iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood*

*and What That Means for the Rest of Us – Jean Twenge

This summary outlines the key trends described in the book. The emphasis is on the mindset and behaviours that Gen I / Z demonstrate in the workplace, what it means for employers. The terms “i-Gen’ers” and “Gen Z” are used interchangeably.

Author: Jean M.Twenge, PhD, Atria Books, Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2017

Synopsis

A highly readable and entertaining first look at how today’s members of iGen—the children, teens, and young adults born in the mid-1990s and later—are vastly different from their Millennial predecessors, and from any other generation, from the renowned psychologist and author of Generation Me.

With generational divides wider than ever, parents, educators, and employers have an urgent need to understand today’s rising generation of teens and young adults. Born in the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s and later, iGen is the first generation to spend their entire adolescence in the age of the smartphone. With social media and texting replacing other activities, iGen spends less time with their friends in person—perhaps why they are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

But technology is not the only thing that makes iGen distinct from every generation before them; they are also different in how they spend their time, how they behave, and in their attitudes toward religion, sexuality, and politics. They socialize in completely new ways, reject once sacred social taboos, and want different things from their lives and careers. More than previous generations, they are obsessed with safety, focused on tolerance, and have no patience for inequality. iGen is also growing up more slowly than previous generations: eighteen-year-olds look and act like fifteen-year-olds used to.

As this new group of young people grows into adulthood, we all need to understand them: Friends and family need to look out for them; businesses must figure out how to recruit them and sell to them; colleges and universities must know how to educate and guide them. And members of iGen also need to understand themselves as they communicate with their elders and explain their views to their older peers. Because where iGen goes, so goes our nation—and the world.

Definition & Transition Between Generations

There are minor variations in how different sources define the start/end years of the respective generations. Here is the demarcation of the generations:

  • 2011/13 to present: Alpha Generation
  • 1996 – 2010/12: Gen Z, iGen, “digital natives” or Centennials.
  • 1977 to 1995: Millennials or Gen Y.
  • 1965 to 1976: Generation X
  • 1946 to 1964: Baby Boomers
  • 1925-1946: The Veterans

Behavioural changes from one generation to the next typically occur gradually. However, shifts in teen behaviour from the Millennial generation to Gen Z/I have been drastic, profound and unprecedented. They began around 2012 – the year when the percentage of Americans owning a smartphone surpassed the 50% mark.

The smartphone and social media define “iGen”, the generation born between 1995 and 2012. The omnipresence of the smartphone affects teenagers in every part of the United States, regardless of social class and ethnic background.

Behaviours of Gen Z / I

  • Gen Z delay growing up. Many live longer with their parents, leave high school having never had a paid job, managed own finances or driven a car by themselves. “Across a range of behaviours – drinking, dating, spending time unsupervised –18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds.” This might mean more calls home about how to navigate responsibilities and overcome challenges that work presents.
  • The notion of “safety” is critical for Gen-Z. This entails “safe” from handling conflicting situations by themselves. iGen’ers are frightened of confrontation and flinch at the idea of talking to their peers about difficult issues. They would rather resort to the “authorities”/3rd parties to resolve situations than handle those directly. Many teens also appear deeply emotional when someone disagrees with them.
  • Spending much screen time, and communicating mostly via texting, has resulted in many Gen Z-ers having awkward communication skills (building rapport, eye contact, formulating clear thoughts, reading body language and emotions).
  • Gen Z are physically safer than Millennials. Instead of getting into car accidents and experimenting with alcohol at parties, teens are spending more of their free time at home and on their smartphones.
  • Gen Z spend less time socializing with their peers face to face and spend much longer interacting virtually with their peers. Today’s adolescents date less and hold off on having sex. Consequently, the teen birth rate declined to an all-time low in 2016. Meanwhile, the number of teens regularly spending time with their friends declined by more than 40% between 2000 and 2015.
  • Growing evidence suggests that greater use of social media is having a detrimental effect on teenager’s mental health. The number of teens reporting frequent feelings of loneliness and “feeling left out” has increased sharply since 2013. Findings reveal a strong correlation between time spent on a screen and levels of happiness.
  • Data shows a strong correlation between heavy smartphone use and feelings of depression. According to one survey, eighth-graders who are “heavy users” of social media are 27% more likely to develop depression than their counterparts who spend more of their free time offline. Heavy usage is considered anything over 2 hours. Many Gen Z-ers use smart phones 4-6 hours a day, which includes texting, using social media and watching video clips.
  • Adolescents who use their smartphones heavily are more prone to develop risk factors for suicide. With teens spending less time together in person, the teen suicide rate surpassed the teen homicide rate in 2011 for the first time in almost 25 years.
  • The recent spike in depression and suicide has affected girls disproportionately. One possible reason could be that girls are more likely to engage in and fall victim to cyberbullying.
  • Gen Z are more willing to work hard and less likely to question their grades (contrary to the sense of entitlement and narcissism that Millennials displayed).
  • I-Geners are more hesitant to talk in class, scared to say the wrong thing. When McGraw-Hill Education polled more than 600 college faculty in 2017, 70% said students were less willing to ask questions and participate in class than they were five years ago.
  • Gen Z want to do well in class, embrace lectures as long as their information will help get good marks in exams. They like discussions but don’t want these to divert too much away from learning the required material. It is essential for information to be interesting. Keeping them focused and attentive means toggling among lecture, discussion, videos (up to 3 min) and demonstrations. Gen Z respect authority, yet are likely to fall asleep in class if they don’t participate in class or watch a few short videos.
  • More Gen Z are educated and go to college to get a better job and make more money, not necessarily to improve their minds.
  • Gen Z join colleges having read less books or long magazine articles. To bridge the gap, publishers are turning to e-textbooks with videos, interactive figures and built in quizzes. The same approach will have to be implemented by L&D providers to engage effectively Gen Z participants.

Author recommendations for employers

  • Limiting the teens’ time spent on smartphones (imposed by parents) may be critical in avoiding what could soon be turning into “the worst mental-health crisis in decades.” MK: this might be something employers need to consider too.
  • Since the web is the main learning source for the i-Gen-ers, they need to be taught how to verify sources, check facts and evaluate evidence that they are not reading “fake news/fake sources”. Critical thinking skills need to be specifically taught throughout their education. Employers need to ensure these are in place when on-boarding.
  • Many Gen Z-ers don’t know how to write CVs. Be flexible and use apps (eg JobSnap) where potential iGen employees make a short video in lieu of a CV.
  • Good news for managers: iGen-ers are more focused on work and have more moderate expectations; they want good, stable jobs and are eager to prove themselves. They don’t want to be entrepreneurs.
  • Gen Z need reassurance at work, bearing in mind their slow upbringing and longer parental dependence (esp. with “helicopter parents”). Managers need to act like therapists, life coaches or parents to ensure optimum performance from the young employees.
  • Compensation is key for iGen: “becoming well-off financially” is very important; this is partially driven by the staggering student loan debt many carry.
  • iGen-ers want to know their jobs have a clear career path, preferably quickly; it is advisable to offer smaller and more frequent promotions: eg 4 small ones every 6 months, instead of a big career leap after 2 years of service.
  • iGen prefer brief, specific and immediate feedback frequently, rather than the cumbersome annual performance reviews. They respond and require personal attention and customisation in the management approach.
  • iGen-ers are taught to value safety more than any previous generation. A “safe” environment is not only recommended, but expected. They require a more “gentle touch” by their managers. The latter need to emphasise that they want to help Gen Z-ers, “want them to succeed”. Frame criticism as a path towards a better performance.
  • Some US businesses have begun to include parents in the recruitment process; this trend might grow as more iGen-ers enter the workforce.
  • Gen Z bring new attitudes to communication. They don’t understand the need to use emails, when texting is much faster. Managers need to clearly teach them the appropriate communication channels with clients and co-workers; warn to be careful with emojis, videos, and constant images.

Summary prepared by M.Kassova, Jan 2019

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