Life Lessons for (or is that from?) a New Generation
Hope for the Future
About two years ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the same conference as 10-year-old Manitoba activist Alliana Rempel. Inspired by reading “I am Malala”, this precocious pre-teen founded the charity ‘Battle the Bad with Beauty’ in support of children’s rights to education. About a year later, I had a chance to meet Alliana and chat with her and her parents. She was as enthusiastic as ever about the work she was doing and was very excited that others were supportive and getting involved. That conversation filled me with great hope for the future.
Generation Z comprises roughly 6.5 million Canadians. These young people, born between 1996 and 2010, are often referred to as ‘digital natives’. They have never known a world without the internet and cellphones. They often get a bad rap for being “screen-obsessed”, “antisocial” or “fragile”, but experts posit that Gen Z wants to make their mark by harnessing technology to make the world a better place.
Today’s youth are not the first kids to fight for social justice. There are countless examples in history of young people starting or leading movements. Canadians Marc and Craig Kielberger started Free the Children, a youth-led advocacy group focussed on ending child labour, in 1995 when they were just kids themselves. Today, their multi-faceted ‘WE organization’ continues to have tremendous impact and inspire youth around the world. While it was almost unheard of when the Kielbergers did it in the early 90’s, youth-led philanthropy and social activism is fast becoming a hallmark of Gen Z.
A recent UK/US-based study determined that 26% of Gen Zs surveyed had already participated in fundraising for a cause they believed in, and 32% had donated their own money or allowance. Although a large percentage of today’s youth volunteer their time, both as part of the school curriculum and well beyond, much of their giving is digitally-driven. This technology gap can leave parents and grandparents, whose giving habits were often moulded by faith communities and weekly cash offerings, wondering how to pass along their own lessons in generosity.
It’s true that for Gen Z, cash has been replaced by clicks and taps, loyalty to specific charities has been supplanted by devotion to general causes, and church attendance is in decline. However, I believe the lessons of generosity are timeless, and our kids are still looking to us to help them learn them. Even though Gen Z’s social media savvy puts them in touch with a wide set of influencers, young people still learn best from role models who are deeply invested in their lives.
It is still up to us ‘old folks’ to model generosity well, so how do we go about it? Authenticity, trust, and transparency are paramount if we are to be taken seriously. We need to talk honestly and openly about giving, and then follow through on the things that we say. We must do our research and be able to confidently stand behind the organizations we choose to support, while granting young people space to make their own decisions and discoveries. Kids today also have a lot of generous peers to look up to – from Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaking on YouTube, to young inventors giving TED talks, to friends from school posting pics of volunteer projects on Instagram and Snapchat.
Connected, compassionate, and deeply aware of the world around them, Gen Z is on the way and they’re ready to give. As much as I want to teach them about generosity, I am equally excited about the lessons they will soon teach me.
Contributed by Darren Pries-Klassen
 These numbers are illustrative, based on the 2016 census numbers rounded to the nearest 100K. Given that there is not yet a consensus regarding the start and end birth years that define Generation Z, some 17-19 year olds may be counted twice.
 Kingston, A. (2014, July 15). Get Ready for Generation Z. Maclean’s, https://www.macleans.ca/society/life/get-ready-for-generation-z/.