Sean McDowell | July 9, 2019

5 Simple Steps for Connecting with Gen Zers

5 Simple Steps for Connecting with Gen Zers

SeanMcDowell.org

How do we connect with this new generation of young people? Since Gen Zers seem to see the world differently, as a result of smartphones and social media, many adults feel disconnected from them.

Yet in my experience, many in this generation are eager to connect with caring adults who are willing to reach out to them. In our recent book So the Next Generation Will Know, J. Warner Wallace and I dedicate an entire chapter to building relationships with Gen Zers. Here’s five simple steps that you can begin practicing today.

In one sense, these five tips are really timeless ways to connect with young people. Yet, given some of the data about the worldview of Gen Z, these steps are also timely.

1. Enter the World of Young People

It is impossible to truly know young people until you enter their world. Watch their movie of choice. Listen to their music. Eat at a restaurant they enjoy. Play a video game with them. This not only shows that you value them but gives you a glimpse into their dreams and desires. Rather than merely inviting them into your world, go into theirs.

2. Practice Empathy

Empathy is the ability and willingness to enter into the feelings of another. If we want to earn favor with young people, we need to give them permission to share their feelings with the security that we will not be quick to judge (which is one of the quickest ways to turn Gen Zers away). Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” When young people are sad, share their sorrow. When they are happy, share their joy. Expressing empathy shows young people that we relate to them and recognize them as valuable human beings.

3. Be a Good Listener

James 1:19 says to be quick to hear and slow to speak. As adults, we often get this backwards­–we are quick to speak and slow to hear. And yet for a distracted and impatient generation, listening can be one of our best ways to connect. Good listening says, “You are important to me. I want to under- stand you, so I can respond in a caring manner.” Ask genuine questions. Give eye contact. Show empathy. And try to genuinely understand before you speak.

4. Set Reasonable Boundaries

Even though Generation Z is individualistic, they actually want boundaries. According to one study in Britain, 69 percent of teens thought parental controls online were a good idea.[1] In another study, 54 percent of US teens wished they were better able to limit the amount of time they were on their phones, and over 60 percent would like to spend more time socializing face to face than online.[2] Reasonable boundaries communicate to this generation that we love them enough to protect them from harm (even though they will initially protest such boundaries). For instance, students need certain times and places without smartphones. Teachers can set reasonable boundaries in the classroom. Coaches can do so at practice. And parents must set reasonable boundaries in the home.

5. Have a Conversation

In 2018, the A&E channel ran a special show called Undercover High, in which seven young adults aged twenty-one to twenty-six went back to high school to get an inside perspective on students today. What alarmed them most was the disconnect between teens and adults. One of the undercover students said, “They [teens] are craving for adults to understand them and see them for who they are and the struggles they are facing.” The undercover students concluded that, most of all, young people today just want someone to talk to.

Are you willing to have a conversation with a young person and help fill his or her deep need for relationship?

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[1] Sean Keach, “Watching Over You: Teens Want Parents to Restrict What They Do Online, Study Suggests,” Sun February 6, 2018.

[2] Jingjing Jiang, “How Teens and Parents Navigate Screen Time and Device Distractions,” Pew Research, August 22, 2018.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.