The Gen Z Influence Meter: How Parents, Teachers, and Friends Influence Today’s Youth

Why is MDR so interested in Gen Z, anyway?

Schools are brimming with Gen Z students – those born between the years of 1996 to 2010. Many of our partners are interested in how to engage this new generation with purpose-driven initiatives to support their cause, brand, or workforce. So, MDR wanted to get smart about Gen Z. For the past year, we’ve been sharing our insights as we’ve conducted research to better understand this generation’s characteristics, interests, and influencers.

At MDR, we understand the power of school communities as a force for good and a brighter future. Children and teens in this country spend the majority of each day on their education, whether in the classroom learning, at home studying, or participating in other school events. Nearly half of the U.S. population belongs to a PreK-12 community, putting schools at the center of Gen Z activity. Schools are the one place that educators, Gen Z, and many parents visit 180+ days a year.

How is Gen Z different?

We also know that Gen Z is different from any other generation. Their childhoods have been marked by crises, and most don’t remember a time before 9/11, terrorism, and school shootings. They are the most ethnically-diverse generation in American history, grew up with an African-American as president, and saw marriage equality take hold. They are more social-justice oriented and more accepting of blended gender norms and diversity.

They grew up in an economic downturn, making them more frugal, wary of student debt, and less brand conscious than Millennials. Gen Zers are skeptical of the political system and corporate America – even more so than previous generations. They also don’t remember life before social media or smartphones, making them social media savants. Gen Z is comfortable communicating with images, gifs, and emojis, and easily use 3-5 screens at one time.

Clearly, Gen Z is comfortable doing things their own way and making their own decisions. Which led us to this question: “In what ways do adults have the ear of this generation?” We knew the only way to find out was to turn to the source and ask Gen Z directly.

The Gen Z Influence Meter Survey

gen z influence meterMDR surveyed more than 500 current middle school, high school, and college students, ages 13-23, nationally. This sample was reflective of Gen Z demographics, representing 40 states, and a mix of ethnicities and household incomes.

In our survey, we asked youth to rate on a sliding scale the influence of their teachers, parents, and friends in 11 different categories. For all categories, we asked how much has at least one (parent, educator, or friend) influenced them. The higher the number, the more positive the influence; the lower the number, the more negative the influence.

A roll up of the numbers: Good news for adults!

We all talk a lot about the influence of peers in the lives of youth. For the most part, The Gen Z Meter did not support that assumption at all. Indeed, today’s youth seem to quite value the opinions of certain trusted adults.

  • Teachers were most positively influential in “academic” categories: Study habits, careers, favorite subjects, and goal setting/time management
  • Parents were most positively influential “value” categories: Money habits, anti-smoking/drinking/drugs, civic engagement, and academics (tied with teachers)
  • Friends were most positively influential in “recreational” categories: creativity, social & emotional well-being, sports and afterschool clubs/activities

If you’re a marketer or a nonprofit looking to engage this audience with your brand, cause, or mission, particularly through the school channel, some of the findings were especially encouraging. “My 7th grade science teacher taught me more about myself than anyone else ever has,” is just one verbatim. For the results and more detail on our methodology, you can download our free whitepaper.

These findings ultimately better help us understand how to leverage key influencers to enlist Gen Z to support your cause, brand, or workforce.

To read more about our Gen Z Influence Meter Study, download the FREE whitepaper.


  1. This report is interesting. Would you all be able to share how answers varied between the different educational levels? It would make sense that the data comes out this way when you consider that much of Gen z are still children and naturally rely heavily on their elders in positions of power with regard to the categories you asked about. Did the results change once you examined the responses of the college aged students? how many of each were there academic category surveyed?

    One of the qualities that is being heavily promoted about Gen Z is their tendency to lean into activism, so I’d be interested to know how that showed up as well.

    1. Great point! Yes, we did analyze by age. If you’d like more details, please reach out to us directly at Depending on what you are trying to figure out, we may be able to slice the data for your needs. And, I recommend you watch the Gen Z webinar, which focused heavily on activism.

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