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 iGen, Jean Twenge, an American psychologist and professor at San Diego State University, examines and analyzes research regarding the propensities of the most recent generation of humans (i.e., 1995-2012), iGen. This generation is unlike any other before it, Twenge posits, as their entire adolescence was spent during and after the introduction of the smartphone. The prevalence of smart technology and new media has drastically altered the development of teens in America, and around the world, and screen time, Twenge argues, has led to a litany of changes to social behavior and emotional states that contrast iGen’ers to previous generations. Twenge, primarily, utilizes data from four nationally administered and longitudinal surveys, Monitoring the Future (MtF), Youth Risk Behaviour Surveillance System (YRBSS), the American Freshman Survey (AF) and the General Social Survey (GSS), as the foundation for her research and theories. In between data from these surveys, Twenge weaves interviews as well as anecdotes from her professorial career to emphasize her findings. These explore various topics like individualism, internet use, income inequality, but also addresses the decreased rates of religiosity and social interaction. Twenge writes, "Like the ducks they imitate in their selfies, iGen'ers are calm and composed on the surface but paddling madly underneath…” (p.102).
Twenge’s findings mirror the subtitle of the book, as Twenge highlights the connected, less rebellious, and tolerant nature of iGen’ers, but also outlines the significantly increased rates of anxiety and depression that are defining a new severe mental health crisis among youth in
the United States. Using the aforementioned nationally representative surveys, Twenge’s discoveries center on 10 primary trends that define the iGen cohort, which are structured as 10 chapters that compose the majority of the text:
- In no hurry: Teenagers’ childhoods are extending into adolescence as they delay obtaining drivers’ licenses, getting jobs, and becoming independent. As Twenge states, “The entire developmental trajectory, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, has slowed” (p. 41).
- Internet: An iGen’er’s phone is the last thing they see before going to bed and the first thing they look at when waking up. They spend more time on phones, video games, and social media, and spend less time reading than previous generations.
- In person no more: Face-to-face interactions are declining in favor of virtual communication. Twenge argues this is leading to diminished social skills, thus making teens ill-prepared for the demands of adulthood.
- Insecure: The superficial positivity and “perfect” nature of social media have led to iGen’ers experiencing significantly low levels of self-esteem and high rates of insecurity.
- Irreligious: In addition to IGen’ers being more likely than any previous generation to be raised by religiously unaffiliated parents, adolescents’ embrace of individualism and tolerance are antithetical to what religion stands for in their eyes.
- Insulated but not intrinsic: IGen’ers desire emotional and physical safety, though they emphasize emotional security. They emphasize concepts like “safe spaces” to maintain a distance from risks and protect themselves from harmful language.
- Income insecurity: Teens’ emphasize work for the sake of income security, not for pleasure. Success is seen as fiscal freedom to maintain a ‘quality of life’ that stresses purchasing experiences, as well as novelty escapades that will garner more ‘likes’ on social media.
- Indefinite: IGen’ers are more likely than their predecessors to put off going on dates and having sex, and are prolonging not getting into romantic relationships and having kids since they are seen as distractions from attaining financial prosperity.
- Inclusive: Their Libertarian philosophy underpins iGen’ers’ belief in equality for all as long as people’s actions do not negatively affect others. Yet, Twenge does mention that some teens are increasingly more likely to support merit-based college admissions rather than affirmative action because of high tuition fees and competitive admissions.
- Independent: IGen’ers are more increasingly more likely to identify as independent as they find politicians distrustful and inauthentic (see support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump). Ideologically, they are more likely to align with Libertarian ideals as they favor individualism over government regulation.
Since smart technology and the internet are here to stay, Twenge claims that educators and parents need to increase their understanding of the i generation to properly mentor and model best practices for smartphone use. For educators and parents alike, here are some of the salient, practical suggestions Twenge leaves the reader with regarding smartphones:
- Do not sleep within ten feet of a phone (linked to better quality sleep).
- Put down the smartphone when studying or working (human brains are not meant for multitasking).
- Everyone, including adults, “have to find a place of moderation for how long that phone is in our hands…” (p. 293). Setting limits is crucial so smartphones do not become the central focus of teens and adults alike.
Courtesy of Ry Basham-Mintz, Sonoma State University, Graduate School of Counseling, Spring 2019.