12th Sep 2018

Growing Up in the Digital Age - Implications for Our Youngest Citizens


It goes beyond not recognising a rotary telephone.

Kids born in the most recent generation are truly being raised in the digital age. Never will there be a time in which the Internet did not exist. A time in which they did not know what a computer was. Smartphones are commonplace and the hashtag was always a hashtag, never a pound symbol.

This is Generation Z, consisting of children born from approximately 1995-2010. (It should be noted, some people consider Gen Z to include those born in the years 1998-2016). This fresh batch of kids comes after Millennials, who were born in the years 1980-1994, and most of whom remember the arrival of the Internet, as well as the various transformations smartphones underwent in the early 2000s.

Generation Z (and the generations to follow) arrived after the Internet was already born and our corded telephones had largely been packed away. Generation Z will forever be unique in human history. For these individuals, life has always been digitised, with laptops, smartphones, and Wi-Fi being nearly constant elements in their lives since childhood.

Since those belonging to Generation Z are just entering adulthood, it’s difficult to measure just what the effect of growing up in the digital age will have on their lives. Yet we can already observe the recognisable impacts this has had. As Gen Z joins the workforce, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that these ‘digital natives’ ---who are exceedingly comfortable with technology---have a lot to offer.

They’ve grown up in a digital age. From career goals to personal life and social ramification, what will this digital youth ultimately mean for them?

Today’s kids and teens know a world that has always been instantaneously connected.

A Generation Z Approach

What sets apart each distinct generation? The influences of major events, cultural norms, social mores, and even politics can be seen in the differences amongst Baby Boomers, the Silent Generation, and Xennials, just to name a few. And of course, technology.

It may be the impact of technology which has most distinguished our current young folks, those of Generation Z.

Our kids and grandkids will never know a world without the efficiency and ubiquity of technology, and this changes everything. This means that there is a distinct divide between the worlds we knew in our youth and the world of Generation Z (and even Millennials). The advent of Internet technologies means different things for how people will live and work in the future. From birth, these young folks have a path which will diverge greatly from those of the older generations.

An abundance of career opportunities

It’s not just that Gen Z are tech savvy; technology is prevalent in today’s world which dramatically alters the trajectory of commerce and growth. With technology playing such an immense role in nearly every industry, Generation Z kids are learning the right skills for their particular type of future. At the same time, that very technology is making educational opportunities more available than ever before. Today’s young people are often planning careers predicated entirely on the innovations of the past few decades. Compared with the manual labour roles of the mid-century as well as other professional, non-digital careers, this is definitely a visible shift in the world of work.

A shift in lifestyle pursuits

Different in-demand job skills and brand new career roles (not to mention the ability to become an entrepreneur in the online marketplace) cannot help but impact the lifestyles that Generation Z will choose. While those born earlier in the 1900s were more likely to follow ‘traditional’ paths of family life and gender roles, technology turns that on its head. More women are in the workforce than ever before, and many young girls are especially eager to jump into STEM careers. With so many ways to find job success in the modern world, we’re seeing Millennials and older Gen Z’s postponing marriage and children and prioritising building their own entrepreneurial empires. In fact, one study showed that 55% of Gen Z’ers are intent on starting their own business.

Different attitudes toward technology

What is often most apparent to us as the older generation is the tremendous difference in how young people perceive technology. For those who can remember their first television set (not to mention the first personal computer), there’s still something inherently miraculous about modern technology.

Gen Z, and even Millennials, view mobile phones, Internet, and smart devices with far more complacency. These elements are a normal part of life; not subject to their incredulity.

In some ways, this can be seen as a disheartening thing. Do Gen Z’s lack that sense of wonder? Will they ever grasp how incredible the technology of the modern day truly is?

Yet these are merely sentimental notions. Rather, Gen Z and Millennials simply react differently to modern tech, and this will only serve to help them moving forward. While technology continues to advance exponentially, kids will remain unfazed. These digital jumps seem less remarkable, which may make the next step seem even more possible. Perhaps that sense of optimism will serve our next generation of inventors, scientists, and developers?

Gen Z are immensely comfortable and familiar with even advanced technology.

Distances seem smaller

Speaking of optimism, there is a certain sense that for Generation Z, things are constantly within reach. After all, they’ve grown up with instant news updates from across the globe, the ability to video chat in real-time with friends and family from anywhere, and a world that ultimately feels much smaller because of the Internet.

Because of this, Gen Z is likely to grow up with a lot of determination and self-confidence. Our connected world gives them the belief that they can do what they set their mind too, and that technology is going to make it possible (and much easier).

They live in a world of efficiency

Another outcome of growing up in the digital age is the drastic difference in the ways in which common things are done. For instance, the Internet has changed the way we meet people, the ways in which we fall in love, search for jobs, plan our holidays, save money, and so much more. Is there an aspect of modern life that hasn’t been affected by the Internet?

Ultimately, the major difference in all of these areas has to do with efficiency. The Internet has created faster, more efficient ways to do nearly everything. As digital natives, Gen Z’s have grown up in this super-efficient world and it definitely has impacts on their lives. Some of these are certainly for the best (the ease of finding a job online), while it can be argued that some are less admirable (the lack of real-life social connections that social media may be fomenting).

The ability to adapt

Older folks are often criticised for being “stuck in their ways” or unwilling to adapt to fresh new technologies. Perhaps this is true to an extent. But for those who lived the majority of their life without the benefit of smartphones constantly at hand, it’s much more of an ‘ask’ for them to shift their lifestyle.

This will largely prove untrue for Gen Z.

Technology adapts and alters at an incredible rate, and Gen Z (and perhaps especially Millennials) have been there for all these permutations. What this has likely created is an incredibly adaptable, flexible generation that knows how to roll with the punches. Being malleable is an asset in one’s personal life as well as in the workplace, so it’s not too hard to imagine that this characteristic will help the younger generations do well as they grow. Even now, AI is taking hold and smart devices are becoming increasingly commonplace. Already accustomed to these space-age technologies, young people will continue to adopt new technology (perhaps without question or hesitation) as they age into adults.

50% or more of Gen X’s, Millennials and Gen Z’s report valuing AI for its power in making product and service recommendations.

Challenges of a Digital Childhood

Of course, not everything about our constantly connected world is positive. There are a few ways in which Gen Z’s are likely to struggle. After all, technology cannot prepare one for everything in life! Here are a few of the challenges that might be part and parcel of a digital childhood:

Having to prioritise imagination

Once upon a time, we played with paper dolls and physical action figures. While kids these days do still spend time in non-digital and imaginative play, there’s no doubt that this time has been reduced by the presence of screens in our lives.

Thus, a unique challenge is presented to the modern child, who must actively work to spend time prioritising creativity and imagination. When young, parents can help by limiting screen time and encouraging outdoor activities, but it will remain the responsibility of the individual as he or she grows older.

To be a healthy and well-balanced adult, the Gen Z or Millennial will need to make time to take a break from their devices. They will need to set aside moments in which to focus on creative and artistic pursuits. And they will need to learn to be responsible with their screen time---for their own wellbeing.

More effort to building social skills

There’s been some concern in recent years that kids’ dependence on the Internet and social media is stunting their social abilities. Because they’re often using devices as their primary source of interaction with others, they may fail to develop the important skills needed in face-to-face socialising. It also habituates users to grow more comfortable using screens to communicate and choose to text or email instead of making a phone call. Unfortunately, a great deal of meaning and context is lost in text-only conversations, but both Millennials and Gen Z’s seem to have an aversion to the telephone. Many could say that the younger generations are losing the art of conversation.

Of course, there’s also the rise in cyber-bullying that has occurred over the past decade. In the challenging time of adolescence, the last thing that kids need is one more way to experience harmful bullying, but social media and mobile apps have unfortunately brought this about.

By the same token, there’s also much more awareness arising about this issue, and the result is schools and organisations taking action steps to stop cyber-bullying in its tracks. While those growing up in the digital age may be facing some worrisome aspects, it seems they’re also going to be the ones who learn to tackle those problems head-on.

Unique safety and security concerns

The digital natives of today (as well as we adults) deal with a host of privacy concerns when it comes to our online data.

Parents understandably have fears about their children sharing too much information online, opening them up to safety concerns or privacy worries. These certainly are different safety concerns than we had when we were kids and the unfamiliar approaches can be jarring.

But perhaps we don’t have to worry as much as we think. It’s been found that the younger generations are actually more aware of privacy issues on their social media accounts, and have been found to make better use of the provided privacy settings. They may be more comfortable altering these settings due to their familiarity with various platforms. At the same time, it seems that Generation Z prefers less public social platforms, especially those which allow you to tightly control who you interact with, such as Instagram and Snapchat. These young folks are moving away from Facebook, the site which seems to be most prone to privacy snafus.

Gen Z is likely to be most aware of the dangers of poor security in the online space. Yet they are also the generation that knows best how to separate their offline identity from their online identity.

Difficulties with relaxing and letting go!

As digital natives, members of Gen Z may struggle with the overstimulation that their constant screen interaction could cause. Already there are so many of us (even teens!) who recognise that we spend too much time on our devices, and there’s ample evidence to demonstrate that our screen addiction contributes to stress and anxiety.

Gen Z’s are exceptional at multi-tasking, and in fact may feel that they are performing poorly if they are not multi-tasking. While there are some distinct benefits to this ability, it can also easily lead to overwhelm and overstimulation. Burnout occurs much more quickly when the brain doesn’t get a chance to rest.

Could one of the biggest threats to Generation Z be not knowing how to slow down and take time away? In a few years, perhaps employers may make the ‘digital detox’ a mandatory occurrence. It will lie with these budding adults to figure out how to create the ideal work-life balance in the technologically-driven future.

But the Magic of a Digital World

Ultimately, those who’ve grown up in the digital age have it good in many, many ways.

Though a few sacrifices might need to be made (most of which are sentimental in nature), we cannot deny the multiple avenues of success; the ways in which technology has vastly improved the world for our children and for future generations.

Technology has not only made us more connected and more innovative, it has altered the landscape of every single field and industry. In areas like medicine, modern technology is saving lives.

Generation Z may be extremely fortunate. They can look forward to continuing medical innovations and developments, leading to possible treatments for or eradication of diseases, and eventually generating a longer life expectancy. At the same time, ameliorative care will help instil a better quality of health and wellbeing as the Gen Z’s age.

This generation also possesses incredible awareness. In recent decades there have been increasing concerns over environmental threats and other potentially dire outcomes. But growing up with all these warnings in their ears (not to mention their constant access to the world of knowledge) it just might be that Generation Z is the generation to step up and make the necessary changes. This means moving in the right direction environmentally and prioritising sustainable ways of living.

Finally, the youth of today are going to benefit, without a doubt, from the global interconnectedness provided by technology. In so many ways, it’s going to be a joy to see where the future takes them.

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