by Michael Smerconish / © 2017, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Jean Twenge had never seen anything like it. The San Diego State University professor in personality psychology had been studying generational differences for 25 years, since she was a 22-year-old Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan. Her research had generated more than 120 scientific publications.
In 2012, when the proportion of Americans who own smartphones surpassed 50 percent, she noticed abrupt changes in teen behavior and emotional states.
Connectivity and the mental health link
“In these big national surveys of teens that I keep an eye on, there started to be some pretty sudden changes in the ways teens use their time and how they said they were feeling in their mental health,” she said.
Among other things, teens are not hanging out as much with friends, in no rush to drive, dating less and getting less sleep. Most alarming, despite their continual connectivity, they are lonely. And rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011.
“On these big surveys there are six questions that asked about loneliness, including ‘How often do you feel lonely?’ and ‘How often do you feel left out?’ And the responses show that same pattern of mental health not having done much, or even gotten a little bit better, until 2007,” she said. “Then they start to tick up, and in 2012, those feelings of loneliness and feeling left out shoot upward. And that, of course, is maybe due to social media, where teens can see everything that their friends are doing that they didn’t get invited to.”
The result of Twenge’s deep dive into multigenerational data of more than 11 million individuals, cutting across income, racial, and regional boundaries, is 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.
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