Dr. Jean Twenge, PHD is a researcher and author on generational differences. She has been studying the impact of technology and culture on children for 25 years. Dr. Twenge has dubbed the most recent generation (those born between 1995–2012) as “iGen.” They are the first generation to spend their entire adolescence in the age of the smartphone.
This newest generation of children and adolescents, look and act much differently than any other generation before them. Her latest book is taking parents by storm. You can check it out: “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.”
In 2012, researchers noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. What happened in 2012? It was the defining moment in American history when the percentage of Americans who owned a smartphone exceeded 50 percent.
The smartphone has shifted every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the way they interact with others to their mental health. No child is safe — where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.
What is happening to the emotional well-being of IGen’s is startling: rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2012. Kids stated more often than ever before, they feel left-out and lonely.
Psychologist Jean M. Twenge goes so far to say these children are on the brink of a mental health crisis.
Across a range of behaviors — children are not growing up. 18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood stretches well into high school.
These children do not seek independence and do not feel safe – which is unprecedented. The IGen’ers prefer to stay in the safety of their home.
The results are clear: children/teens who spend more time with technology are more depressed, more fearful, don’t know how to talk about their feelings and are at-risk for suicide.
How to Reclaim your Children & Family
Start with Fun: It can be more fun to add new activities into your children’s lives than limiting or taking away their technology. Often kids view their screens as the most pleasurable activity in their life so we should start by offering healthy yet enticing options. Make a family event of brainstorming and come up with a list for everyone of activities they previously enjoyed or have always wanted to try. Research unusual hobbies together and take advantage of wildlife organizations, zoos, aquariums, or nature foundations in your area. Filling the day with stimulating activities before we even limit technology means there is even less time available for sitting at a screen indoors.
Set Limits on Technology: Advice from the experts is very consistent; allow age-appropriate media content and limit the time spent with entertainment technology. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommend limiting the amount of total entertainment screen time for all children to less than one to two hours per day. Entertainment screen time or technology includes anything involving a screen that is not specifically related to work or academics. This includes computers, laptops, handheld devices, iPods, TV sets, console video games, online gaming, streaming videos, general reading or surfing, and social networking. Investigate software monitoring and blocking. Discuss the new rules in a positive way at a family meeting.
Cut Back on your Use of Technology: Limit your online distractions when your kids are home. Set a time that everybody puts electronics away, including mom and dad. Drop everything that you are doing when your kids get home from school to talk to them. Make dinner and include your kids without having the TV on or any electronics nearby. Use ‘car time’ to talk to your kids – with a rule of no electronics.