Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? The Atlantic, Sept. 2017

The Atlantic Magazine, September 2017 Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?
Podcast: Radio Atlantic Episode 6, Are Smartphones Harming Our Kids?

Concerned about your Gen Z’s excessive phone use? If you are, read on. If not, you should be so put your phone down, and read on. Here are some highlights of an alarming study recently published by Jean M. Twenge, PhD in Psychology about teens and screens.

Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation, by Jean M. Twenge, a Professor of Pscyhology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me and IGen, proves that excessive screening is causing some serious harm to Gen Z including increase in suicide, increase in depression and anxiety and lack of sleep.

First, I’d like to clarify that the answer to the question – Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation? – is NOT YET. But YES, smartphones are harming our kids.  Excessive use is particularly harmful:  according to Dr. Twenge, screening more than two hours per day is harmful yet the average teen spends 6-8 hours on their smartphones per day. Dr. Twenge recommends no more than 90 minutes per day.

Fifty million students in the U.S., including 15 million high school students, are going back to school about now and 70% of them will have a smartphone in their hands. Use of this empowering yet addictive device has never been stronger, so strong that studies show screens have many detrimental effects on teens’ social development, effects caused by texting, screening and “snap crapping” on their smartphones in most of their free time during theses crucial years of social development.

First, the good news:

  • Less socializing means Gen Z is safer at home, having less sex, resulting in fewer teen pregnancies and drinking less than teens of previous generations
  • It’s not too late to moderate use while they live under your roof. Dr. Twenge suggests 60-90 minutes per day.
  • You’re not in this alone. Parents of 50 million Gen Z’s are pioneering this technological landscape with you

Second, the not so good news: 

  • Smartphones make them unhappy. Gen Z is on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.
  • Gen Z is socializing less, which has stunted maturity and development
  • They’re less likely to date, sleep, work, or drive
  • They have more free time (less homework, fewer working than 1970’s), but waste it.

Third, what you can do:

  • Keep them out of their screen caves as much as possible. According to Twenge, “They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.” If they are screening alone in their rooms, keep the door open
  • Set screen limits and follow them even if “their friends are on screens all night”. Dr. Twenge recommends 90 minutes per day.  Personally, I allow 30 minutes after school, and after 1-2 hours after homework is done.

“They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.”  The truth hurts. Join the movement to teach Gen Z and your peers how to moderate phone use before it’s too late, before, as Dr. Twenge notes, they become depressed, isolated or socially immature. Have serious conversations with your teens and your peers – parents, friends, employers, Millennials, teachers – about screening.  As I tell my peers, “You’re the adult, they want guidance from you.”  So plan a day with your Gen Z that moves them outside the screen cave: Gen Z likes personal interaction and will appreciate the attention.

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