Where my Gen Z’s at?


For my first post I want to spend some time discussing the impressive ‘Generation Z.’  As an educator, this is the generation that I teach and spend time doing research with in 2018. This generation is optimistic, interconnected and driven in the face of constant social and political upheaval. They hold massive potential to make significant change socially, politically and economically, and they do, because they are not afraid to take risks (CBC News, 2018). According to psychologist Jean Twenge, this is also a generation that experiences anxiety and depression at increasingly alarming rates in comparison to previous generations. I am not making this point to be the ‘debbie downer’ of the educational blogosphere, but rather, because I believe this is where education can be harnessed to help these young people change the world while also being mindful of their own well-being. I should preface that I do not wish to over-simplify or overgeneralize the seriousness of mental health issues, but I do hope to discuss some of the overarching trends that may contribute to this statistic and engage in conversation on the topic.

I am obviously older than the Gen Z cohort and I hail from the last generation not born into a technologically advanced society (in the developed world, anyways). In high school, I would wait 20 minutes for my internet to ‘dial up’ (the struggle was real), and then I would ‘ICQ’ message my friends and my mind would proceed be blown. There was no social media, no cell phones, and no forum to compare ones life or body. There was no cyber bullying. After 20 minutes of rudimentary messaging, I would head outside to hang out with friends, like, in person. It was simpler times.

It is me, and other people like me, who are educating these ‘digital natives’ I discuss  with you today. These are interesting and complex times in education as our students tend to be the experts on the topic of technology and social media though we continue to be the ones to try to teach them about it. We know this, because we often sit back and watch in awe as our students do things we never knew Instagram/Twitter/Facebook/Googledoc could do. I’ve spent a lot of time with teens jokingly helping their useless teacher with new technology and their response is always, “Ms., how do you NOT know this?” I spend a lot of time thinking about how to narrow this gap in knowledge, if only to save myself the embarrassment or to maintain some semblance of coolness with my students.

The idea of educators attempting to assist young people in navigating their social world is nothing new; social media literacy education has rolled out across the province in the last decade, and while this is fabulous and necessary, I argued in my PhD dissertation  that the lack of sophistication of this literacy education does not do our Gen Z’s  justice. Maybe this is because the people who write the policy, like me, used dial up Internet at their age.  Further, I ask, is our social media literacy really making serious connections between mental health and social media use?

This brings me to my last point about mental health and technology and one of my passions in educational research and practice. As a physical educator, I believe that humans need to move and to play. They need to play a sport or an instrument, they need to write, act, and to go outside. They need to educate themselves about media and then they need to unplug from that media and have embodied experiences that are real. I believe having conversations with young people about their lived experiences through their bodies (embodiment) is something they need to talk about; they need to talk about the physical reactions they have to social media, school, sport, food, sex, relationships, everything. But finding the space to have and to discuss embodied experiences becomes difficult in the face of increased school pressure, increased pressure to look like ‘insta-models,’ to have the most friends on Snapchat and to be part of the right ‘Whatsapp’ chat group.

These posts will be about engaging students, teachers and myself in finding ways to talk about the embodied realities of living in a technology driven society and how education and movement can assist in  finding balance in all of our lives. I hope you will join me on this complex, messy, amazing journey!

Thanks for listening to my first rant!