The Smartphone Generation

If you have anything to do with people teen-aged or younger, you should read Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generationby Jean M. Twenge.

When I told my son Chase about it (he has two little boys), he asked whether it was another of those old-fogey articles about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

“Kinda,” I said. The thing is, it seems genuinely scholarly, full of cautionary statistics and studies. (I’d love to read a critique from other social scientists. Knowing The Atlantic, where it was published, I’m sure we’ll get one.)

Twenge says that she has studied generational change for decades, and usually the changes are subtle and gradual. In this case, she says the changes are mountainous and dramatic. She makes the point that the post-millennials are the first generation native to smartphones. They have never known anything else. Smartphones are not an addition to their reality, they are part of reality.

She offers a lot of detailed info, and I won’t try to summarize it. I will say that there is a very strong correlation between smartphone use and depression. The more kids use smartphones, the more likely they are to be unhappy. Of course, suicide goes with that. The post-millennials are also much more prone to rely on their parents, Twenge says (which may look very positive to those parents), but are slower to grow up and much less independent than previous generations. They have fewer friends, much less social interaction in person, and are often lonely. Rather than going to the mall or the skating rink like previous generations, they stay in their room with their phones.

Most young parents I know are trying to limit screen time for their kids. Alarm bells go off when they see how addictive devices are for kids at a very young age. Even if they’re not exactly sure what the harm is, it’s not hard to guess that this can’t be good. Twenge’s article will fill in the background, and make the matter much more urgent.

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