Noticing Gen Z and the Tweens of Gen Alpha, Part 1

They are not like previous generations.

This generation is different. Says someone who has been there with teens since the 1980s. I, as a youth pastor, have worked with teens in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and now the 2020s. (Read about these different decades here.) So I say confidently that this Gen Z and the new tweens of Gen Alpha are very different. This Information Age and the smart devices have changed adolescence. This is a good and bad thing. Join me in this series at the odd wonder of what is going on. Your heart will break and you will find inspiration.  I believe in teens.

Part 2.

Part 3.

Part 4.

Is it a bad thing that this generation is more afraid of flying? 67% of Gen Z experience the fear of flying, compared to 59% of the rest of us. (Source.) Is too much information at our fingertips the cause of this?

Is it a bad thing that making a choice off of a menu is causing anxiety? This is known as menu anxiety which is the overwhelming feeling of indecision and stress when faced with many culinary choices. 87% of Gen Z adults (aged 18 to 24) experience menu anxiety, compared to 67% of the rest of us. 34% are so nervous about ordering that they ask others at the table to do it for them. 40% of Gen Z even stated that they would not eat out unless they had reviewed the entire menu beforehand, often off of a website. (Source.)

Menu anxiety is deeply rooted in the psychology of choice. While having options is desirable, too many choices can lead to stress and dissatisfaction. The fear of making the wrong meal choice paralyzes making the dining out experience more stressful than enjoyable. What if a regretful decision is made?

This sounds like the paralysis of decision making that is happening from dating apps. Thankfully, Gen Z is using dating apps a lot less. All that choice turned out to not be a good thing. Gen Z has higher expectations of a relationship growing with someone whom they’ve met in real life. How 1980s. Of course, Gen Z is also dating a lot less. Dating is so risky and vulnerable. Way more risky than ordering off a menu. What if a regretful decision is made?

Dating is only becoming more complicated than it already is with the increase of AI. Because now you can have an AI boyfriend or girlfriend. This boyfriend or girlfriend can be created to the exact specs that you prefer and won’t reject or hurt you and is always available when you want.

One of our Brave Dating Practices is “Do not limit yourself to a type.” When you can “AI-create” your boyfriend or girlfriend, you won’t know who your type is because you can create the type you think you want and he/she won’t be a bad match because he/she is programmed to be your good match.  

Dating is already risky and vulnerable. How much more so when you start dating a real person who doesn’t match the perfect physical traits of your AI relationship and has the possibility of breaking up with you Comparison is already a problem in the real world. Now you get to compare yourself to the AI-created version.

AI is new and we are just learning about what it can do. These boyfriend and girlfriend relationships are happening already. First time sexual experiences have already been happening through the use of porn. Now first-time sexual experiences are happening through AI. We do not know yet of the harm of this but the harm is going to be real. Read more about this from this voice who is influencing me, Freya India, https://www.freyaindia.co.uk/p/we-cant-compete-with-ai-girlfriends.

Life as an avatar is defining today’s teen identity. When you don’t like the way God has created you, you can now create your favored identity through your avatar. You can be who you think you should be. Finding your identity is one of the biggest milestones of adolescence. But now you don’t have to awkwardly grow to figure out who you are. You can create who you want to be.

Experts have long been talking about the delays in adolescence. Back in the 1980s teens were more ready to be adults at 18 than they are in the 2020s. (I was there.) Are avatars interfering in another delay of adolescent development, especially the all-important development of identity?

Gaming platform Roblox’s annual report, “Digital Expression, Fashion & Beauty Trends,” found how digital identity is crossing into people’s real-life decisions: 

  • 54% of respondents say their physical style is “very” or “extremely inspired” by what their avatars (and others) wear in the metaverse.
  • 56% confess that styling their avatars is more important than styling themselves in the physical world.
  • 84% say after wearing or trying on a popular brand’s item virtually, they’re “somewhat likely” to consider the brand IRL, with 50% “very” or “extremely likely” to do so. Source.

These are some high percentages.

A created avatar can become the ideal self before that ideal self is revealed to your teen. A created avatar has more of the chance to be accepted in the digital world without disappointing parents, authorities, and peers. The created avatar doesn’t have to live in the same space as parents, authorities, and peers who are real people living in the real world. All teens need firm foundations in the real world to help them form identity and develop character. And their sense of style.

To the heartbreak of parents and youth pastors everywhere, teens try on many identities during their adolescent years. Who they are at home is different from who they are at school or at their after-school club. All those are different from who they are at church. This “trying on” of identities is a part of normal adolescence which is why the consistency of parents and the five other adults in a teen’s life is so important. These are the people you can trust to tell your teen who God has made him/her to be.

Your teen knows he/she is fake with all of these identities and the perfect avatar identity while trying to figure life out. Being this fake does bother them. They want to be their “true selves” but who is that? Without the struggles and failures to figure out identity issues, the fake self may continue for way too long.

I “get” the safety of trying out a new persona in the digital world. But this awkwardly transfers to the real world where God is growing the beautiful teens to the identity they were born to be.

85% of U.S. teens say they play video games, and 41% do so daily, from Pew Research. Obviously video games are not a new thing for today’s teens. Just wanted to give you that stat about how many teens are playing video games. Teens see both positive and negative sides of video games–from problem-solving and making friends to harassment and sleep loss. Teens are aware. Source.

I have so many more observances, research links, and wisdom from my 40+ years of believing in teens. Please continue to read this series. Trust me, I see hope everywhere.

Part 2.

Part 3.

Part 4.

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