Gen Z are making it big: insights into being a teen today

Back in 1988, Tom Hanks played 12-year-old Josh Baskin in Big, an iconic film that sums up what it means to face life as a teenager.


Josh had a simple wish: to be big. But rather than just being made taller, Hanks’ character was transported - not via virtual reality or teleportation but by a distinctly low-tech-looking Zoltar machine - straight into the world of adulthood.

30 years on from the release of Big and a lot has changed for the Josh Baskins of today who make up Generation Z and are facing a very different kind of adulthood.

Whether they wished to be big or not, today’s teenagers are a sizeable bunch, with Gen Z now estimated to be the largest population generation cohort – outnumbering Boomers and Millennials. 

And their expectations for the future are also pretty weighty. They have been shaped by the technological advancements that have infiltrated their daily lives, impacted on their attitude to life, and shaped their desires for the future.

So how are the teens of today different from those in the age of Big?

Technology is their wish already granted

Technology is their enabler. Unlike teens 30 years ago, Gen Z have access to more content than they can process - but they have a savvy understanding of its value. When asked what media they love the most and couldn’t live without, Gen Z respondents aged 13-15 years old cited the internet. While mobile phones and social media were the second and third most-loved media on the list, the internet was the media in which over half of Gen Z see the most value. They appreciate the access it provides to entertainment, information and communication – a resource that fulfils multiple needs.

When it comes to social media, Snapchat is by far their favourite platform, with six out of ten 13-15 year-olds citing this as their most loved over any other platform. Snapchat is preferred by this generation for being a more personal social platform than the public spheres of Facebook and Twitter.

They have a totally different type of teenage angst

While the majority of Gen Z (68%) feel positively about the impact of technology on their life, there is a not insignificant 18% who say they feel worried or nervous.   

Every-day tech reliance is very prevalent among Gen Z. Almost a quarter of teens agree they wouldn’t like to be without their mobile phone for less than a couple of hours. But what is reassuring is that those who feel uncomfortable about tech reliance recognise that dependency can come at the expense of other experiences.   Gen Z are equally able to cite the benefits of tech for keeping them close to their friends as well as providing knowledge and entertainment, yet also recognise the stress and time vacuum it can become.

They too are dreaming big for the future

When asked what excites them most about technology in the future, it’s clear they are a generation with expectations for more immersive experiences, citing 4D, AI and VR as developments they look forward to.  They’re also aiming higher, with robots, flying cars, space travel and teleportation on their list of expectations.

But don’t forget the fundamentals

Too much focus on the technology in their life can be a misnomer of what really matters most to them. The majority of Gen Z currently have very limited disposable income. When asked about the most important things 13-15 year-olds spend their money on, the top two categories were ‘looking good’ and ‘going out’, demonstrating their desire to experience and enjoy real life relationships.

Back in 1988, the film about a teenage boy who wished to be big ended with him back as a kid, hanging out with his best mate Billy. While the world may be a different place for teens, it’s clear that the fundamentals of friendship and fun, which mattered most to this audience back then, matter just as much today.

A note on data source:  223 students aged 13-15 years old completed surveys on their attitudes to technology, media and life as part of skill workshops hosted by Visionpath.

Visionpath is a social enterprise that creates powerful connections between Generation Z and businesses in the UK.  the7stars have been a partner in Visionpath’s programmes with Gen Z since 2015.


Join the7stars panel debate on Wednesday 21st March @ 11:30 - 12:00 at YMS LDN to hear about how entertainment brands in music and media are creating engaging campaigns to win with today’s teens.