GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -- For the first time, a generation of children has only known their adolescence with the presence of a smart phone, a breakthrough that has brought benefits but comes with a greater consequence to mental health.
Jean Twenge, PhD., a Winona, Minnesota native and San Diego State University psychology professor, coined the new generation “iGen”, children born between 1995 and 2012, and her new research claims the smartphone is bringing unhappiness to this wave of technology-connected children.
She found the “iGen” kids are safer and more protected than generations before them, spending more time at home and connected online.
iGen is also growing up more slowly than previous generations: eighteen-year-olds look and act like fifteen-year-olds used to.
They drink less, drive later and delay sexual activity, but in her research, examining surveys of more than 11 million teens and young adults in 2011 and 2012, she noticed a sharp shift in reported and unprecedented levels of depression and anxiety among teens, what she calls a generation on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades.
“Compared to teens 5 to 10 years ago, iGen teens are more depressed, more depressed at higher risk for suicide,” said Twenge. “Teens are telling us they are suffering and we really need to listen to them and take that seriously.”
Twenge details the concerning trend in her soon to be released book iGen: 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.
First, the good stuff: iGen kids are physically safer than those before them, and put off risky behaviors, drinking less, driving later, even putting off sex.
"That means maybe you don't have to go out with your friends and thus, have sex and drink, because the party is on Snapchat you can just stay at home," she said.
A generation more protected, but with a tradeoff comes in the glow of that screen: isolation and a pattern of loneliness.
"It's cutting off this face to face interaction which is so good for mental health happiness. Compared to teens 5-10 years ago, iGen teens are more depressed, more depressed at higher risk for suicide, so we need to listen," said Twenge.
What is the solution? Twenge says first, spend more time with friends in person, which is proven to bring more happiness, and she believes parents can play a big role.
When she saw the depth of her own research, she made the decision to banish tablet use for her young children.
Twenge's advice to other parents? Put off the purchase of that smartphone as long as you can.
"Until say high school might be a good idea. The mental health effects are the largest for the 8th graders in the survey and smallest for the 12th graders. Teens are telling us they are suffering and we really need to listen to them and take that seriously," Twenge concluded.
Her new book comes out August 22.