Healthy Friday: Smartphones are causing generation iGen’s mental health crisis

San Diego University psychology professor, Jean M Twenge has written a book about young people born between 1995 and 2012 in which she expresses her concern about how technology is making them unhappy and unprepared to be adults.

She has named this generation iGen which is also the title of her book. The subtitle is: Why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy – and completely unprepared for adulthood – and what that means for the rest of us.

Twenge, who has three young daugthers and who has been studying generational shifts for 25 years, has come to the conclusion that smartphones are messing with our heads.

iGen hang out in their rooms with their phones

In 2012 she began noticing “abrupt shifts” in teenage behaviour. In that year more than half of Americans acquired smartphones. A recent survey shows that three out of four teens now own an iPhone.

Twenge begins her story with a conversation with a thirteen year old she has named Athena, who spends most of her time hanging out in her room scrolling through social media on her phone.

This quote from Athena pretty much sums up everything: “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”

Teens are

  • hanging out together less (down 40 percent between 2 000 and 2015)
  • dating less (only 56 percent of high school seniors date, compared to 86 percent of Generation X)
  • having less sex (40 percent less than 1991) which means less teen births
  • getting less sleep (40 percent are getting less than seven hours)

All generational shifts have positive and negative effects

Twenge says: “More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.”

Smartphone technology is designed to create a perpetual state of discontent – we can never be satisfied

Smartphone technology and algorithms are driven by distraction. A distracted mind cannot be content, for it constantly seeks stimulation. That teens experience this while their prefrontal cortices are developing and when the habits that will dictate adulthood are being formed, means that feelings of depression and loneliness will continue.

Depression and suicide

Depression levels increase by 27 percent for heavy social media users. Teens spending three hours or more a day on their devices are 35 percent more likely to consider suicide. Over the past decade suicide rates among teens have increased.

Twenge asks Athena how she feels when her friends stare at their phones while in conversation. “It hurts. I know my parents’ generation didn’t do that. I could be talking about something super important to me, and they wouldn’t even be listening.”

iGen is the first generation to spend their entire adolescence in the age of the smartphone. With social media and texting replacing other activities, iGen spends less time with their friends in person. This could be the reason for their unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

WATCH: Professor Jean Twenge answers question.

Caxton Central

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