Connecting with the next generation; Insights from Young Life’s RELATE project

LaTasha Nesbitt Image LaTasha Nesbitt | Jun 11, 2024

Last summer, I had the honor of joining an amazing team of researchers and thought leaders to conduct a global study on the future of Generation Z (young people aged 13-24) and their mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Sponsored by our partners at Young Life, the research study of today’s adolescents was conducted with the intention of learning more about how adults can help young people flourish in their lives.

When thinking about today's youth, I'm reminded of the wisdom in Proverbs 4:7, which emphasizes the importance of understanding. This report highlighted significant areas that are worth exploring in depth.

As a parent of two Gen Zers, I eagerly delved into the report's findings. I want to share a few key points that stand out to me and can offer valuable insights for youth leaders and parents alike. Let’s dive in!

The importance of understanding Gen Z

Firstly, the study revealed that meaningful relationships matter most to Gen Zers. Having strong connections with adults outside their family is just as crucial as friendships. 76% stated they have at least one non-family adult they can rely on, while 74% mentioned having a non-family adult who cares about them.

These findings reminded me of a text by Dr. Myles Munroe, where he discusses the essential nature of relationships for human thriving.[1] Young Life’s RELATE project research on Gen Z's strong preference for in-person interactions and face-to-face time with others still surprised me: spending more time engaging in real-life interactions seemed to reduce their reliance on technology and lessen feelings of loneliness. Gen Z may be highly connected through technology, but they still value real human connections. Adults play a critical role in their growth and development.

Additionally, the study identified a significant connection gap for teenagers aged 16-18, who felt a lack of strong connections with caring adults and peers during this time period. Thankfully, this discontentment tends to subside as they progress into their twenties. However, this age group warrants closer attention as we gain an understanding of these findings.

This report raised my awareness of the connection gap and the importance of adult presence in young people's lives, as well as their preference for in-person interactions. Raising two Gen Zers has been an enlightening journey, particularly this school year. Each research finding offers me a fresh perspective on the young individuals under my roof. I hope that youth workers and parents can also find value in these insights.

Creating connection with today’s young people

One of the great aspects of Young Life’s RELATE report is the practical steps and considerations it offers for adults. Here are some takeaways I want to highlight:

All are worthy of love.

Though young people may seem to resist adults' guidance, they actually long for and ultimately benefit from it. It's disheartening to learn that over 40% of all Gen Zers lack confidence in feeling "worthy of being loved."

Connection gaps can lead to opportunity.

Adults can engage more with the young people around them who might be feeling disconnected. Roosevelt wisely said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Now that we have gained some key insights into this segment of Gen Z, we have a unique opportunity to fill a relational void for teenagers. Don't let this daunt or overwhelm you: start small. Take a young person you know to the mall or their favorite restaurant, armed with some of your favorite conversation starters.

Moms make a difference.

The report further confirmed that moms matter! While we recently celebrated dads (a shout-out to all the amazing dads out there who serve as a generous example of God's love and care), I want to give some extra credit to every mother. Young people consistently turn to their moms for advice when it really matters. Moms might not always show that they are listening, but they are. Keep providing space to listen and learn from one another.

Good news for adults who care about today’s young people

Adults have more to offer Generation Z than we initially thought. I am often reminded that my kids just want quality time with me and my husband; even though we often move about the world as a family of four, sometimes my daughter desires a day with me alone—and my son is the same. They want intentional quality time free from any mention of Zoom meetings, text messages, or any other distractions.

Young people of this generation want to be seen, known, and heard, even if it's just for a short, focused time. We can do it. They’re worth it!

God has commissioned us to love one another, and as caring adults we know that love is a verb. Love gives of itself. While sometimes it involves a quick shopping trip, other times may mean a detour from the norm, exploring a new hobby together, or inviting space for the unknown. We can help this generation thrive—one connection at a time.

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[1] Munroe, Myles. Myles Munroe on Relationships: A 365-Day Devotional. Whitaker House. 2008.

LaTasha Nesbitt Image
LaTasha Nesbitt

LaTasha Nesbitt, Ph.D. is the Research Manager at Fuller Youth Institute (FYI). Born and raised on Chicago’s southside, she brings a unique perspective on serving God, understanding research, and connecting with youth. She has served as adjunct professor, business owner, and itinerant pastor. Her greatest joy is to assist others in discerning their God-given gifts and assignments. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A in Educational Policy Organization and Leadership from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.A. in Political Science from Eastern Illinois University. Some of her favorite memories include: traveling to Israel, giving birth to two children, and discovering her Dad’s family five years following his death. Her current research interests are regarding the history of race in American society and effective post-pandemic leadership within the church context. She enjoys and embraces the power of storytelling, spoken word, Zumba, and all things genealogy.

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