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Linda Manziaris, left, and her sister Susanna are young business women who are heavily involved in charity in Africa. Fourteen-year-old Linda operates an online jewellery business called Body Bijou and donates some of her profits to Susanna’s Girls Helping Girls organization. (Kevin Van Paassen For The Globe and Mail)
Linda Manziaris, left, and her sister Susanna are young business women who are heavily involved in charity in Africa. Fourteen-year-old Linda operates an online jewellery business called Body Bijou and donates some of her profits to Susanna’s Girls Helping Girls organization. (Kevin Van Paassen For The Globe and Mail)

YOUTH MOVEMENT

Generation Z: The kids who’ll save the world? Add to ...

A 2012 study by the U.S.-based marketing company JWT found that kids aged 13 through 17 valued their Internet connection more than going to the movies, getting an allowance from their parents, attending a sporting event or having cable TV. But not everyone has seen this ubiquitous connectivity as a positive thing. For example, author Mark Bauerlein, in his The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, argues that cyberculture is turning young people into “know-nothings.”

“The advent of digital technology is having an impact and creating a whole bunch of worries,” adds historian, economist and demographer Neil Howe. “It creates real developmental difficulties when so much of your stimulus is digital.”

But Tapscott disagrees that this new digital era is hurting kids.

“A lot of people say that this is creating an army of narcissists doing selfies and tweeting and so on, that they are Net-addicted, they are glued to the screen, they are losing their social skills, that they don’t give a damn. But if you look at the data, it doesn’t support any of that,” he says.

“It’s not the dumbest generation, it’s the smartest.”

Craig Kielburger, co-founder of youth development charity Free the Children, works with socially conscious young people every day. He says that this generation is tremendously engaged in social activism. (And he should know, he became an activist when he was just 12.)

In the coming months, Free the Children plays host to “We Day” events all over North America and Britain, attended by tens of thousands of youth to kickstart a “year of action” through their year-long “We Act” program, which encourages young people to support the causes that are important to them.

Kielburger says his organization has dubbed Generation Z the “We Generation,” to contrast with the “Me Me Me” moniker that was thrust upon the millennials.

“They are still young, but I believe we are seeing a shift from the ‘Me’ culture to young people who are more aware of their environment and how their choices impact the world around them,” he says. “These are young people who are very much looking at how they can do good in the world.”

Kielburger says this generation’s digital skills are partly responsible for their zeal for activism, because it’s given them the ability to interact with the world and other activists like never before.

“This generation is growing up in the shadow of 9/11, growing up with global issues like climate change and poverty dominating the news, at a level where they understand how interconnected we are in this world,” he says. “In previous generations, there was a feeling that when you were young, you were a passive bystander, an adult-in waiting, but today because of technology, young people have this sense of self-confidence and a belief they can change the world.”

Case in point: Hannah Alper, the 11-year-old Toronto-based eco-warrior and activist. Her popular blog, Call Me Hannah, is a document of her environmental concerns and the people who inspire her, and she has been a We Day speaker at rallies across the continent. Hannah says she was motivated to start her blog at 9 because of her love of animals.

“I realized that animals rely on the environment and that they rely on us to help the environment,” Hannah says. “I did some research and found out there were so many problems in the world, littering, pollution, global warming, climate change, and we need to fix it. And I thought a younger voice could help spread the word.

“When you publish a blog, it’s everywhere and anyone can see it and get inspired and motivated.”

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