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Takeaways from iGen

Kevin Gordon, Director of Camp Kupugani in Leaf River, IL–located two hours west of Chicago–recently read Jean M. Twenge’s 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. We recommend this book to any parent or potential parent that is struggling with: “When (or should) does my child get a smartphone?”; or “How much daily screen time should my child have?”; or “What harm does excessive screen time do to my child’s social, emotional, and mental well being? Check out the book here. See below for some excerpts. 

Too much screen time leads to greater loneliness, unhappiness, depression, and risk of suicide–especially in young teens.

  • Teens who spend more time on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time on non-screen activities are more likely to be happy. … If you were going to give advice for a happy life…it would be straightforward: put down the phone, turn off the computer or iPad, and do something—anything–that does not involve a screen. – p.77-78
  • One study [of college student Facebook users found that] the more they’d used Facebook, the unhappier they later felt.  However, feeling unhappy did not lead to more Facebook use. Facebook use caused unhappiness, but unhappiness did not cause Facebook use. – p.78-79
  • The risk of unhappiness due to social media use is the highest for the youngest teens. – p.79
  • Risks start to increase with screen time of two hours or more a day and go up from there, with very high levels of use (five or more hours) linked to considerably higher risks of suicide and unhappiness. This suggests that moderation, not necessarily a complete elimination of electronic devices from teens’ lives, is the key. – p. 84
  • [A]t least some of the sudden and large increase in depression has been caused by teens spending more time with screens. – p. 112

Being overly cautious and limiting opportunities for exploration for kids leads to stunted emotional growth and less resilience.  

  • Parental overprotection and hovering have made kids vulnerable because they don’t learn to solve problems on their own. – p .166
  • The safety obsession has meant stifling kids’ creativity and independence. – p. 166
  • Students whose parents displayed those characteristics [of continual supervision, stepping in to solve life problems, and not letting their children figure things out independently] (often known as “helicopter parents”) had lower psychological well-being and were more likely to be prescribed medication for anxiety and depression. – p. 113 Take our quiz to see if you are a helicopter parent by clicking here.
  • iGen’ers [may be] unprepared for adolescence and early adulthood due to their lack of independence. With iGen’ers less likely to work, manage their own money, and drive in high school, perhaps they are not developing the resilience that may come from doing things on their own. – p. 112

We should foster increased interpersonal interactions.

  • Many parents see teens’ in-person social activities as potentially unsafe. We all want to protect our kids, and we all need to have rules limiting what teens can do. The problem is that many parents have restricted an activity that has numerous benefits (in-person social interaction) while putting few limits on an activity devoid of most of those benefits (electronic communication). Teens may be physically safer with electronic communication, but that choice may come at the expense of their mental health. Parents are worried about the wrong thing. – p. 299
  • Teens who spend more time with their friends in person are happier, less lonely, and less depressed, while those who spend more time on social media are less happy, lonelier, and more depressed. [In-person time] protect[s] against loneliness and depression. – p. 299
  • A few studies have already shown that teens who communicate face-to-face, without electronic devices, have better social skills, such as reading emotion on others’ faces. – p. 299
  • iGen’ers who hole up with their devices more and see their friends in person less will have more trouble with these social skills. As with everything, practice makes perfect. So parents: your teen going out with her friends is not a waste of time—it’s an investment in her future. – p. 299

Here are some strategies for helping your teen prepare for an easier transition to their eventual “adulting”.

  • If you’re the parent of a teen and want him to learn more independence before he goes to college, there are a few things you can do.  First, relax curfews and rules about going out with friends; he will gain social skills and independence from those experiences. Second, insist he gets a driver’s license; stop driving him around. As much as possible, put aside your worries. Teens are safer drivers than ever and are much less likely to get into accidents or even get tickets. -p. 303
  • Alcohol is an even more fraught issue, and there is no one solution. More young people are arriving at college without much experience with alcohol and then colliding with the college party culture of binge drinking. … Have a real conversation about what many college parties are like and how to stay safe. – p. 303
  • Having the tough conversations about things like sex, alcohol and the like help children to have the proper facts. Some have suggested that a “gap year” between high school and college might be one solution to the mental health issues and lack of adult experience among college students. A gap year provides time to work, travel, volunteer, and generally grow up. – p. 304

Here are a few methods to achieve a healthier, happier lifestyle.

  • Mimicking the lifestyle of our caveman ancestors is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety and depression. The six-part program includes sunlight exposure, exercise, a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, avoiding rumination, getting enough sleep, and engaging in in-person social interaction. – p. 300
  • A better approach to a controversial opinion might be to discuss it, ignore it, or develop logical arguments against it. That goes even for opinions that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic: there are logical arguments against racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. If young people (and the rest of us) react to such opinions with tears and statements of feeling unsafe, things won’t change much. If we instead argue against such views, we can destroy them. The tide of history is against prejudice; the battle is being waged, and usually won every day. – p. 306

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