The Gee Code: What Adults Need to Know About Gen Z’s Digital Wellbeing

The Gee Code: What Adults Need to Know About Gen Z’s Digital Wellbeing

When it comes to tech, Gen Z have often been left to our own devices when navigating online social standards.

This hyper-independence has led to a gap between us and our elders, leaving both generations feeling unsure about how to best support technology solutions that enhance the mental health of the next generation.

After attending the Teens, Screens & Wellbeing: Youth in the Digital Age panel at SXSW, I walked away with insights from both the elder adult perspective and from Gen Z about what’s needed to find a happy medium between tech’s impact on our well being. 

The panel featured industry experts from YR Media, Melinda Gates’ venture capital firm, Pivotal Ventures, founded to advance social progress in the United States and Young Futures (YF), a nonprofit on a mission to make it easier to grow up in the digital world.

Let’s face it, many of our parents did not grow up with access to technology and as the first digital generation, we are often the tech pioneers in our families. While this allows us to be a tech guru of sorts to our elders, it leaves Gen Z in an awkward space when it comes to receiving the support they need. 

Social media and the creation of digital communities has allowed Gen Z to become hyper-connected to each other and disconnected to their elders.

Gen Z who are actively online find themselves standing at the intersection of connection and isolation. They face the complex balance of finding inspiration online and rotting in toxic comparison. 

It is imperative for older adults who care for Gen Z to grasp the complexities of this digital landscape and its profound effects on the well-being of our youth.

While technology provides a platform for self-expression, finding community and engaging in activism, the pressure to constantly speak out on social issues can be overwhelming. 

Silence to Gen Z is deemed as complicity, yet navigating these conversations comes with the risk of missteps and backlash. 

The loneliness crisis gripping Gen Z is alarming, with 50% of teens reporting a lack of belonging. This is not merely a phase of life either, as constant loneliness is a predictor of future health outcomes, comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

Technology, touted for its ability to connect, paradoxically contributes to this. The constant feedback loop and emotional support burden placed on Gen Z friends exacerbates feelings of loneliness.

To address these challenges, we must recognize that Gen Z is not a monolith. Blanket solutions like “limiting screen time” or outright technology bans are ineffective and fail to address the underlying issues. 

Instead, we must foster empathy and understanding, refraining from blaming all of Gen Z’s problems on technology. Because in reality, the issues of social pressure and mental health concerns have been faced by every generation. 

The only difference is that every generation prior has not had access to technology to consume content that highlights these issues 24/7.

When engaging with Gen Z, it’s crucial to inquire about their values and how technology can align with and contribute to them. The key is to not remove technology, it is to instead embed mental health focuses into the tech that Gen Z uses.

Think about it as creating driver’s education courses for new drivers, or inventing seat belt additions in cars as a preventative measure.

Adults must prioritize empathy over eye rolling, actively listening to the concerns and experiences of Gen Z without dismissing them. The “us vs. them” mentality only serves to widen the gap between generations. 

By acknowledging the complexities of their experiences and supporting initiatives that promote belonging and connection, older adults can ensure that Gen Z carries with them the tools and support they need to thrive in an increasingly digital world.

Keeping it gee, understanding the impact of technology on Gen Z’s wellbeing requires a nuanced approach. It’s not enough to simply advocate for limiting screen time; we must address the underlying issues of loneliness and disconnection while fostering empathy and understanding. By working together, we can create a digital landscape that supports the holistic wellbeing of our youth.

Miranda Perez (she/her/hers) is a Jersey City, NJ-based journalist who covers the tech industry. Follow her on X and Instagram: @mimithegee.

Edited by NaTyshca Pickett

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