“Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?” is one of the lead articles in this month’s The Atlantic, by Dr. Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University. It is a fascinating article, which we have linked on our BTL website for your information in wise parenting. In this editorial, I want to give you a summary of Twenge’s article and then put this into cultural perspective.
As a specialist in teen and generational data, Twenge notes differences in behavior and emotional states among Millennials and what she calls iGen, the teens of today – those born between 1995 and 2012. A 2017 survey of 5,000 American teens showed that three out of every four own a smartphone. She contends that “the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health.”
The iGen generation is less likely to leave their bedroom, or go to a party; they are less likely to drive early, and less likely to engage in teen sex. Why? The data shows a sharp correlation between changes in behavior and the introduction of the smartphone in 2007. As Twenge states, iGen’ers are, “more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”
Twenge provides powerful statistical graphs that show the steep decline in the following areas for iGens: hanging out with friends, in no rush to drive, dating less, having feelings of loneliness, and getting less sleep. She also shows alarming data on increased levels of anxiety as well as serious depression. The “Monitoring the Future” survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and designated to be nationally representative, has asked 12th graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975. The results are clear. “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 non-screen activities are more like to be happy. There’s not one exception.”
Twenge’s advice? “Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something – anything – that does not involve a screen.” This article is packed with excellent data and some sensible recommendations. I urge you to read it here.
Each generation that experiences a huge paradigm shift impacting behavior – like the advent of the smartphone — must adjust to gain control of the formation of the whole child. When the automobile made the horse and buggy obsolete, there were Earthshaking repercussions in culture, family migration, work, commuting, dating, courting, residential living, family leisure, work-home distance, clothing styles, exposure to distant lands, etc. Much of this is positive. The smartphone is an amazing tool, for sure. But we also need to understand the downside.
This is all to say that in each generation, parents must get ahead of the trends and shifting paradigms. If the brain needs time away from smartphones and screens, this must be built into the family’s DNA. FOMO (fear of missing out) cannot drive our students to sleeping with their smartphone, thus ending and beginning the day with anxiety. From the perspectives of both mental health and child growth and development, parents must be the first line that establishes the standards for the safe, healthy use of digital technologies – set boundaries…create margin. Because we all know, the culture will not do these things. By reading Twenge’s article, you will receive insight that may help you to get ahead of the many ways devices are impacting your children’s hearts and minds.
This being said, please take a moment to read this insightful article and reflect on the impact of smartphone use in your home.
William George, Ed.D.
Head of School