Generation Z: Teens, Tech, and What the Future Holds

I abhor sweeping generalizations and tossing all members of a demographic group into a stereotype. While the reality is that it is not uncommon for people in certain age groups to have distinct preferences, interests, and tendencies, this doesn’t necessarily apply to all in that age group, and there are exceptions in every instance.

But, whether you’re a marketer, a publisher (with a nod to my publisher friend with whom I frequently have these conversations), an HR pro, a sales professional, or a business owner, generational research and insights about tendencies, preferences, and common behavior can be extremely valuable. And while there’s much attention lavished on Millennials, a whole new generation of consumers is galloping along right behind them—and that’s Generation Z. Let’s take a look at Gen Z, and what research shows these teens (and tweens) are interested in—and what that might mean moving forward.

Who is Generation Z?

Generation Z is defined as teenagers ages 13 to 19. The spawn of GenX, there are fewer of them than the Millennials before them. They are growing up in a time so revolutionized by technology that it hardly resembles that of their parents and grandparents.

What Gen Z Research Says

In an admittedly small, but interesting nonetheless, study, Business Insider surveyed 60 smartphone-owning teenagers from all across the United States and published that research in early 2016. Here are some takeaways from those discussions.

Teens get smartphones early and use them often. On average, the surveyed teens were about 11 years old when they got their first smartphones, and the youngest was eight. My twin daughters are ten and they’ve had their own phones for the last year.

The kids surveyed reported they spend about six hours per day on their phones, some of which is during school hours, and they reported spending a total of about 11 hours in front of various types of screens per day. It’s interesting to note that teens reported the most popular smartphones today are the iPhone 5S, the IPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S5—not bad, kids. Not bad. Oh, and reporting personally, my kids have an iPhone 5 and an iPhone 6s Plus. Note that these aren’t devices that were purchased new for them, they are “old” devices that could have either been turned in/resold or handed down to a kid. Because handing down to a kid means less sharing of my personal device and also less hassle for me, it was easy to cave—something I’ll bet many parents do.

Teens shop online more than ever. The Business Insider study found that teens like online shopping. For clothing in particular, teens today enjoy shopping online and the need for having a bricks and mortar store in conjunction with ecommerce offerings continues to decline slightly year over year. Take a look at Figure 1 below to see the change in clothing e-commerce behaviors since 2013.


Figure 1. Source: Business Insider

The most popular apps are Snapchat, Spotify, and Instagram—oh, and Twitter. Most teens communicate with one another using the Snapchat app, and Spotify ranked highly as not only the best music-streaming option but also one of the best overall phone apps. On a personal note, my kids use Spotify daily and they’d love it if I let them have a Snapchat or Instagram account, but I’m not yet ready for that. Teens reportedly liked Instagram for its available filters and unique quick messaging services. Perhaps a little surprisingly, most teens said they enjoyed Twitter’s communicative platform (and that it was “less annoying” than the “mostly outdated” Facebook). What I’ll bet they love most about Twitter is that their parents and grandparents aren’t typically on Twitter. After all, what kid likes to hang out where their parents are? Facebook is filled with old people. And parents.

They may not love Facebook, but Facebook Messenger is rocking. Nearly 80 percent of teen respondents said they used Facebook Messenger as either a primary or secondary source of communication with friends. (iMessage or SMS messaging came in at 100 percent.) And why not? With free calling that doesn’t eat up data (or show up on the parents’ phone bill), free video messaging, the ability to upload photos and videos, recordings, and the ability to send and receive money, what’s NOT to like about Messenger?

When it comes to television, teens gravitate towards Netflix. Although Hulu and Amazon got some responses, Netflix was far and away teen’s choice for television. See Figure 2 below for a breakdown.


Figure 2. Source: Business Insider

They use the internet differently than most adults. When asked to identify popular apps or sites not used by adults, many teens identified the following:

  • After School—A social network geared toward high school students that allows anonymous posts.
  •—An app that lets you make music videos of other people or yourself. This is my kids’ #1 favorite app and where they spend the vast majority of their time.
  • Color Therapy—A digital coloring book app designed for adults but used often by teens.
  • Wishbone—A site that allows teens to vote on their favorite of two items, tallying the votes to determine the winner.
  • Color Switch—A game in which you are required to follow color patterns on obstacles to advance.

So What?

That’s a lot of information. If like me, you’ve got a teen or tween (or even a 10-year-old or two) at home, you may have even anticipated some of those answers. But beyond the generalities of the above, there are some interesting observations to be made. Here are some that come immediately to mind.

Most teens don’t remember a time before social media. Take a look at the three biggest apps for teens above, and notice that only one of them would be what we traditionally think of as among our primary customer-facing outlets—today, anyway. Look at Figure 3 below to see where teens are spending their time.


Figure 3. Source: Business Insider

What Now?

As a marketer or business pro, I am absolutely not suggesting that you need to rush out to these channels and establish a brand presence. But knowing about them doesn’t hurt. I think it’s interesting to know a bit about the habits and preferences of this new generation of consumers and to keep an eye on that moving forward. I also find it very interesting as a parent to see these trends and tendencies and to compare how my kids use technology against what other kids report.

But make no mistake: Before you know it, these young people will be a powerful force. They’ll be your customers and/or your prospective employees. They are driving purchases of tech gear and devices, consumables, clothing, entertainment—just about anything you can think of. Understanding how they think, where they hang out, what motivates them, etc., is more important than you might think.

Additional Resources on this Topic:

The Demographic Tsunami to Come: The Spending Habits of Gen Z
Teenagers and Technology: ‘I’d rather give up my kidney than my phone’
What Happened When Teens Gave Up Technology for A Week


Photo Credit: University Library of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Flickr via Compfight cc

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