Here’s a fun fact: all those young kids everyone loves to complain about? They probably aren’t Millennials anymore — unless you consider people in their late 20s and early 30s “young kids.” 

When you’re frustrated with the interns just out of college, you’re talking about Generation Z now. 

Specifically, Gen Z refers to anyone born between 1996 and 2018 — so between the ages of 24 and 2. My sister, who was born in 1999, makes the cut, and she’s a junior in college and about to intern with a major retailer this summer, if you’re looking for some perspective.

FONA International recently released a new report about this up-and-coming generation, "Consumer Insight: Gen Z." The report describes them as “perfectionistic, driven and globally connected.”

It also says Gen Z is the largest and most ethnically diverse generation. Specifically, Gen Z now makes up 26 percent of the U.S. population. And businesses will ignore them at their own risk, seeing as how they account for $29 billion-$143 billion in direct spending. 

As a Millennial who endured years of abuse from people who wanted to label me as lazy, entitled and naive, I have made a vow to myself to always look to the next generation with compassion and an open mind. 

And I have to tell you, a part of me really feels sorry for them. FONA says that while they are “high achieving and performance-driven, Gen Z is more anxious than any generation before them.”

That sounds awful. And I definitely blame the internet. In fact, one part of the FONA report particularly stood out to me. 

“Generation Z, Gen Z, or otherwise dubbed “Generation Me” by Mintel, is ultra-conscious of their personal brand: their distinct story and the set of values by which they live,” FONA says.

The idea of a bunch of young kids already being required to consider their personal brand concerns me. It means they aren’t allowed any mistakes, something young kids used to be known for. Nobody is supposed to have it all figured out at 21, and asking them to do that isn’t fair. 

Personally, I’m thankful that Facebook didn’t come out until my last year of college. I got a gift no future generations will ever have again — the gift of growing up without the internet watching my every move and reading every stupid opinion I had back then.

Of course, this concept of a personal brand also impacts Gen Z’s food choices, and it’s here where FONA’s report offers me a little bit of hope for the kids these days. 

“Gen Z consumers embrace personalization and view all consumerism as part of their identity — which includes the food they eat,” FONA says. “19 percent of U.S. Gen Z consumers said food is their passion and an essential part of their lifestyle and identity — taking the phrase ‘You are what you eat’ to a new, personal level. Because Generation Z views food as a form of self-expression, they will make purchasing and dining decisions based on how the food aligns with their mood, the moment, or their moral compass.”

I’d like to believe that this will turn out to be a good thing in the long run. That the people who know they’re being watched will make better choices and will encourage others to make better choices as well. Maybe they’ll actually be the generation to fight back against climate change in a meaningful way while also tackling the obesity crisis with success.

FONA seems to have a lot of hope for Gen Z as well. 

“Like Millennials, Gen Z demands authentic, fresh, and label-friendly ingredients in the foods they eat because this reflects their own authenticity and personal brand,” the report says. “It’s estimated that Gen Z may be even more healthful eaters, with young consumers displaying the heaviest use of organic and non-GMO foods, as well as increased interest in healthy, functional ingredients and benefit-driven products.”

Here’s to a bright future for Gen Z. May they actually be the change they want to see in the world.