It’s important that we remember that Gen Z is navigating this world through a different lens. We were there too, but just in a different way.
As educators, we need to give students the chance to connect through social media and use it as a positive outlet. We need to teach students how to demonstrate leadership online and prepare them for what they will encounter instead of writing this generation off and calling it hopeless. Once we recognize their potential and positive place in this world, then maybe our society will stop viewing them as narcissistic.
We need to prepare them for our future and give them the skills they need to better their lives online, which is outlined well in the Oxford School District “Portrait of a Graduate”. Teaching them skills so that they can be:
- Effective Communicators
- Culturally Aware
- Critical Thinkers
- Creative Thinkers
- Personally Responsible
- Active Citizens
Online and Offline.
Often when people consider Gen Z as narcissistic, they also view them as lacking social skills. Are social skills only deemed proper if they are done offline? I would argue that social skills online are necessary for students to learn in order to be successful in the digital world. According to Christopher Mims, “Gen Z doesn’t distinguish between online and IRL (In Real Life)” anymore. Social skills are not isolated to “face-to-face” conversations. Instead of assuming that students need to put their phones away in order to be “present”, why can’t we teach them how to flourish online when they are posting on social media and communicating with others? Instead of calling this generation “addicted” to their phones, why can’t we see them as needing connection, just like you and me? In a recent presentation, Mary Beth Hertz said that, “teens aren’t addicted to social media, they are addicted to each other.” Just like everyone else, they want to have connection and relationship. Let’s utilize the online tools and platforms that Gen Z uses in order to engage them in positive online connections and relationships.
How to Move Forward
So is it possible to change our educational system and society in order to engage our current generation and break down the divides with other generations? Yes. Where do we start? In the classroom and in our homes.
As educators and parents, we need to build up our generation and give them confidence in their digital day-to-day lives rather than deem them as unteachable because they are already “digital natives” or that they are “narcissistic.”
Grace Birnstengel states it perfectly in her article called, “Boomer Blaming, Finger Pointing and the Generational Divide”, “Regardless of whether the generational divide is real or a construct, fair or unfair, there are real dangers when generalizing about any cultural subset and assigning ultimate blame.”
Instead of building up walls between each generation to further the generational divide, let’s work together to break down the barriers and find common ground to build a society that thrives, connects, and relates.