BLOOMINGTON — Young people who have grown up with smartphones ever-present in their lives are less happy, have more symptoms of depression and are less prepared for adulthood than previous generations, according to a university professor and author who has been researching generational differences since she was an undergraduate student.
Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, is the author of six books, including “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.”
She presented a workshop for faculty and staff at Illinois Wesleyan University on Friday about the the implications of these changes among iGen students and how to address them.
There have always been generational changes, but usually they are gradual, taking a decade to develop, said Twenge. With the generation born since 1995, however, the changes have been quick, she said.
The biggest concern is the mental health trend, said Twenge.
For example, she noted, the suicide rate for 12- to 14-year-olds has doubled since 2007.
Adolescents with major depressive episodes needing treatment has grown by 50 percent in five years, she added.
“Cyberbullying is one of the negative effects, but that's not the whole picture,” said Twenge. Time spent on digital media takes away from other activities, such as sports, fitness and sleep, she noted.
The changes started to be noticeable around the year 2000.
“There was a decline in face to face interaction” as teens “spent more time communicating electronically,” said Twenge. “The research points to limiting digital media use to two hours or less of leisure time a day.”
In addition, “parents need to see that teens hanging out with each other is not a waste of time,” she said. Rather, it helps them develop social and problem-solving skills as well as better mental health, Twenge said.
On the academic side, there are concerns that a generation used to text messaging and Snapchat has a shorter attention span.
“They're not reading as much long-form text,” said Twenge. “Then they get to college and we hand them a 700-page textbook.”
Her advice to college professors dealing with this new generation in the classroom is not to give up on getting them to read.
“Reading is important to develop critical thinking skills,” she said, but a balance has to be struck.
Online textbooks are addressing that by breaking up material into smaller sections with videos and other activities included and writing textbooks in a more conversational tone, she said.
That makes it “a lot less intimidating,” said Twenge.
Not all the differences in the iGen generation are negative.
Twenge notes that this generation is very inclusive with a big emphasis on equality and more comfortable with diversity of all kinds: racial religion, sexual orientation.
“They have a strong work ethic and are more concerned with safety,” Twenge said, noting they are less likely to get drunk or get into physical fights.