Over the past few years, I, like many people, have become increasingly alarmed about the state of our younger generations — those mystifying millennials and Gen Z’ers. Now, we have a new term that’s shaking things up — iGen. And iGen, is of particular concern.
Changes in the views and social behaviors of Millennial and iGen have caught the attention of researchers, psychologists and sociologists and justifiably so.
What is iGen?
iGen is really the new term for Gen Z . But before we move on, here is a breakdown of the various generation labels:
- Baby Boomers: people born between 1946 – 1964
- Gen X: people born between 1965 – 1979
- Millennials: people born between 1980 – 1994
- iGen: people born between 1995 – 2012. Dr. Jean Twenge is generally credited with having come up with this very apropos label.
“A generational label needs to capture something about the generation’s experience, and for iGen’ers, the Internet and smartphones have defined many of their experiences thus far – thus the name iGen, like iPhones and iPads. One survey found that 2 out of 3 teens has an iPhone (specifically an iPhone, not just a smartphone).” – Dr. Jean Twenge
CNN recently interviewed Dr. Jean Twenge, who has authored the must-read book, “iGen,” and her interview was a real eye-opener. Dr. Twenge has been doing research on generational differences for over 25 years, but around 2011 -2012, she noticed trends and patterns that raised alarm bells:
“Around 2012, I started to see some sudden changes in the big national surveys – depressive symptoms and loneliness started to go up, and (after going up for 20 years) happiness started to go down. Other sources – like national screening studies on depression and statistics on teen suicides – showed the same pattern, with increases after 2010-12. I wondered what was going on, so I thought about what might possibly have caused these shifts. The Great Recession was officially over by 2010, and unemployment started to fall around 2011, so it seemed unlikely that the economy was to blame. This period didn’t see any cataclysmic events – and certainly none that kept accelerating over the next five years.
Then two things happened. I found the Pew Center’s data showing that the end of 2012 was when the percentage of Americans owning a smartphone crossed 50%, and I found (as others have among young adults primack.net) that teens who spent more time on screens were less happy and more depressed. So this was a suspicious pattern: A sudden rise in mental health issues when smartphones became ubiquitious, and a link between screen time and mental health issues. (For more on this, see Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?). Overall, iGen is a less confident, more uncertain, more anxious generation than Millennials were at the same age. That may at least partially be due to their adolescence spent on their smartphones.” – Dr. Jean Twenge
So what happened around 2011-2012?
As Dr. Twenge points out, this was around the time that the percentage of Americans owning iPhones crossed over the 50% mark. The resulting outcome of that statistic should really give us all cause for concern, because it basically resulted in:
- More children and young adults were documented as stating that they had increasingly felt “hopeless, useless and sad,” to name a few. More of our nation’s young felt inadequate and that they “couldn’t do anything right,” as well as having feelings of depression. It’s also important to note that between 2011-2014, there was an estimated 50% increase in clinical depression.
- Kids and young adults stated that they felt more isolated, lonely and left out — meaning, they felt they were marginalized in life.
- Suicide rates increased.
- iGen’ers also reported getting less sleep, doing fewer outside activities, including “dating” and spending time with friends.
It seems to me, that as the iPhone and other smartphones became so pervasive, our young in essence retreated from the physical world into the iWorld — spending more time glued to their “smart device” than actually living and enjoying life. And clearly, this phenomena has had dire results:
What’s going on?
As to why children and young adults are demonstrably more depressed because of electronics, it seems to be related to an increased competitiveness. When I was a kid, if I was upset or bored, I went outside to play — either by myself, or, with neighborhood kids. We didn’t care how we looked or what we wore and we couldn’t turn on a phone and see what other kids were doing or had posted on social media — we were in our own little world of fun, and it was a very good world!
A smartphone isn’t just a phone — it’s a mini computer capable of surfing the web, exposing the user to social media and mindless games and questionable web content. Kids today can’t really relax and be in the moment, because they’re constantly checking Snaphat, Twitter, Instagram or some other social network.
How can a child today develop normally and safely, if the ominous web is a constant presence in their life? iGen kids don’t really know what it is to be off-line — they rarely just play, or read an actual book or even spend time with their family.
Occupational Therapist and educator Victoria Prooday, warns:
“There is a silent tragedy developing right now, in our homes, and it concerns our most precious jewels – our children… Researchers have been releasing alarming statistics on a sharp and steady increase in kids’ mental illness, which is now reaching epidemic proportions:
- 1 in 5 children has mental health problems
- 43% increase in ADHD
- 37% increase in teen depression
- 100% increase in suicide rate in kids 10-14 years old“
Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood:
- Emotionally available parents
- Clearly defined limits and guidance
- Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
- Movement and outdoors
- Creative play, social interaction, opportunities for unstructured times and boredom
Instead, children are being served with:
- Digitally distracted parents
- Indulgent parents who let kids “Rule the world”
- Sense of entitlement rather than responsibility
- Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
- Sedentary indoor lifestyle
- Endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments
Victoria offers some very useful advice on what can be done about this national emergency, and you can read more at yourot.com
What can be done?
Clearly, experts are very concerned with this trend. I don’t think anyone can deny that kids today are less happy and less secure than the youth of yesterday. Whatever the exact causes, the advent of the internet and smartphones are clearly significant factors. Personally, I don’t understand why anyone under the age of 18 need a smartphone. Many of my friends refuse to give their kids any more access to electronics than they need — they give their children a basic phone, because that is all they need until they are mature enough to handle more.
Hopefully, as more parents see this as the epidemic it has become, there will be a return to basics — where kids can just be kids and we take the time to teach our children that life will never be found through the internet. Life is meant to be lived bold and beautiful and it’s meant to be experienced in the real world —and that means getting out there and experiencing the best of life as it happens in real time and not through a screen.
* top image courtesy of flickr