Gen Z – The Lonely Generation

Gen Z – The Lonely Generation

Our teenagers (Generation Z) are the most connected generation, but they are also the loneliest. Seems contradictory, doesn’t it?

As a Millennial, my early teenage years were defined by wired phone calls, brick cell phones, and dial-up internet. I was a teenager when the iPhone first came on the scene and had my first phone with internet my Freshman year of college. I got Facebook in High School. Instagram gained popularity a few years later. Basically, technology and social media was rapidly changing, but I didn’t have to carry it around with me 24/7 like our current teenagers.

Today’s teens are even more connected than ever with Google, Instagram, Snapchat, FaceTime, TikTok, and messages at their fingertips. But let’s take a look at what it means for our teens who are growing up in a world that never turns off…

In Michele Borba’s book Thrivers, she states the following:
“Welcome to the “running on empty” generation…They are more inclusive and open-minded…They’re well educated with high aspirations for college and their future. But they’re also less happy and more stressed, lonely, depressed, and suicidal when compared with any previous generation – and those descriptions were identified prior to COVID-19 and all the resulting anxiety it produced.”

That is not a fun statement to read, and we are going to break down some more characteristics of Gen Z in Episode 43 of the Teen Life Podcast. Be sure to subscribe in your favorite podcast app or sign up to receive notifications so you won’t miss it! For now, let me give a couple of suggestions for how we can combat the loneliness of this generation.

Listen to understand.
One student in Thrivers said, “We hide our anxiety…It doesn’t work telling our parents because they don’t understand what it’s like to be a kid.” I know that it is easy to compare our teenage experiences with what teens are currently going through, but it isn’t the same. They are living in a world that is completely different from the one you grew up in.

Instead of minimizing their experiences, use this as a chance to listen and ask good questions! Be curious. Resist the urge to give advice if all they are looking for is an empathetic ear.

Model imperfection and boundaries.
A piece of nearly every day is posted online now, and our teens feel the pressure to be “picture-perfect” at all times. The “comparison game” is not a new problem, but now our teens are comparing their worst to the highlight reel of others. Pictures are filtered and feeds are full of celebrities and influencers.

This might seem silly, but make sure that teens know that they are valuable just as they are. They don’t need to filter or fake their life to enjoy it. Pictures and videos do a great job of capturing moments, but make sure you put your phone away sometimes to be fully in the moment! On the other hand, take the picture even if you don’t look your best. Model healthy boundaries and self-esteem with how you interact with social media.

Set aside time to connect.
What combats loneliness better than human connection? Life can get busy but scheduling regular time to connect with your teen can make a huge difference! In a recent podcast episode with my dad, Chris Hatchett, we talked about how he has intentionally made time for me from a young age. The main way he did that while I was in High School was to take me to lunch every week (every teen loves free food!).

Here are some other ways to be intentional with your connection:
• Talk in the car to or from school
• Grab breakfast before school
• Stop by a coffee shop on the weekends
• Do something special on their birthday – bring lunch to school or take them out
• Ride home together from games
• Schedule a meal together weekly or monthly
• Go shopping to find a new outfit
• Do a hobby together – golf, reading, building something, concert, movies, etc.

Teenagers will benefit from your wisdom and advice, but they will thrive when they feel connected and accepted by you! Let’s change the narrative for this generation and bring more connection than loneliness.

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and has always had a heart for teenagers and the vulnerable life stage they are in. She has a wealth of experience to share from working with teens in ministry and leading support groups.

Sometimes You Are Just One Step Away

Sometimes You Are Just One Step Away

A few years back, my wife and I were at the Storyline Conference with noted author Donald Miller. We decided to go to this conference in Nashville at what we believed was a pivotal time in our family life. I was in ministry at a congregation, and while everything was fine, I wasn’t sure what I was doing or where I was going. I enjoyed my job but didn’t see a future where I would be fulfilled and happy over the long term.

This particular conference seemed to be something that would at least help us think through these questions. The focus of the conference centered on understanding yourself as a character in your own story. We worked through our backstories and thought a lot about what we wanted.

There was one section of the conference where Miller riffed a while about relationships. During this particular section of the conference, he said something regarding relationships that has stuck with me –

“Sometimes we are just ONE good relationship away from everything being okay.”

Read that again.

One more time, now.

What a simple, yet powerful statement. These words seeped down into the recesses of my soul and found space to take root. The cost of the conference and travel to get there might have been worth it for those words.

Because the source of my discontent might not have been my job as a minister or the mission I believed in.

I was just very, very lonely. 

Actually, both of us were. And, we couldn’t see much of a way out of the loneliness while being on staff at a church where there were very few families who were in our situation.

Why is this little story important, especially for those working with and loving teenagers? For my wife and I, the solution wasn’t really that profound. We needed relationships and we needed to figure out how to be in a place where we could find them. And, we did. We moved to a town and found jobs that put us in places where we could find people to live life with. We found some friends. Obviously a lot had to happen to solve our problem, but the problem itself was really simple – we needed friends.

And, Don was right. While we have our fair share of struggles and frustration in life, things are a lot better.

We were just one (or maybe more) relationship away. This made all the difference.

A Teen Lifeline support group operates on this idea. Sometimes, it’s the really simple solutions that make the biggest difference. Maybe it’s a different relationship. Or, maybe we could start doing one thing just a little differently. Then, the world opens up and we wonder what life looked like before.

Just like you and me, teenagers can get lost. And in the confusion of being lost, they lose sight of the fundamental, important things that brought joy and happiness to begin with. Our groups help students reclaim what was lost and discover what really matters. They face their problems by finding their courage and strength in themselves, others, or God. And discovering that the solution is so simple makes it so much better.

So maybe we don’t need to try and fix everything for our students, or ourselves, for that matter. Maybe instead, we help students to find the simple way that could make a huge difference.


Chris Robey, Program Director, and has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.