Smartphones destroying a generation? No, but...


Nothing new, really. But well said.

Smartphones destroying a generation? No, but... /img/smartphones-destroying-teens.jpg

This post is my own summary and reading notes of this presentation of the book by Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor, about _“Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy - and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood”.

Twenge has been researching generational differences for 25 years. Around 2012, for the first time in her research, she noticed abrupt, never seen before shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states.

The reason, argues Twenge, is that teens in those years have had radically different experiences than their counterparts of even a few years before, and that this dramatic shifts in behavior happened “exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent”.

iGen, that is the generation born between 1995 and 2012, does not remember a time before the internet and social media. Access to those worlds via personal smartphones radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives.

As it always happens, this generation has some things better and some worse with respect to others. They are physically safer than teens have ever been, but also more vulnerable psychologically than Millennials, with (at least in the US) much higher rates of depression and suicide.

Much of this mental-health crisis, explains Twenge, can be traced to the twin rise of the smartphone and social media.

Independence? Why?

Twenge explains how much research confirms that today’s teens are less likely to leave the house without their parents, less likely to date, and much less likely to care about driving: “12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.”

Why grow up?

Of course, putting off the responsibilities of adulthood is not an iGen innovation.

Gen X managed to stretch adolescence beyond all previous limits: Its members started becoming adults earlier and finished becoming adults later. Beginning with Millennials and continuing with iGen, adolescence is contracting again - but only because childhood now stretches well into high school.

Why? Shifts in the economy, and parenting, certainly play a role.

Teens, in turn, seem to be content with this homebody arrangement - not because they’re so studious, but because their social life is lived on their phone. They don’t need to leave home to spend time with their friends.

One of the ironies of iGen life is that despite spending far more time under the same roof as their parents, today’s teens can hardly be said to be closer to their mothers and fathers than their predecessors were.

And the (not!) best part is that…

We may expect that teens spend so much time in these new spaces because it makes them happy, but most data suggest that it does not.

Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.

Teens’ feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since.

At the generational level “loneliness is more common. So is depression.”

One piece of data that indirectly but stunningly captures kids’ growing isolation, for good and for bad: Since 2007, the homicide rate among teens has declined, but the suicide rate has increased.

Depression and suicide have many causes; too much technology is clearly not the only one. Social media also exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out.

Finally, sleep:

Fifty-seven percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the four years from 2012 to 2015, 22 percent more teens failed to get seven hours of sleep.

The increase is suspiciously timed, once again starting around when most teens got a smartphone.

It’s that moment, or (almost) never

Adolescence is a key time for developing social skills; as teens spend less time with their friends face-to-face, they have fewer opportunities to practice them. In the next decade, we may see more adults who know just the right emoji for a situation, but not the right facial expression.

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