The Entitlement of Generation Z
Jason Chao | JuNe 3, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
“This generation is so entitled.”
I grew up with the mentality that being a millennial meant being entitled. Of course, it is also my so-called “entitled” millennial generation that has racked up thousands of dollars of student loan debt because someone told us it was the right path.
Now I hear the same phrase being uttered about Generation Z, all while they plod away in an education system designed for the Industrial Revolution and get bombarded by flashy advertising that’s designed to make money for old stockholders.
But entitlement is not a problem just for one or two generations. Humanity itself feels entitled. Gen X felt so entitled to profits that when people warned them of the dot-com bust and the housing crisis, they ignored the consequences to the devastation of many families. Many Baby Boomers felt entitled to their whites-only water fountains. The Greatest Generation had people so entitled that they would build Hearst Castle at the same time they built Manzanar. Sinful entitlement goes back to Adam and Eve, who felt entitled to the one thing God prohibited from them.
Yet in a different light, entitlement can be seen as a good thing. “Every tree, you shall have them for food” was an entitlement given to us by God. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are entitlements. The Civil Rights Movement was led by people who felt entitled to those civil rights.
We need to change our solely negative view of “entitlement” and see it as more complex - even as an opportunity for the Gospel. We can see entitlement as an evil, lusting after that which is not God. Or see that entitlement can be a blessing, acknowledging the absence of God’s intended creation. “All creation groans…as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).
So yes, Generation Z is entitled. That should not be a surprise. The real question is what are they entitled to, and how does it affect them for good or evil?
I believe the thing they are most entitled about is a sense of belonging. This entire generation has grown up with social media. Not just the posts of their friends, but also thousands of vlogs, stories, and snaps depicting the lives of others. They feel like they belong to not just one or two groups, but thousands, and every notification “ding!” affirms that they deserve to be part of those groups.
I feel this desire too. Sometimes I believe that certain moments in my life aren’t “real” unless I post about it. Then even when I do, it’s not important unless it gets a certain amount of views and likes. But Gen Z has had this pressure their whole lives, while Millennials have only had social media since college or high school. For example, I have maybe three photos from my prom. This generation has entire photo shoots for freshmen homecoming. “Pics or it didn’t happen” is a reality.
As Christians, we must ask, “What hole in our hearts is the enemy exploiting here?” The enemy has taken the good desire for community and perversely offered to fulfill it outside of the Gospel. This attack is especially powerful against Gen Z because they feel so entitled to that belonging, and therefore feel its absence more acutely. They are immersed in the content of brands and consumer products; they are drowning in updates of influencers, youtubers, and insta-celebrities. And that filters through into Gen Z’s desire for recognition and belonging.
Therefore without their social media, they are adrift. So much so that when we go to retreats without internet access, Gen Z students still habitually take out their phones and try to scroll through Instagram. Because only in those connections will they have community, and without them their greatest fear confronts them: What if they don’t belong anywhere?
So this sense of belonging has been twisted into a profound feeling of loneliness. The loneliness of their family, their friendships, their churches all amplified by what they think they see in others and can compare to online.
Everyone is friendly, but nobody is really friends. Everyone partly belongs everywhere, but nobody really belongs anywhere. Everyone can see my newsfeed, but nobody really knows me. Everyone tolerates me, but nobody loves me.
How does the church respond? Often we condemn Gen Z the same way our own generations were condemned: By calling them entitled. They need to work harder at school the way we did. Get a job like we did. Work harder at church the way that we did. Yet when we say these things I think what we’re really saying is, “Your entitlement doesn’t matter. Only mine does.”
Instead, we need to see the created order that God has given us. First, we need to find healing from our own sinful entitlements. Then, we must see how this new generation is actually craving so deeply the Gospel in their entitlement for belonging. The church needs to be able to show them that in Christ, this is what it means to be reconciled to God, this is what friendship could be, what family could be, what community could be. To say, “This is what it really means to belong, and it’s open to you.”
We also need to figure out how to use the tools of the age to convey that. Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that. How do we use Instagram, and YouTube, and Twitch to show people not what they are missing, but what they invited into? How do we speak to a generation that thinks having followers is belonging and show them that to belong is to follow Christ? I’m still figuring it out.
But one thing I know. We need to stop saying, “They’re so entitled” like it’s only a bad thing. We’re all entitled because we are all made in the image of God. The Christian life is not to deny our entitlement, nor deny it in others, but to embrace the truth that what we are entitled to, we also do not deserve, and yet have been given by Grace. Our entitlement should lead us to the grace of God and compel us to extend that grace to others, including this new generation.
Jason Chao has been a youth pastor at All Nations Church in Sunland, CA since 2009. He was born and raised in Sugar Land, Texas. He moved to Los Angeles to attend USC for film production. After graduating, he was called into ministry and earned his Masters of Ministry at Harvest Bible University. Jason loves movies, superheroes, Star Wars, football, hockey, and video games. He married to Hannah, who is part of SOLA’s Editorial Board, and they have two girls.