Gen Z and Social Media
Generation Z or the “iGen” is a unique generation of kids that came after the Millennials, born in 1997–Present (0–21 years old). The main difference between the two, besides age, is that unlike most Millennials, Gen Z had smartphones in early childhood. They grew up with iPhones in their hands and knew how use them. The iGen is very intuitive when it comes to figuring out new technology and almost all of them use some form of social media daily.
Learning to guide and teach kids about technology and social media was, and still is, a new field that didn’t come with many parenting books or guides. As a result, both Gen Z parents and kids had to figure things out for themselves.
Research found that kids in Generation Z have very high depression rates that are likely linked to social media and FOMO, or “fear of missing out.” While all of their friends are posting their best moments from life, teens can get depressed while sitting at home looking at all of the fun things their peers are doing without them. This generation suffers from loneliness despite many followers and friends on social media.
On the flip side, they are very smart, with a world of information at their fingertips. They find ways to also use technology and social media for good. Like raising awareness for things they are passionate about, spreading positivity, raising money for good causes, and more.
So, what is it like growing up in the age of technology from the perspective of an iGen? I sat down with 16-year-old, honors student and lacrosse player Cole, to find out. Cole used social media to raise over $2,000 for a Christmas drive for homeless children. He created a Go Fund Me campaign and shared it across social media platforms to raise money. Friends and family donated online, then shared the link to their friends and family, which resulted in a very successful fundraiser.
Cole and I talked about dealing with the pressures social media, FOMO, and how kids can use social media for good in real life. I also asked him for some advice he has for other kids and their parents when it comes to technology and social media.
Do you think social media can affect your mood?
“Yeah, when you’re always comparing yourself to the best of everyone else you’re going to be affected and feel like you have to be better and can’t be yourself. I’ve felt like that like when I see other lacrosse players on social media. It made me feel like I need to be better, but kind of discouraged that someone else is already so much better than me.”
Do you think most of what you see on social media is realistic?
“No. Social media is people’s real life but over-exaggerated because people are trying to make themselves look better and raise their status.
Everyone just needs to put their phone away and just go hang out and have fun with friends instead of just watching other people on social media. Everyone has high and low moments in life, and you have to remember that in social media you’re only seeing one side of the story.”
Have you ever felt left out because of what your friends posted on social media?
“I mean, yeah. There are always times when you don’t get invited for whatever reason and they post it on social media. I think it’s ok to be upset. But don’t let that ruin your friendship. Just forget about it and hang out the next time.”
Have you been affected by friends who committed suicide, and could you tell something was wrong?
“Yes, I have been affected. Sometimes you can’t tell if someone is depressed, but sometimes you can tell when they aren’t being themselves on social media and real life.”
How do you balance technology with real life?
“I feel like you should complete one goal everyday. If you say “today I’m going to work out,” but then sit on your phone all day, you’re going to feel crappy and sad. I’ve totally done that. So if you just put your phone away for a little while and get something done that day at least you feel some accomplishment.”
“I think it’s also a good idea for kids to make their own plans instead of watching social media and waiting for someone else to invite them to do something.”
What was your experience with getting a phone?
“When kids first started getting phones I was in like fourth grade and teachers were always telling kids to put their phones away during class and my parents always told me and my sisters to put them away during dinner because it’s impolite. It’s good to put your phone away when you’re interacting with people in real life. Sometimes I have to make my friends get off their phones so we can go out and actually do something.”
What advice do you have for parents giving their children cell phones for the first time?
“I think even though everyone is getting a smartphone these days, I would give your kid a non-smartphone for their first phone so they can still communicate, but won’t sit on it playing games for hours and hours. When I was a little kid I didn’t know how to balance it and games would keep me entertained for way too long. It’s good to be creative and learn to entertain yourself as a little kid without a smartphone.”
“If your kid is older and he’s getting a smartphone for the first time I would just teach them that it’s still important to not rely on your phone for everything. And to be polite and not have your phone out when people are talking to you.”
What about parents letting their teens get social media for the first time?
“At first I would just let them post what they want and if you see something that doesn’t look like them I would talk to them and ask them why they posted it. Then just talk to them and teach them what is appropriate. But I think the biggest thing is just to limit them at first so they don’t get addicted and actually interact with people face-to-face.”
What advice do you have for young kids on social media?
“Remember to not take what people say on social media too seriously and that not everyone is perfect and it’s okay if you’re not.”
“And I would limit who you follow to your actual friends because they really know who you are, and you know who they are. Not just who they say their are on social media. If you follow only famous instagrammers, sometimes you will feel bad about yourself because you’re only seeing their perfect social media presence.”
“Don’t say mean things on social media. If you don’t like someone just unfollow them… There’s no need to cause any harm.”
How can people use social media for good?
“Social media is good for keeping your friends and family updated with your life so you can keep in touch and keep friends even if you don’t see them. Like, without social media I would definitely not have raised so much money for the toy drive I did. It’s crazy how many people you can reach through social media.”
“When you see someone post something that is not like them and they seem sad it’s good to ask if they are okay, or if they want to talk. You can help someone even if they are far away. It’s easy to send a text. One text can save someone’s life. And even if there isn’t anything wrong it’s never going to hurt. I noticed one of my friends posting weird stuff on social media so I texted him and it turned out to be pretty serious to the point that I had to call his mom and let her know what was going on. I’m glad that I could reach out to him.”
“There’s always cool people that post good positive quotes and tweets and it can honestly make someone’s day. Maybe no one was affected by it, but sometimes you can brighten people’s day with social media. It can be a very positive if you balance it with real life.”