GEN Z AND TECHNOLOGY
Kevin Yi | OCTOBER 24, 2018 | 10 MIN READ
Gen Z is the first generation that does not consider family background and upbringing as the most important factor in shaping personal identity. It fell to 4th. So members of Gen Z do not see their families as a primary source for learning about who they are and who they can become. This is troubling.
St. Augustine, a North African Christian Theologian who lived during the 5th century, wrote about what it means to live a life of virtue. One of his key insights was that virtue was not necessarily taught, but it was caught through imitation and practice.
This was Jesus’ primary method of discipleship. He didn’t just preach at the Twelve, but he walked through life with them. He gave them opportunities to practice the things that they were being taught. It’s this combination of imitation and practice that shaped the internal aims of the disciples.
So if our children are not catching virtue from their families, where are they getting it from? Who or what are they imitating?
The Reach of the Screen
The Barna study on Gen Z states that “over half (56%) of American teenagers use screen media 4 or more hours per day. 26% say they use screen media more than 8 hours per day.”
Before the explosion of the personal smartphone and tablet, our access to screen time was the television in the living room. It had to be shared between family members, and there were often compromises and “forced” viewing of programs. Still, it was a shared experience, and we often learned from things we had not necessarily been interested in.
But now Gen Z members are absorbing largely unsupervised, unfiltered content. So if we are shaped by imitation and practice, we shouldn’t be surprised when they exhibit beliefs and behaviors that aren’t aligned with Christian virtues.
To further explore this, we will concentrate on four mediums to see how they might affect our Gen Z children.
Music is one of the most powerful methods of teaching, especially for children. When melody and lyrics are combined, they help our hearts and minds absorb knowledge.
Take the lyrics of any average pop song and try to analyze them. What is it communicating about life? Most often, you’ll find either a hedonistic worldview or a nihilistic worldview, along with explicit language and innuendo.
The solutions proposed by these songs often exacerbate the stresses of Gen Z, which is more anxious and depressed than previous generations, as they vainly try to emulate the songs or hopelessly realize they can never attain the lifestyle of the world.
The video medium is the most effective at telling stories, and stories are where a society and culture gets its values. They are powerful teachers, especially when the same ones are told over and over again.
Stories help us picture what a virtuous life looks like. Who does our culture celebrate and reward as good, kind, or nice? What does a bad person look like?
One cultural story that has shaped our values is the idea that teenagers are supposed to rebel against their parents, and further, that teenagers are smarter and wiser than their parents.
Think about the animated shows that our children are watching. Who are the characters’ parents? How are they portrayed? For example, who are the parents of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Princess Jasmine, and Ariel? They’re non-existent, evil-stepmothers, overbearing fathers, or bumbling idiots.
3. Video Games
The video game medium takes things a step further by having the person now be a part of the story. Generally speaking, in video games the player is rewarded for successful repeated behaviors. He or she receives points for placing the ball in the basket, shooting the enemy army, or navigating through an obstacle course.
Video games tend to be fairly addictive as well because they utilize a gambling concept called intermittent variable rewards. The idea is that when you’re presented with random chances of rewards, it triggers a desire to continue playing. Even if we lost the last two times, the third time might give us the victory we were looking for.
4. Social Media
Lastly, social media helps us to broadcast our story. The way Generation Z utilizes social media is a combination of the previous forms of media. Their social media timelines show and teach them who to imitate and what to practice, which shapes their values. It does so in a video game-like style, in which the reactions, likes, and favs system provides intermittent variable rewards.
One thing that separates social media from other forms of media is that it is the Gen Z children themselves who are on display through their social media feeds. Unlike the other mediums, they are the product, on display for others to approve by hitting the like button on the post or status update. This constant exposure is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting.
Where Do We Go From Here?
First, we must evaluate ourselves and ask some hard questions. What are the patterns of personal device usage in our own homes? Are we prioritizing screens over our own children? This is a big blind spot for younger millennial parents, and one that I’m guilty of more often than not.
If you have older children or teenagers in your home, take a week or so to observe and evaluate their device usage. How are they using their screen time? Understanding Generation Z is going to require that you see how they use technology different from you.
Ask your children good questions about the world they live in with humility and genuine curiosity. Ephesians 6 tells us not to provoke our children. So instead of asking “Why do you look at your phone all the time?,” ask them, “So what app do you think you spend the most time on in your phone?” That’s a great launching point for discussions with our children.
Ask them if you can watch specific shows with them. Take them to movies and talk about what you saw afterwards. Allowing them to see how you react to storylines and plot lines is formative for their worldview.
Listen to music with them in the car. Ask them about the lyrics and whether they’re truthful.
Play video games with your children, especially older boys. As odd as it may seem, you can have deep conversations while playing games together. Also, you can take note of the people they’re playing games with online.
Talk to your children about the apps that are on their phones. If you see an icon that doesn’t familiar to you, look it up on Common Sense Media.
There’s a grand metanarrative of the gospel: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. But there’s also a competing metanarrative of technology. Google and Apple promise that their devices will give us unlimited knowledge and power at our fingertips. Amazon promises us contentment and satisfaction with 2-day free shipping. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram promise us a personal kingdom where we can get unlimited affirmation. But deep down, we know that none of these companies have fulfilled their lofty promises. The story they’ve told us is empty.
In Christ, we have a better story. I don’t have to know everything because the all-powerful creator God of the universe does. I have every spiritual blessing in Christ, and I am ever increasing in satisfaction in Christ through the Holy Spirit. I have full and complete affirmation at the foot of the cross before the holy God of the universe who loves me and calls me his own.
As parents and leaders of Generation Z, we have to uphold and proclaim this story and show our children that Christ is who we want to shape our lives after.
Here are some resources to help you think through this topic thoroughly, and for help in evaluating the media that our children are absorbing.
www.commonsensemedia.org – A great website to get basic reviews and understanding of a music album, television show, movie, video game, or smartphone app from a parental perspective.
www.axis.org – A helpful website for parents to understand the culture of Generation Z. Their weekly email called the Cultural Translator is excellent.
www.rootedministry.com – A resourceful website for gospel-centered material written for and by youth leaders and parents of teenagers.
www.cpyu.org – The website of longtime youth guru, Walt Mueller. An excellent big-picture source of the things that parents and youth leaders should be aware of.
- A Practical Guide to Culture by Brett Kunkle and John Stonestreet
- Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh and Sean McDowell
- Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey
- Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
- The Imperfect Disciples by Jared Wilson
- Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton (This is a systematic theology for children aged 9-12 that you can read together)
Podcasts About Culture to Listen Together with Your Children on the Way to School
- The Briefing by Al Mohler
Kevin Yi is the youth and education pastor at Church Everyday in Los Angeles, CA and has been serving the middle school and high school students for over 15 years. He is a bi-vocational pastor and has been in the animation industry for over 10 years. He is the founder of truthmattersministries.com. He and his wife Tracy are celebrating eleven years of marriage together and have three children: Caden, Isabella, and Ian. He is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity at Talbot Theological Seminary.