The urge to cancel your teenager or young adult can be intense. You may not actually shun them, but you might disengage. You pass by them without speaking. You let their phone occupy their time. Their air pods hinder any meaningful conversation (all the time). When there is some dialogue, you’re accused of being ‘old fashioned’ and unrelatable as they tell you that you hate them simply because you had a difference of opinion. And so, like me, you essentially give up.
What makes relating to Gen Z so complicated?
Let me offer three primary reasons. They relate in ways that confuse us. They gather in ways that are unfamiliar to us. And their cherished values don’t resonate with us. This makes parenting tough.
Although they’re the smallest generation in Western history, they’re also the most connected, creating a greater impact, at a younger age, than any generation before them. Their virtual alignment allows for a common language and story despite their diversity. They’ve convinced themselves we don’t care by trying to convince us that we don’t want them. It’s unlike anything we have experienced making it easy to give up hope.
Gen Z is a cancel culture. They boycott or remove their support from a person or company that has said or done something inconsistent with Gen Z’s values or is incongruent with the image the person or company has portrayed. They shame them on social media.
Gen Z is a cancel culture.
According to a recent article in Psychology Today, Dr. Grant Benner writes that 19% of Gen Z has attempted to cancel someone. Gen Z additionally ‘ghosts’ friends, family, and employers. He explains that ‘ghosting’ is a common occurrence amongst Gen Z where they abruptly disappear from communication and cease showing up for work without explanation. According to their research, 17% of Gen Z are a ‘no show’ for an interview and 15% are a ‘no show’ on the first day of work while 11% will quit without notice. They are comfortable ‘ghosting’ or canceling others, while one of their greatest fears is being cancelled.
According to Mainstreet Insights, 33% of Gen Z are more likely to hide their perspective on issues because they are afraid of the way people will respond and 45% of Gen Z struggle to be their authentic self for fear of judgement and exclusion. “This hesitation to be themselves could perhaps be stemmed from the exposure to cancel culture because they are most likely to be aware of the social consequences cancel culture brings.” 
Over the last couple of years, many of our youth and young adults observed Christian parents and leaders cancel friends, relatives, and churches. Many parents and leaders cancelled brothers and sisters in Christ when they disagreed over COVID protocols. Gen Z fears it’s next.
They assume if we are willing to cancel family and lifelong friendships over issues of masking or gathering sizes, that we won’t hesitate to cancel them over issues of gender, identity, and faith. They stopped trusting us and became increasingly recluse. As many studies show, their depression and anxiety are at historic highs.
Characteristics of Gen Z
Dialoging with Gen Z is challenging. Sometimes it seems impossible to converse with them. Being the first generation raised with a device in hand with unlimited virtual connection, they would rather text or message than communicate in person.
I’m a talker. I love to talk face to face. I text when necessary, not as my primary mode of communication. Yet somehow, I end up texting our 21-year-old son from the kitchen to tell him dinner is ready (when he’s gaming in his bedroom). I end up having a more robust conversation with my daughter via text than in person. Most of us have observed a group of Gen Zers sitting together in silence while texting each other. Most of us don’t relate to each other this way. I would never text the person sitting across the table from me. I’d talk to them.
They gather online. Some nights after work, our 21-year-old son will tell us that he’s eating with friends that night. Then he doesn’t leave the house. Food is soon delivered to our door (for 1 person only) and he goes back into his room to game with his friends. This is their primary form of social interaction. Several studies indicate that Gen Z spends more than 10 hours a day on their phone and tablet socially (streaming and social media). Momentum for their causes begins online.
Their priority values aren’t always aligned with ours. They value diversity, justice, environmentalism, caring for the poor and acceptance. We value pragmatism, education, work life balance and investments (You should ask yourself which set of values sound more Biblical?).
How do we engage?
We pray. I don’t mean this tritely. We come before God asking Him to open doors into the lives of our children (Colossians 4:2-6). We pray frequently and fervently for them. We ask God to save them.
We listen. James 1 reminds us, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (NIV).
We want them to talk about what they are thinking and how they are feeling. We need to learn to listen. I need to live a life that isn’t so rushed, inviting them to talk when they are open to doing so rather than making them feel like they need to ‘book’ an appointment to see Dad (and it is difficult when you’re raising four children, working 50 hours a week, sitting on a couple of boards, and assisting my wife in operating a small business). I’m a talker who needs to learn to listen.
We ask them thoughtful questions. Jesus did. He frequently responded to a question with another question. Two examples of this occur when Jesus encounters the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22 and when He encounters the expert in the law in Luke 10:25-37. I typically answer the question I’m asked rather than trying to understand what is going on in the heart of the questioner – in this situation, my own children.
We show them how good God’s Kingdom is. I believe when they see that His Kingdom is supremely diverse, just, and compassionate, reigned by a King who adopts us into his family and will never cancel us out, that they will be intrigued by the beauty of who He is and begin to wonder if this could be true. We need to focus on the goodness of His Kingdom prayerfully allowing them they see their need for a relationship with Him found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
And we learn to text and DM (direct message) them. I’d rather have a face-to-face conversation. I’d rather talk. But if they would rather text, I need to meet them where they’re at. It’s tough. It takes longer. You can’t read emotion well. I end up clarifying content more often. We are at times in the same house and although it seems ridiculous to text, if it keeps them engaged using a medium they’re comfortable with, then why wouldn’t I text them?
Reengage and Never Give Up
Our children are God’s gift to us. No one will have the opportunity to influence them more than we will. Psalm 127:3-5 reminds us, ‘Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them’ (NIV). Thankfully God has revealed Himself as our Father. We need to imitate Him. Never do we humbly approach our Father for grace, forgiveness or love and have Him turn us away. God give us strength to imitate you.
God has blessed us with our children. They are a gracious gift from Him. And they’re afraid. Afraid that what we’ve taught them isn’t real. Afraid the world will cancel them. Afraid their friends will ‘ghost them. Afraid they will be alone. Afraid their brokenness can’t be healed. They are watching us to see if we will forgive them, love them and care for them no matter what.
They want to know that we won’t cancel them. They might say they don’t need us, but they know they do. Though they can’t yet muster the words, their heart is crying out, ‘Please don’t cancel me Dad, I need you!’
Dwayne and his wife are raising four Gen Zers. He will take a more in depth look at reaching Gen Z at his workshop at the TGC Conference this month.
Benner, Grant; DellaNeve, James; Nishizaki, Santor. ‘Gen Z and Workplace Bullying, Ghosting and Cancel Culture.’ Psychology Today, 26 July, 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/experimentations/202107/gen-z-and-workplace-bullying-ghosting-and-cancel-culture.
 Mccrindle. ‘Gen Z and cancel culture.’ Mccrindle, August, 2022, https://mccrindle.com.au/article/gen-z-and-cancel-culture/.