- Gen Z is engaged in social and cultural issues, and they know how politics plays into that.
- While adults may want to shy away, Gen Zers want frank conversations about issues.
- Adults should model civil discourse when talking about politics. Gen Z respects it.
I’ve always been interested in politics and find it exciting when new faces come on the political scene. This week’s midterm elections did not disappoint, as those of us not in Florida were introduced to Maxwell Alejandro Frost. At just 25 years old, he won his race to represent Florida’s 10th Congressional District, making him the first Gen Z member of Congress.
In looking at his background, it’s not surprising to see how he may have resonated with younger voters in his district. Seeing school shootings motivated him to get active in gun reform work at a young age. Then, three years later, he became a survivor of a school shooting himself. He campaigned on gun reform and other issues young voters say are important to them, including climate change, healthcare reform, and reproductive rights. He also embodies the diversity of Gen Z.
In a New York Times article announcing his win, Frost said: “The perspective I bring as a young person, as a young Black person, as a young Black Latino person from the South, is important,” and that he saw himself as “a small piece of a really big puzzle” where Gen Z is growing in influence.
It's not an overstatement to say Gen Z really cares about making a difference in this world, and they are aware of how politics can both catapult and cripple that aspiration. While it may be uncomfortable for many of us older folks who were taught not to talk religion or politics in mixed company, engaging with Gen Z around politics and political issues is a valuable way to build a meaningful connection with them. Here are three ways to do that:
1. Engage in meaningful conversation.
Fifty-two percent of the young people Springtide has surveyed say they know more about politics than adults give them credit for. Interview subject Christopher said:
I care about politics because politics cares about me. That's what I tell my friends all the time. You don't always have to know everything [but know] the things that impact you. If you can just start there–because there are people who are making policy or having discussions in regard to your identities, whether that's your gender, your ethnicity, your socioeconomic status, all those things. So it plays an important role in why our communities are set up the way they are.
Forty-five percent of young people say they wish the adults in their lives would let them into conversation about politics more often. So consider talking to them about it. And don’t be afraid to be transparent about your own political leanings – 77 percent of young people surveyed say they want to have open conversations about differences.
2. Don’t be afraid to talk about how your faith and political beliefs align (or diverge).
Our society has become very divided over politics and faith issues as of late, and many adults would rather just abstain from the discussion for fear of being verbally attacked by those who disagree. Yet, young people value inclusion and leaning into difference, and for many, that involves a willingness to think critically and voice their stances. Interview subject William said:
I one hundred percent believe that people's beliefs and what they believe in should guide how they think politically to an extent. I think it's really important for people to think for themselves and not let a certain set of faith values or personal beliefs just automatically tell them what to do. I think a lot of people just let faith and politics kind of become one in a certain way, but I think it's important to kind of take information from all angles.
And now whether that's your familial values, religious political thoughts and values, and let that shape who you are as a person and who you are as a thinker, and how you think about faith or politics’ role in your life.
If your faith does inform your political beliefs, share with the young person how and why that interaction works for you. Similarly, if there are places in which your faith doesn’t support your political beliefs, voice that and explain why that divergence exists for you. Show that tension can exist between two beliefs, and part of being an adult is learning how to navigate that process.
3. Model civil discourse.
While adults should model many positive behaviors, our humanity often gets in the way. A majority of young people report that the adults in their lives show up as aggressive, dismissive, or disengaged when it comes to politics. Interview subject Ashley said:
Well, to be specific, the last conversation I had with an adult about anything political, I did not feel like I had a voice. He was incredibly opinionated. He didn't ask for my opinion. And I didn't push to have my opinion heard either.
I just kind of smiled and went along with it. I think every conversation I have with adults, like assumptions are made within that conversation. And so it's not as much of a conversation as it is just like a proclamation of things they assume are true.
When engaging Gen Z in politics, it’s critical to:
- Approach the conversation with humility and curiosity rather than intolerance and judgment.
- Listen for understanding – truly take in what the other person is saying instead of simply hearing in order to fire off a response.
- Practice empathy – you can disagree yet still see the other person’s perspective as valid and relevant.
Young people will gladly engage in conversation if all parties approach the discussion respectfully. If you model these behaviors, they’re more likely to engage with you, which builds trust over time.
Our current political climate, fraught with polarization, doesn’t show any signs of simmering down or fading into the background. Perhaps more now than ever, we need to bring everyone to the table – and the voices of the youngest adults among us are critical to understanding how our world can move forward in the healthiest way for all.
Astor, M. (2022, Nov. 8). 25-Year-Old Florida Democrat Secures Generation Z’s First House Seat. NewYorkTimes.com. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/08/us/politics/maxwell-frost-florida-ho…
Liu, J. (2022, Nov. 9). 25-year-old Maxwell Frost will be the first Gen Z member of Congress. CNBC.com. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/09/maxwell-frost-will-be-the-first-gen-z-m…