Move over Millennials, Generation Z is here. Born between 1997 and 2012, this generation has never known a world without selfies and social media. They likely don’t remember—or weren’t even born—on 9/11, and active shooter drills are carried out at school just as often as fire drills. Because they’ve always lived in a world that’s tinted with fear and violence, this generation has taken it among itself to make change happen.
Catherine Mojazza, 16
Catherine Mojazza will be the first to tell you that Generation Z is anything but lazy.
“The biggest stereotype of my generation is that we were given everything and that we don’t have to ‘struggle’ as much as our parents did. They also think we don't talk or communicate and we’re always on our phones.”
Catherine’s schedule doesn’t give her much time to be on her phone. She’s currently a junior at Plano West Senior High School, and, in addition to her studies, she participates in orchestra, Teen Court, club soccer and MCOR, a group focused on diversity. When she is on her phone, she’s checking her subscriptions to a variety of news networks where she follows the topics that interest her most: immigration, women’s rights and LGBTQ+ equality. These issues are not only hot button topics in the news, but in Catherine’s home as well.
“I disagree with my parents on most everything that comes into my head at the moment.” Catherine says. “My dad is an immigrant, and this largely shapes his view of illegal immigration due to the struggles he has faced. My parents tend to view helping people out in this way enables laziness, criminality and other negative traits.”
Catherine makes it a point to be educated on these topics so she can back up her opinions. She spends time watching political shows online and often finds herself blending her knowledge of current events and history to make a point.
“The internet gives my generation a huge advantage. We’re all globally connected and it allows us to be more educated and informed with information we wouldn't have had access to before.”
Despite being well-educated and informed, Catherine says her biggest fear is the future and the unknown, and she fears failure—both in her own life and in the world.
“I fear that I won't get into a good college or that I’ll be unable to get off on my own once I’m done with college. I fear what will happen in my lifetime due to climate change. I also fear the prejudice I'll likely face as a result of being a woman, and bisexual, and how that will impact my career and my life goals.”
Nika Pajuh, 17
Nika Pajuh moved from Iran to the United States when she was five. Her first language is Farsi, but she also speaks English and German. She also speaks high school Spanish, which is appropriate, because she’s a senior in high school. She is a dreamer but she’s also practical when it comes to planning for her future. Nika is currently in the middle of college applications, where she’s applying as a neuroscience/biomedical science major, but she also wants to double-major in another language.
“I’ve been torn for some time between pursuing law in the long term because of my dream to work at the UN, where I could utilize my love of language, and the medical route my parents have been encouraging me to pursue my whole life,” Nika says. “I’d like to attend an out-of-state school or a private school, [but] this isn’t really an option because of the lucrative full ride scholarships the University of Texas at Austin and Dallas offer.”
She credits her teachers with not only her education, but also for making sure she’s in-the-know when it comes to current events. She starts every day by scrolling through Apple News and Snapchat’s news sections.
“I really started paying attention to the news because of my Humanities classes. I’m extremely grateful that my teachers care about not just teaching us what we needed for AP exams, but for doing their best to make us engaged and educated citizens of the world.”
Nika also utilizes social media, not only to keep her in the know, help her find inspiration, and also to connect her with Persian culture and her friends.
“I’ve been a proud Pinterest addict since fifth grade, and I made my first Instagram account when I was 10. Social media has also given me a place of belonging I can’t find anywhere else. Plano is an overwhelmingly diverse place, but I don’t have the ties to my culture that my friends and family in Iran have,” Nika says. “Persian Instagram accounts give me ‘relatable’ content that so many of my Gen-Z peers have such easy access to in their everyday lives.”
Social media is a huge resource for Nika, but she also knows it and the internet can be a weapon and something that should be handled with care. She admits to having FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) if she’s not active online, but she also has more and more friends taking extended breaks from social media. But while it may give her pause, Nika knows that the power of the internet will be a huge factor in what Generation Z achieves.
“The internet is what allows our generation to be multitaskers that can accomplish a lot without sacrificing a lot of time and money. But it also has its flaws. It alienates a lot of us and creates ‘sides’ on every topic. Everyone in my generation has an opinion on every matter and feels that their opinion is significant enough to let everyone in their social circles know. The internet is a tool, but it can also be a weapon, and ultimately, it’s something that we need to learn to handle with caution.”
Prisha Arora, 16
“I think the biggest stereotypes of my generation is that we're all vain and we post pictures of ourselves online for validation. My generation is more politically involved and socially aware than ever before. Everyone I know has at the very least a basic understanding of what is happening.”
And what’s happening is scary. Prisha lives in a constant state of fear of what’s happening here at home, in our country and all over the world.
“I'm scared of everything all the time, and I know that I'm not alone in this. I fear that our climate crisis will be the end of the world as we know it. I fear that we will continue to elect people who want to set the world back 10 steps into power. I'm scared that a shooter will enter my school.”
The fear of school shooter is one that sadly has been normalized at schools across the country. Prisha says its so common, that she hears her classmates joking about this nightmare being a reality.
“We've managed to desensitize ourselves to this fear so much that humor is the only way we can cope with our constant awareness of the possibility of a school shooting.”
These school shootings have created a constant state of fear, but they’ve also encouraged students like Prisha to take action. When a shooter killed 14 students in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, Prisha and her classmates held a walkout in response. She says this is how she and her generation can take a stand against violence.
“This was a major change from just five years ago when my brother was in high school. He was shocked when I told him that my school held a walkout two years ago in response to the shooting in Florida and that I was speaking at it. Most kids just didn't care to pay attention until fairly recently.”
Prisha believes that having access to the internet has given her generation the ability to not only be informed, but to have access to different opinions, people and resources they may not normally encounter.
“We are more interconnected than we have ever been before, and although this can bring certain challenges, I think that our ability to be able to find people who may be different to us has done wonders for acceptance in the world. I also think that we are lucky that we are able to be much more open than I think past generations have been able to be, especially in regards to mental health.”
Prisha says today’s news cycle and social media have taken a toll on her mental health, and she’s taken steps to remove those triggers from her life.
“I used to pay attention to the news constantly a few years ago, and although I still try to keep as up to date as I can, I’ve had to scale back on the amount of news I consume in order to keep my mental health intact. I've majorly scaled back my Instagram usage as it brings me more anxiety than enjoyment if I use it more than a few minutes a day.”
While the world can be a scary place for Prisha, she’s excited to see where the future takes her.
“I'm most excited to graduate next school year, get to go to university, and experience life outside of Plano!”
Ashley Pan, 16
Ashley Pan believes Generation Z is extremely fortunate.
“Not only do the majority of our generation have enough food to eat, a home to live in, friends and family to go to, our generation also has access to technology and most importantly, a voice.”
Ashley has put her voice to good use. She’s the co-founder and president of Light of Africa, which works to provide children in Africa with solar lanterns as safe alternatives for kerosene lanterns. She started the program last year, and as of this school year, the group has added two additional chapters. Outside of school, Ashley volunteers as a Chinese tutor, and she spent the summer in Beijing, where she taught over 120 kids communication and public speaking skills. If that’s not enough, she also competes in pageants. She was crowned Miss Teen China International 2018-2020 and Miss Teen of Plano 2019. She’ll compete for Miss Teen Texas in January.
“Pageants aren't about the crown and sash at all. I see pageants as a way to be involved in the community and serve as a role model for younger girls.”
She says she spends a lot of time online reading the news and keeping up with current events, but she also engages with Influencers, who don’t always influence her in a positive way.
“I do follow quite a lot of Influencers, YouTubers, models, and beauty queens as those are the people I aspire to be. But—real talk—they're the reason why I spend hours deciding what picture to post. They make up beauty standards and are my main source of stress.”
Adding to Ashley’s stress: the disagreements she and her parents have over a variety of topics, including racism, gender roles and finances. Her parents are financially conservative, unless it has to do with Ashley’s education and extracurricular activities, and she believes Generation Z has a completely different view on how they spend their money.
“Every single night, my mom handwashes every single plate, bowl, glass and chopstick while the dishwasher sits, empty, next to the sink. Our concept of money as teenagers and Gen Z is a whole other world. We spend it on name-brand clothing, HYPEBEAST shoes, a night out, and food: it's all about having the time of our lives.”
Times are changing, and Ashley believes that Generation Z will be able to make substantial shifts in to how the country views our most-debated topics.
“As the generation that will fill the jobs and run the country, Generation Z has shifted to the concept of equality for everyone. We're more willing to accept the differences and accept people for who they are.”