If South Floridians missed Apple’s unveiling of its three new iPhones – the iPhone 8, the iPhone 8 Plus, and the iPhone X – there’s good reason: It came the day after Hurricane Irma hit.
Maybe such news matters to you, maybe it doesn’t.
But according to San Diego State psychology professor and author Jean Twenge, what should be concerning to all of us is how the iPhone — and all smart devices — have affected the mental health and social development of a generation that has never known a world without them.
Twenge has dubbed the school-age kids and young adults born between 1995 and 2012 the iGeneration (“iGen” for short).
And in her new book – “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” – Twenge writes that the iPhone’s ubiquity has led to “iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”
Of course, mental health isn’t the only area during their formative years in which iGen has been affected by their iPhones, says Twenge.
Using 2007 – the year the iPhone was introduced – as the line of demarcation, Twenge cites several behavioral statistics that differentiate iGen youngsters from all previous generations:
▪ They spend less time per week with their friends.
▪ A lower percentage go out on dates.
▪ A lower percentage have a driver’s license.
▪ A lower percentage have part-time jobs.
▪ A lower percentage have ever had sex.
▪ A lower percentage are getting pregnant.
▪ A lower percentage drink alcohol.
▪ A higher percentage are sleep-deprived.
▪ A higher percentage report feeling lonely.
Twenge, who has been studying generational differences for a quarter-century, believes that for the iGeneration, “The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.”
Generational differences usually occur on a continuum – which is why Twenge found this drastic shift so noteworthy.
“In all my analyses of generational data — some reaching back to the 1930s — I had never seen anything like it.”
While not all of the behavioral shifts are necessarily bad — what parents wouldn’t want their child to be less likely to drink or get pregnant? — they do mean that kids are developing at a slower rate.
As Twenge told PBS, “These are trade-offs. So, 18-year-olds now look more look like 15-year-olds did just five to 10 years ago.”
In her research – which included interviews with nearly two dozen teens – Twenge found that the more “screen time” teens spent on their phone, the more likely they were to suffer adverse emotional effects.
“There’s not a single exception,” she writes. “All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.”
Twenge’s book has not been universally well-received. Among the most common criticisms: subpar research, cherry-picked data and faulty, unprovable conclusions.
University of Oxford psychology professor Andrew Przybylski tweeted that it was “a non-systematic review of sloppy social science as a tool for lazy intergenerational shaming & profit!”
In the PBS interview, Twenge countered such criticism – especially the intergenerational shaming part – by saying, “I have always found that argument confusing, because I don’t care what older people say. I’m more interested in what young people say now compared to what young people said 10 or 20 years ago, so comparing the generations at the same age and really listening to young people and what they’re experiencing and what they’re feeling.”
Twenge said her research showed that while 90 minutes of daily screen time “doesn’t seem to have any negative mental health effects … two hours and beyond, that’s where we start to see the effects.”
And one thing Twenge’s critics should keep in mind: Even Steve Jobs limited how much screen time his own children were allowed to have.