Disney Channel, reality TV stars talk what lies ahead for younger generation

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Members of the Gen Z: The New Power Brokers panel include fashion designer Alexandra Chang, Mackenzie Ziegler ("Dance Moms"), country singer Tegan Marie, Disney Channel actress Skye Jackson and aspiring astronaut Abigail Harrison. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

A Disney Channel actress. A reality TV star. A fashion designer. An aspiring astronaut. A country singer who has performed on “Good Morning America.”

The celebrities were out in force on Sunday afternoon for the panel “Gen Z: The New Power Brokers” — and all of them were under 20. During the panel, held at the Radisson Hotel and hosted by digital media company Sweety High in partnership with the Girls’ Lounge, these members of the post-Millennial generation (ages 8-18) touched on a number of topics including their values, inspirations, favorite technology and spending habits.

Members of the panel included: Skye Jackson, 14, star of Disney’s “Bunk’d”; Mackenzie Ziegler, 12, “Dance Moms”; Tegan Marie, 13, country singer; Abigail Harrison, 19, aspiring astronaut; and Alexandra Chang, 17, entrepreneur/fashion designer.

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Skye Jackson, center, answers a question as part of the Gen Z: The New Power Brokers panel. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

According to Sweety HighGen Z accounts for a quarter of the U.S. population and will be 40 percent of the population by 2020. This group makes up the most massive, wealthy and technologically savvy generation in American history and has $600 billion in buying power.

During the panel, which was moderated by Sweety High co-founder Veronica Zelle, all said they regularly use four to five social media platforms and often use them to communicate with their friends — even when their friends are sitting right next to them.

When Zelle asked what they would choose if they were stranded on an island and could only access one form of social media, their answers were split. Jackson and Ziegler picked Snapchat, Tegan Marie picked Facebook, Chang picked Instagram and Harrison picked ham radio, “because there are million people who might be able to hear me on Instagram or Facebook, but who I really need to hear me in that situation is the Coast Guard.”

Harrison, who is also known as “Astronaut Abby” and aspires to be the first astronaut to land on Mars, said technology and social media have had a significant impact on the way Gen Z learns as well.

“The social media tools we have in this day and age allow us to have connections around the world. I can no longer just speak to classrooms in the area I’m in; I can talk to a classroom in South Africa or China without ever having to leaving my room,” she said. “These young people around the world are able to see role models no matter where they live. It’s also a tool in the classroom. In middle school, high school and college now, professors say pull out your phone and look this up. It’s really made it so our generation has the world at our fingertips, and with that, we can go out and do anything.”

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The candy bar in the Girls’ Lounge included pay-gap-based pricing. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Everyone featured in the panel has some kind of philanthropic aspect to their work, something they said is important to members of Gen Z. They also said that having a close relationship with their families is key.

“My mom really pushed me in positive way to not be afraid to do anything I want to do in life,” Jackson said. “I love to post pictures of my mom or with my mom.” 

Chang, whose mom wrote the book “Legally Blonde,” echoed that sentiment, giving a shoutout to her dad.

My dad is one of my biggest inspirations,” she said. “He’s by far the biggest feminist I know. He’s always encouraged me to follow my dreams and my passion.”

The panelists named some brands they like, such as Joyrich, Supreme and Moschino, and said the best way for companies to market to them is through the social media platforms they’re already using.

“We have so much information right at our disposal,” Chang said. “A brand has to work harder than ever to prove to us why they’re the ones we should want.”

The panel concluded with performances by singer/songwriter Tennille Amor and Tegan Marie, who said girl power is as important now as ever.

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Tegan Marie with a fan after the Gen Z: The New Power Brokers panel at the Radisson Hotel on Sunday. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

“I’m all about girl power,” said Tegan Marie. “We have to take over. We’re awesome, so we can’t stop ourselves, and we can’t let the people stop us.”


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