Who would have ever guessed that the job of influencing the current of our society would have fallen on such small shoulders? Generation Z—today’s youth—has more sway among market researchers than any generation before. No longer do we look to the hip college students to define a trend and predict the future of our economy, now all eyes are on the typical sixth grader to guide us to the next big thing.
The exact dates that define Generation Z are a bit fuzzy, with many researchers hinging their definitions on pre and post 9/11 births. While some define Generation Z as anyone too young during 9/11 to have any memory of it, others use the event to determine a turning point in the world that signaled the beginning of the new generation. Arguments over precise dates and ages aside, there is a clear divide between the youth of yesterday and the youth of today.
While Millennials became the generation defined by terrorism, war and economic crashes, Generation Z have become the living testaments of perseverance and rebirth. A boom of technological advances in essentially all fields have created a more promising future for the generation that followed the children who grew up in a time of fear and uncertainty. Researchers view the children of Generation Z as the embodiment of wide-eyed wonder and curiosity. Where millennials have been given the title of the “We give up” generation, Generation Z is being viewed as the “What else can we do?” generation that intends to take the ultra-modern lives they’ve been given and further improve their worlds.
The obvious differences in the way Generation Z is growing up compared to the bringing up of past generations is shocking and scary to some. What will become of these children who have their faces lit up with iPhone screens instead of their heads buried in books? Are adults failing this current youngest generation by allowing technology to shape their lives? It’s still unknown exactly how this new world will affect Generation Z, however, there are already obvious changes in the way today’s youth lives their everyday lives.
Generation Z has never known a world without waking up to an alarm set on a cell phone. The oldest of the generation were the last to use traditional text books in school, which have now been replaced with computers and iPads. The ability to share, share and over share on social media has been a constant availability in their lives. Generation Z is more connected to the world around them than any other generation, and that has altered the way these children function.
Brooks Petty, 13, is caught in the middle of Generation Z. Having been born in 2003, Petty is the perfect example of an adolescence spent online, although still removed from the hyper-technological upbringing of small children since 2010.
Petty wasn’t a part of the age group who were handed an iPhone when throwing a tantrum at the age of two, however, he was given a plastic toy phone. During Petty’s formative years, toy companies began creating devices that incorporated more modern technology into every day play. LEGO introduced products that allowed children to build their own robots in 2006, and from there on many other products like LEGO’s have come about.
Petty has been the prototype age for many toy companies as they venture into this new world of technology for play. Petty’s grade has seen the invention of the “tablet for kids”, like the Amazon Fire Kids Edition and the Samsung Galaxy Tab E Lite, which mimicked products like the Kindle Fire and the iPad. By emulating the technology kid’s parents were using, toy companies were then preparing the youngest generation for their wildly advanced world.
“I don’t actually remember the first tablet I had,” Petty said. “They’ve just always kind of been there.”
By the time Petty started sixth grade in 2015, most kids in his class had upgraded their “tablet for kids” to a smartphone. “I was one of, like, four kids who didn’t have an iPhone. I didn’t have a phone at all, and it was sort of weird.” Petty said. “People started texting each other during class, which I guess is a new thing for sixth grade.”
As of 2016, the average age for a child to be given their first smartphone is 10.3-years-old.
In addition to owning smartphones, Petty’s classmates began joining different social media websites. Many of his friends began to brag about their “follower ratio” on Instagram, while others would discuss funny photos they had seen on Facebook. To Petty, who had no smartphone, let alone social media accounts, this new online world seemed extremely confusing.
“I don’t really get it, honestly,” Petty said. “A lot of the time people would be checking Facebook instead of listening in class. People have learned how to be on their phones without being caught.”
Petty’s experience with technology is a rare one for a teenager. He only got his first smartphone this year, and he still doesn’t own a personal computer (although he does have his own iPad.) Despite being an outlier, Petty is still indoctrinated with knowledge of technology.
“I help my parents with their phones and stuff,” Petty said. “I guess I learned how to use them by doing that.”
Since most kids use technology while learning, it is no surprise that they go from using one iPad at school to another one at home. That is exactly what 5th grader Maddie Norman does. Norman goes to Harding Academy and says that as soon as she comes home, she usually finds her way to her iPad.
“I get a snack and usually play games like musical.ly on my iPad,” she said. “That’s my favorite app right now.”
This is common in most households today. Kids get home and go straight to whatever technology is available. While it used to be watching your favorite show that came on and making sure you did not miss it, now kids grab their tablets and play games for hours.
Norman does have limitations on her technology use in her home just like at school. She says that if she does not have her homework done then she cannot get on her iPad or watch T.V. until it is done, and she cannot be on it when she goes to bed. For most teens and young adults, that is the prime time to be on devices. Peoples’ likes on Instagram tend to spike between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. People are tired and trying to go to sleep so they think having a bright light in their face is the way to do it.
When asked what she did when her friends come over, or when she goes to sleepovers her answer was a little different. If her friends have iPad’s, tablets or their parents old iPhones, then they will play on those, but some of her friends do not have any of those devices. She said if they do not have those then they play board games, play outside, build forts or jump on the trampoline. She also said her mom does not let her sit inside and use technology all summer.
During the summer, she has a nanny, and she said they will go to the park, bake, swim or go see a movie and she likes that. She also stays involved with recreational sports in Searcy and does VBS.
In addition to the lifestyle changes Generation Z has experienced, there have also been multiple alterations to the way schools work.
Donna Brown has been teaching for 31 years and has been teaching 2nd grade at Harding Academy for 23 of those. She has had the opportunity to see the evolution of technology in the classroom and the role it plays in her students’ lives.
Technology has certainly come a long way and is considered an integral part of our world. However, it has not always been a part of her classroom. In the last 10-15 years, the use of technology in the classroom is now an expectation in most schools. Each student is assigned an iPad to use in the classroom that is used as a learning tool for research, math facts or reading quizzes.
“Differences in tech today? Didn’t use it in the classroom,” said Brown. “I only had a computer for email and students weren’t expected to use it like they are now.”
The availability of technology in the classroom has been beneficial in that teachers are able to monitor a child’s progress better. Apps are available with the intent to be used in a classroom setting, and children are learning how to research at an earlier age.
As technology has its benefits and place in the classroom, it also has negative effects. There is an overexposure of technology today-- especially for kids. It is all around us and expected to be used. Children are accustomed to being entertained, and school can be the opposite of that sometimes.
“They are accustomed to being entertained, so their listening skills and focus are shorter than they used to be before technology.” said Brown.
Research has shown that there is a correlation between core strength and learning abilities in children. A weak core can be caused from not being active and living a sedentary lifestyle. Teachers are seeing more and more kids with ADHD, dyslexia, sensory development, etc. because kids are not as active as they used to be. But could this increase in diagnosis actually be caused by an increase in societal awareness of learning disabilities?
“A little bit of both,” said Brown. “Kids are having issues with their core development, and they are making that correlation with their core and neck development with their sensory learning and processing. More kids have problems now in my classroom that I’m aware of.”
Because many children today have issues with focusing in the classroom, some classrooms have implemented the use of stability balls for kids sit on and slightly bounce while doing their work, which can help them focus. One thing that Brown has done is implemented flexible seating in her classroom.
“The kids get to choose where they sit and how they sit,” Brown said. “They can sit at a desk, at a low table on the floor with legs crossed, lay on their stomach or stand if they want. I feel like it’s been a positive thing we have done, and I don’t see me going back to assigned seats with desks. I feel like they are more relaxed and focused in their work this way.”
Giving students options in where to sit allows them to make the choice themselves and helps them figure out how they learn best. Brown believes that giving students the option to choose gives them an advantage in the classroom that older generations never had.
In addition to the changes in the classroom setting, technology has also brought about a change in the way standardized testing is done in public schools.
Marion Ardrey has taught fourth grade at Newark Elementary School since 1992. Throughout the years, Marion has been able to witness first-hand just how much technology has changed the way children learn and are tested.
Two years ago, the state of Arkansas implemented a new form of standardized testing—the ACT Aspire test—which replaced the old handwritten test with an online version of the state wide standardized test.
“There’s been a lot of changes over the years, even with my three kids in school there—I have one who is 33, one 28, and one about to turn 21—so they did not take computerized testing, and that’s what’s really changed everything. Every school had to implement technology.” Ardrey said.
With the introduction of this new form of standardized testing, teachers had to now incorporate technology into their classrooms in order to prepare their students for the online test. Teachers were trained over the summer to teach typing classes, and every student was given their own Chromebook computer to do their homework on.
The Chromebooks became the student’s new class pet. Each student is required to care for their computer and return it to the cart they are kept in at the end of each day. It is the student’s responsibility to keep the Chromebook charged and in good shape.
“That’s a whole different lifestyle in the classroom than we used to be under.” Ardrey said.
The addition of computers to the classroom has come with a new set of challenges for Ardrey’s fourth graders. “The biggest problem is the typing,” Ardrey said. “You have nine-year-old children and they have to have their typing skills improved, because their tests are timed.”
For the writing portion of the state exam, students are given a prompt and 45 minutes to complete it. Originally it was 30 minutes, until teachers complained that this amount of time simply wasn’t enough for young, elementary-aged children to complete the writing prompt.
Even with the additional 15 minutes added to the writing portion, teachers across the state still worry about the difficulty the students are facing. “They have to do the planning, thinking through, the typing, editing and revising in 45 minutes.” Ardrey said. “We’re still going to be pushing it do get this done. Maturity and developmentally wise, that’s hard.”
Another aspect of technology in the classroom appears in the classrooms of special needs students. Because technology has introduced a wide array of outlets for students to learn, this has become the perfect opportunity to cater the way special needs students learn to their particular needs.
Today the future educators who will be working with these special needs children are being taught a variety of different ways to incorporate technology into their classrooms.
Morgan Weiland, a Junior Special Education K-12 Major at Harding University, says that her classes in college are preparing her for a technology fueled classroom in the future.
“In the Intro to Special Education class, SPED 303, we learn about an assistive technology program that can help with every disability.” Weiland said.
Weiland echoed the research done that has pointed to a better learning environment for special needs students.
“With technology, we can better educate students who have different learning needs by providing them with a different way of understanding the world around them.” Weiland said.
Weiland believes that having specialized programs for special needs students in order to help them more efficiently learn is not only beneficial, but extremely important for progress.
“I think it is so very important. Nonverbal students can’t communicate simple needs and wants without some form of technology.” Weiland said. “That technology could be as advanced as a computer program or as simple as a board with phrases glued to it.”
While there have been obvious benefits to the technology-fueled lives of Generation Z, some psychologists and therapists are worried about how technology is shaping the minds of children.
Heather Kemper has been a therapist since 2001. Throughout her years of work, she has seen the change in the psychology of modern peoples since the boom of technology. Kemper fears that an addiction to technology, as well as issues with attention deficit problems, are becoming more prevalent in our modern society.
“I’m very concerned,” Kemper said. “As a parent and as a therapist, I have a lot of concerns.”
Kemper’s concerns are grounded with research that has suggested modern children are being overwhelmed with technology. Research points to social media as the biggest issue. Cyber bullying and the pressures of appearing “cool” online have led to more children seeking mental health help from professionals. In addition to development of mental health issues in the oldest of Generation Z, the youngest are experiencing developmental delays due to their time in front of a screen.
In an article posted on PsychCentral, Dr. Jenny Radesky of Boston Medical Center noted that the lack of face to face communication is holding young children back from learning how to communicate.
“They (children) learn language, they learn about their own emotions, they learn how to regulate them,” Radesky said. “They learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people’s facial expressions. And if that’s not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones.”
As the world surges forward with advancing technology, the lives of our youngest generations will continue to be shaped and molded in different ways than the generations before them. While we’ve yet to see the full effects of technology on Generation Z, we can already note the obvious changes in the way these children go about their everyday lives.
From changes in classroom environments to the way kids interact with each other online, the hyper-technological world Generation Z lives in is exponentially different from the worlds of previous generations. From an early age, children are fully immersed in a world of digital media and technology.
Time will tell what kind of adults Generation Z will become, and until then we will have to continue learning and adjusting to raising children in such a modern world.