Gen Z – The ‘Selfie’ or Selfless Generation?

A recent phone call to the School from a tram commuter has prompted me to celebrate the capacity young people have for genuine kindness.

A woman travelling on the Toorak tram observed one of our students enquiring after the health of an elderly lady on a 38 degree day. The St Catherine’s student approached the tram driver asking that he assist the lady to disembark due to her frailty. The caller wanted to share the compassion and consideration she had witnessed from one of our girls. Reminders such as this, of the values our students embody, and the kindness of which they are capable, are a heartening affirmation of the generation we are nurturing.

Admittedly, Generation Z, the teenagers of today, are often dubbed as the ‘me generation’.

Terms like the ‘age of entitlement’, or even the ‘entitlement epidemic’ resound and certainly it is true that some children and teenagers can appear self-obsessed or demanding. As teachers, however, we have a front row seat to the marvels of young people, and in the case of St Catherine’s, to the potential of these incredible young women. Our girls typify a generation of young people who demonstrate social and moral conviction; are equally passionate about sustainability, the environment and social and political justice.

Research from the Centre for Generational Kinetics in the US, shows that a large portion of Generation Z, would prefer a career “that makes a positive impact in some way, and a large portion of them volunteer.” Gen Z are described as “increasingly self-aware, self-reliant, innovative and goal-oriented.” An “overwhelming majority of Gen Z are eco-conscious and concerned about humanity’s impact on the environment.”[1]

As evidenced on the Toorak tram, more often than not, the youth of today act with kindness and conviction. This student was not lost in her phone, oblivious to those around her, a trait that is not typical only to teenagers, but adults alike, but was fully aware of the community of which she is a part of, showing great compassion for another traveller.

Such an act of selflessness leaves no room for entitlement. They may be the ‘selfie generation’ but this doesn’t render them incapable of being selfless. Gen Z is also known as ‘iGen’ but this is because they are defined as “cloud natives rather than digital natives; their world is iEverything,” but we must note that this lowercase ‘i’ refers to their view of the world through the lens of technology, rather than a moniker of selfishness.

As writer and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel said, ‘The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference’. It may have seemed a small gesture to that girl on the tram but the care she showed to another speaks volumes of the power of such small kindnesses. We must teach our students to look up, to lean in and to reach out, and at all costs to avoid being indifferent to the plight of others.

If we consider the hours of volunteering our girls do, their selfless desire to raise awareness of social issues and their care for one another, we can be optimistic that our School, our community and our world is in good hands.


Ms Merran O'Connor, Director of Student Wellbeing