Understand Generation Z

How does Generation Z tick? Today’s youth presents themselves as smart, creative and self-confident. As digital natives, they have grown up with Google, Instagram and Netflix. Analog and digital are no longer opposites for them, but blur into a consistent reality. But what determines the lifestyle of Generation Z? What are their dreams, their images of the present or the enemy, and their unconscious life strategies? In a new research series based on deep psychological interviews and mobile phone diaries with young people between the ages of 13 and 22, the rheingold Institute is looking into this question.

Every two weeks we want to present in a pointed form a central aspect of the life of Gen Z. The prelude is the contribution

Chilling or the Curse of Paradise

Gen Z has mostly heavenly starting conditions. They do not make the lack of experience of previous war generations. They grow up in safe conditions. Their parents are mostly tolerant and understanding. They therefore do not know the longing to free themselves from close, borne and authoritarian conditions as the generation around 1968. Hasty emancipation from the parental home seems to them to be inconvenient, given the convenient care provided by the Mama Hotel.

Gen Z grows up in a deployment culture where everything seems to be predetermined and in which everything seems possible. Just the view of the entertainment offers shows an exponential development. There are not only more than a hundred television channels that broadcast 24 hours a day, but also media libraries that are available day and night. Streaming platforms such as Netflix or amazon prime allow access to thousands of feature films. On Youtube there are countless channels on which you can be guided around the clock by your peers through everyday life. And the smartphone acts as a modern all-purpose weapon in the daily crusade against boredom. With a magic swipe of the finger, you can activate contacts, close knowledge gaps, find partners or start games.

The downside of this heady magic world of ‘everything is possible’ is a tremendous pressure of expectation that weighs on Generation Z: everything that is provided in terms of opportunities and options can and must be taken. Boredom, loneliness, years of teaching, failure or mediocrity are taboo. They therefore dream of “a great career with a start-up company” or quickly becoming “known as Youtuber”. In the future, they want to “live a luxurious life like the Geißens” or “protect the planet” and “build a better world.”

Faced with this pressure of its own and foreign turbo expectations, Gen Z sometimes finds it difficult to make decisions and to take a certain direction of development. For any determination limits the paradise of the possible and carries the risk of failure. Their longing for pressure- and purpose-free margins is therefore great. They find them in the parallel worlds of the Internet, for example, when they play Minecraft for hours.

For young people in particular, chilling is a redemptive and carefree transitional state in three respects. With their demonstrative inertia, they rebel against their own and the foreign pressure of expectation. They create a time-out in which nothing seems necessary and in which everyday life seems to stand still for a long moment. At the same time, they mumble themselves – armed with a mobile phone or iPad – into a cozy cocoon of the media all-round supply. And in this feeling of energizing upliftandion and security, they gleefully dream what could become all the great things out of them, if they were to somehow rally up and decide on a path.

The young people are secretly happy when the adults help them in the transition from chilling to working everyday. They willingly pick up on fixed structures and appointments – whether it’s club sports, a gym or a language course. With grumpy gratitude, they rejoice in assigned tasks in the household. Temporary mobile phone restrictions are experienced as a relief. And the message that they are also loved when they are mediocre, they experience as redemption.


The rheingold expert

Stephan Grünewald

Stephan Grünewald

The psychologist Stephan Grünewald from Cologne is founder of the market and media research institute rheingold. Grünewald was with the books "Deutschland auf der Couch" (2006) and "Die erschöpfte Gesellschaft" (2013) and "Wie tickt Deutschland?" (2019) bestselling author. Tel .: +49 221-912 777-17 E-Mail: gruenewald@rheingold-online.de