The iGen Techy Blues

sad teen with phone

They don’t call them the iGeneration for nothing.

Today’s young people, those born between 1995 and 2012, are most often referred to as “Generation Z.” But since they also have no concept of a time when they didn’t have instant access to the internet, and they likely had an Instagram account before they hit high school, well, the label “iGen” works pretty well, too. In fact, a recent survey stated that most kids today are walking around with a smartphone of some stripe tucked in their back pocket by the ripe old age of 10.

The fact that these tech-savvy guys and gals just about cut their teeth on their own iPhone, though, raises the question: “Are they being impacted because of it?” And according to the Atlantic article “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?“, authored by social psychologist Jean Twenge, the answer would seem to be a resounding yes.

Twenge states that today’s teens are more sheltered and less outgoing thanks to their everything-in-the-palm-of-your-hand connections. Instead of heading out with friends and ditching the fam, these iGeners are more apt to hole up at home and do a whole lot of Snapchatting. For instance, today’s high school seniors spend less time out of the house without their parents than eighth graders did back as recently as 2009. Only 56% of them even went out on a date or a group activity with friends, as compared to 85% of Gen-X teens and baby boomers. In fact, the number of teens who spent time in the physical presence of friends dropped by 40% between 2000 and 2015.

These post-millennials also tend to drag their feet more when it comes to things like driving and getting a job—activities that young people were chomping at the bit to do way back when. Only 55% of today’s high school seniors have jobs when school is in session, for example, as compared to 77% that did during the late 1970s. And whereas nearly 90% of 17 and 18-year-olds were driving in the late ’70s, only about 70% care much about getting behind the wheel these days.

Of course, less contact in person means less, uh, potentially hormonal stuff going on, too. And many parents are likely heaving a sigh of relief over that. But don’t get too comfortable, Mom. Twenge says that between the higher rates of isolation and some other social media negatives such as cyberbullying, depression and a tendency to have lousy sleep patterns (an issue plaguing some 40% of 8th to 12th graders), the net result can still be problematic.

“What’s at stake isn’t just how kids experience adolescence,” she writes. “The constant presence of smartphones is likely to affect them well into adulthood. Among people who suffer an episode of depression, at least half become depressed again later in life.”

All that said, however, Twenge makes it clear that the situation for iGeners can be worked out. Constant connection may be today’s norm, but the good doctor suggests that a prescription of moderation can go a long way to smooth out potential problems.

“Significant effects on both mental health and sleep time appear after two or more hours a day on electronic devices. The average teen spends about two and a half hours a day on electronic devices. Some mild boundary-setting could keep kids from falling into harmful habits.”

Who wrote this?

Bob Hoose is a senior associate editor for Plugged In, a producer/writer for Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, a writer of plays and musicals and one-half of the former comedy/drama duo Custer & Hoose. He is a husband, father of three and a relatively new granddad.

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