It’s easy to find the flaws in any generation. It’s much more challenging—and out of the ordinary—to find and encourage strengths. Consider this contrast that a supervisor or parent might take with a young person from Gen Z.
Fault-finding does not advance us as human beings, but strengths-finding, according to character strengths research over the last decade, can and does.
Let’s take a closer look at what’s best about Gen Z.
By “what’s best” I am referring to strengths. And by “strengths” I’m not referring to strengths of talent or skill (Gen Z is good with technology or good with multitasking) or strengths of interest (Gen Z is passionate about social media or video games).
I’m referring to strengths of character.
Who is Gen Z? Who are these individuals at their core? What is best about them? How do they compare to previous generations on character strengths scores?
In looking at data from the only valid, free, and comprehensive character strengths survey in the world (called the VIA Survey, offered by the VIA Institute where I am education director), we learn that Gen Z, on average, is high in honesty, kindness, fairness, judgment/critical thinking, and love. These strengths reflect a great blend of heart-strengths (love and kindness) with mind-strengths (fairness and judgment). Isn't that what many of us strive toward—to be able to use rationality, logic, and reasoning while also turning to intuition, emotion, and care?
In addition, Gen Z's top strengths span four virtues championed by philosophers and theologians throughout time—the virtues of wisdom, courage, humanity, and justice. And, when compared to adults in the general population in the U.S., Gen Z scores slightly higher in their top three character strengths (honesty, kindness, and fairness).
In an earlier article, I wrote about the character strengths trends across the previous four generations (Silents, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millenials) and observed there had been a steady decrease in several strengths across all four generations—curiosity, love of learning, appreciation of beauty/excellence, gratitude, and forgiveness. Amazingly, Gen Z has bucked the trend! Gen Z has ceased those decreases by showing slight increases in all of these strengths, with the exception of gratitude.
There seems to be lots to celebrate when it comes to the strengths of Gen Z. Lots to build upon, to reinforce, to explore, to champion, and perhaps most of all—lots to appreciate. Practically speaking, in the next conversation you have with someone from Gen Z, point out one of the character strengths you see them using. Tell them you appreciate their use of the strength.
Here is the full rank order of character strengths for Gen Z takers of the VIA Survey, looking at those born between 1995 and 2000 (all now young adults in the present day). This is U.S. data, although the worldwide data for Gen Z is nearly identical with no meaningful changes in this rank order.
Source: VIA Institute on Character: World database on character strengths
McGrath, R. E. (2015). Character strengths in 75 nations: An update. Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(1), 41–52. http://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.888580
Niemiec, R. M. (2015). Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials: Are strengths decreasing? Found on Psychology Today.