Gen Z and Smartphone Etiquette

The Center for Generational Kinetics has a big study out titled the 2016 National Study on Technology and the Generation After Millennials, and it’s very good. The study creators assume that Generation Z, kids born in 1996 or later, will be the generation that is going to define standards of what is normal and acceptable when it comes to the use of personal technology. If you’re the parent of a Gen Z kid, you should check out the link to the full report above. In this post, we are going to focus on Gen Z attitudes toward smartphone use, and what it means for being a parent of kids in this group.

The architect of the study, Chief Strategy Officer Jason Dorsey, puts the following quote front and center:


No matter your opinion about whether that quote is true, it is a fact that the government has strict control over driving age and stipulations and restrictions on licenses and driving rules. As a parent, you can’t choose to legally allow your child to drive at 11. You can, however, buy him a smartphone with unrestricted internet access. We join the study authors in thinking that is a big deal. There is no internet license that one can obtain. Your mileage will vary.

Full data is not presented in the study, but from excerpts in the release it is clear that Gen Z believes that it is appropriate for younger kids to have a cell phone than do older generations. For example, 18% of Gen Z respondents think it’s okay for a 13-year old to have a smartphone vs. 4% for older generations.

In our experience, most 13-year olds have a smartphone so I’m not sure Gen Z is ahead of the curve here, or at least ahead of Gen Z parents. Where they look to be off base is captured in what they say about situations in which smartphone use is acceptable. Strangely, Gen Z is less approving than older generations of using a phone at work or at a movie, but at least some respondents in Gen Z (and a higher percentage of respondents than of any other generation), think it’s okay to use a smartphone:

  • During a job interview
  • At your own wedding
  • At the dinner table

Here’s our take, and why we think these results are important for parents of Gen Z kids: It is important for kids to understand that while they might think something is appropriate, and their peers might agree, going down that path could lead to a disastrous result.

I’m a parent of three Gen Z kids, and we absolutely don’t think it’s okay for kids or adults to use a smartphone at the dinner table. If I interviewed a candidate who thought it appropriate to pull out a smartphone during an interview, that candidate would not get the job.

As any technology becomes ubiquitous, power users and early adopters (Gen Z kids tend to be both) see use of that tech as normal, and may assume that it is acceptable in any manner of situations. It’s up to parents to communicate what the rest of society may think.



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