The Disturbing Effect of Smartphones on Today’s Generation, According to Studies
Several psychological studies have been performed to understand the effect of smartphones to this generation. Apparently, more than ever, the impact of such technologies to teens today was seen profound. There are negative effects, as well as positive, and for many kids, a mixture of both. Jean Twenge is determined, too, to learn what’s going on among today’s generation and their lives on smartphones.
As part of her study, Jean talked with 13-year old, Athena (not her real name), about her daily life. Jean discovered that unlike her generation, the Generation X, who’s back then used to gossip on landlines, Athena’s generation typically spends most of their time alone in their room browsing their phones. Athena said, that’s just the way her generation is, “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.”
As time goes, generational differences take place. Jean has been studying these changes for 25 years. All those years taught her that some characteristics define a generation, and typically, they appear gradually. Each generation’s belief and behavior rise slowly yet continually. For instance, Millenials are highly individualistic generation, but that characteristic began to increase when Baby Boomers, “turned on, tuned in, and dropped out”. Characteristics of generations change like the graphs in forms of mountains and valleys.
However, in 2012, abrupt shifts in emotional states and behaviors in teens started to occur. This is Athena’s generation — and Jean has never seen anything like it.
Millennials and teens today differ not only in degree, but in kind. The two generations have distinct, varying views. Today’s generation use their time differently as well. Teens now are experiencing the world differently, on a daily basis, compared to the generation that came of age just a few years before them.
The changes took place in 2012, after the Great Recession. Following 2007–2009, where the Millennials were seeking for their place in a muddy economy — in 2012, where 50 percent of Americans owned a smartphone.
As Jean learned about the shifts in behaviors of generations, and as she talked more with Athena, the more it became clear that teens today are shaped by smartphones, and social media. Jean calls this generation, iGen.
The teens, born between 1995 and 2012, are growing up with smartphones, and do not remember the time before the internet. Although, the Millenials also grew up together with the word-wide-web, the internet was not easily available, and ever-present, all day and night as they grew. On the other hand, iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced in 2007. They were high school students when iPad was made available in 2010. According to a 2017 survey across 5,000 Americans, 3 out of 4 teens owned an iPhone.
The impact of these devices brought a radical change in the lives of teens. From social interaction to their mental health, teens today who live where there are cell towers experience the shift. These teens are living their lives on their smartphones. The deleterious effect of ‘screen time’ has not been fully appreciated by many.
iGen’s life on smartphones made them more comfortable in their bedrooms. They typically choose to be at home rather than in a car, or at a party, which means they are physically safer than their predecessors. They are less likely to get into car accidents, or get a taste for alcohol, as well as they are less susceptible to getting diseases from other teens.
However, psychologically, iGen are more vulnerable to depression and suicide compared to the Millennials. Rates of the said psychological cases have in fact skyrocketed in 2011. It’s a fact, widespread depression is true and existing. This stigma is traced back to their smartphone use.
The rise of the two factors, smartphones and social media, is a serious epidemic that makes this generation more than unhappy. Apparently, the devices that we put in the hands of the young people have a profound effect in their lives.
Unlike the generation that came before what we have today, the allure of independence was strong. The Baby Boomers and the Generation X were eager to get their freedom. With iGen, independence is less likely to sway over. Teens today are less likely to get out the house without their parents. According to Jean, “The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.”
Members of iGen are also less likely to date. Teens today merely even talk. The initial stage of courtship, which Gen Xers called “liking”, teens now call as “talking” — the generation’s choice as texting has been their preferred mode for actual conversation. After ‘talking’ for a while, two teen-agers might proceed to dating. Still, only 56 percent of highschool seniors in 2015 went out on dates, compared to Gen Xers and Boomers that were 85 percent.
When the number of dating teens declines, and so does their sexual activity. Since 1991, sexually active teens declined to 40 percent. The average teen today experiences first sexual intercourse by the spring of 11th grade, a full year later than the average Gen Xer. This number could be one of the positive behavior shifts of the iGen. Fewer teens having sex means a decrease of teen pregnancy as well. In a survey, it showed, “The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67 percent since its modern peak, in 1991.”
As part of the jaded need for independence, the number of driving and working teens have also declined. Teens today get their driver license a lot later than the Boomers. Member of iGen doesn’t feel the need of urgency to drive when their parents are good chauffeurs. “My parents drove me everywhere and never complained, so I always had rides,” a 21-year-old student in San Diego told me. “I didn’t get my license until my mom told me I had to because she could not keep driving me to school.”
Staying in their bedrooms also means that teens today don’t need to get their own money that they need to hang out with other kids. Thus, the number of working teens dropped, which is now only 55 percent compared to 77 percent of high school seniors in the late 1970s.
On these matters, still, parenting and shifts in the economy play their roles. The current economy rewards higher education than early work history. Thus, parents today encourage their kids to stay at home and study. The teens agree on this homebody arrangement not because they like to study, but because their lives revolve around their smartphones.
In fact, members of the iGen have more leisure time than their predecessors. These teens don’t work, they spend less time on homework than Gen X teens, and they seldom go out with friends. What they do with all their time is use their smartphone, stay in their rooms, alone and often distressed.
The greatest irony of today’s generation is that though most of the time the teens are at home together with their parents, it doesn’t mean that they are close to their mothers and fathers. Teens today rarely converse with their parents so they can focus on their smartphones. “I’ve seen my friends with their families — they don’t talk to them,” Athena told Jean. Athena, too, has a similar relationship with her parents. She spent much of her summer, keeping up with friends, but nearly all of it was over text or Snapchat. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said.
Kids today rarely party, or even hang out with their friends. The number of teens who get together with their friends on a daily basis dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015. The hang out spots of teens like the roller rink, the basketball court, the town pool, the local necking spot were replaced by virtual places where today’s teens go.
However, preferring to be in these virtual spaces doesn’t mean that the kids are happy about it. In fact, most of the data say it does not. The Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, asked 12 graders about what makes them happy, and how they spend their leisure time. The results showed that, “Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on non-screen activities are more likely to be happy.”
Screen time doesn’t cause unhappiness, instead, it could be the teens who spend more time online are the ones who are not happy. In one study, it suggests that social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness. Although, social media sites like Facebook offer connection with friends, the teens who visit social media sites more frequently feel lonelier. Teens who check their social media accounts daily, but less frequently see their friends in person agree with the statements “A lot of times I feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.”
However, it doesn’t always mean that kids who use social media amore often are lonelier than those who use the sites less. Generally, teens who spend more time online than teens and who spend less time with their friends in person, are more likely to feel lonely.
Depression is common, too. The more teens spend time looking at their smartphones, the more they are likely to be reported with symptoms of depression. Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media have 27 percent added risk for depression compared to kids who play sports, so religious service or do their homework.
Furthermore, teens who spend 3 hours or more on their screens are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide. In fact, since 2007, the homicide rate among teens decreased, while the suicide rate increased. In 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the suicide rate was higher than teen homicide.
Although, there are many factors behind depression and suicide, besides smartphone use, and teen suicide was even higher in the 1990s even before online sites arrived, about 4 times as many Americans are now taking anti-depressants. Now we ask, what is the link between smartphone use and psychological distress? The answer strings to the feelings of being left out.
Teens today, though they do not go out frequently, when they do, they document it on social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook. The other kids who are not invited are clearly aware of it. This issue is particularly high among girls. The study showed, “Forty-eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27 percent more boys.”
Because young girls use social media more often, they have more chances to feel excluded when other people go out and they are invited. Social media also add a psychic tax on teen posting as well. They get anxious about other people’s comments and likes. When Jean asked Athena about her posts on Instagram she said, “I’m nervous about what people think and are going to say. It sometimes bugs me when I don’t get a certain amount of likes on a picture.”
Cyberbullying is also a factor behind the depressed teens. The number of depressed boys is lower than the girls because boys tend to bully physically. On the other hand, young girls are more likely to do so by undermining a victim’s social status or relationships.
Smartphones affect the quality of sleep of teens, too. Most people sleep with their phones under their pillows, mattresses, or put it anywhere they can reach by hand. Due to this, many of the teens today are sleep deprived. In fact, according to the study, “Fifty-seven percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the four years from 2012 to 2015, 22 percent more teens failed to get seven hours of sleep.”
As we all know, the quality of sleep plays an important role in wellness both physically and mentally. Sleep deprivation is linked to problems, including compromised thinking and reasoning, weak immune system, weight gain, as well as susceptibility to depression and anxiety.
These evidences are more than enough for parents to tell their kids to put down their phones. When Jean talked to Athena, the teen shared about her experience when talking with her friends, “I’m trying to talk to them about something, and they don’t actually look at my face,” she said. “They’re looking at their phone, or they’re looking at their Apple Watch.” “What does that feel like, when you’re trying to talk to somebody face-to-face and they’re not looking at you?,” Jean asked. “It kind of hurts,” she said. “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.”
Watch this video that sheds more light on the subject: