Sean McDowell | July 27, 2019

Let's Stop Denigrating Generation Z

Let’s Stop Denigrating Gen Z

In a few words, how would you describe young people today? In other words, write down the first words that come to your mind when you think of Generation Z.

What were they?

I have asked this question to thousands of youth leaders, parents, and teachers around the world. Typically, I give people a few moments to reflect, and then ask for responses from the audience.

The most common words that people use are “entitled,” “selfish,” “soft,” “addicted,” and “foolish.”

Do you notice a trend in these descriptions? The answer is obvious––they are entirely negative. From my best estimate, adult audiences typically offer 75%+ negative descriptions of this generation of young people. Some audiences are a mixture while others have been completely negative in their descriptions.

How About You?

Back to you. What words came to your mind? Were they positive, negative, or some combination of both?

Here is the critical point of my initial question: How we view this generation shapes how we relate to them. Let me say it again to be sure it sinks in: How we view this generation shapes how we relate to them.

If you view this generation as selfish snowflakes addicted to their phones, then you will relate to them as such. But imagine if you view this generation as creative, entrepreneurial, and accepting? Won’t you relate to them differently?

Every Generation

The reality is that every single generation is a mixture of both positive and negative characteristics. That is true for Millennials (1981-1995), Generation X (1965-1980), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), and even the so-called Greatest Generation (WWII Gen).

And this will be true of every generation into the future as well. The question is: Will we focus on the negative or on the positive?

My point is not to ignore the negatives. Some concerns for Generation Z are genuine and should not be dismissed. For instance, in her book iGen, Jean Twenge notes that young people today may be on the verge of the greatest mental health crisis in decades. And according to a recent Barna study, porn use is deeply shaping their views of sex, marriage, and relationships. These are very real concerns.

The Promise of Gen Z

But there is also remarkable promise among this generation and some positive signs as well. For instance, as J. Warner Wallace and I note in our book So The Next Generation Will Know, young people today are pragmatic, racially diverse, and entrepreneurial.

Again, my point is not to ignore negatives with this generation, but that we must choose to relate them through the uniquely positive lens they have to offer the church and society.

Interestingly, when I emphasize this point in a talk on Gen Z, young people frequently thank me for being positive about their generation. Earlier this summer I was speaking on Gen Z in New Zealand. A college student thanked me afterwards nearly in tears because she was deeply discouraged about how her generation is so frequently disparaged by adult leaders.

We can do better.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: